Artists galore will be on display at North Kingstown open house
At the beginning of December, artists at the Mill at Shady Lea in North Kingstown will display their work at the mill’s 15th annual open studios. The defunct factory is now home to more than 40 artists and artisans who work in a variety of mediums. A number of them are Jamestown residents.
The mill on the Mattatuxet River was built in the late 1820s by Elson Sanford. The purpose of the mill was to manufacture textiles, and over the years it has been sold several times. It was adapted for a variety of textile manufacturing purposes including burlap, denim, flannel and woolen blankets.
In the mid 1950s, the mill was purchased at auction by Ambrose (Andy) Reisert. Reisert used the facility to house his business, King Fastener Company, which made metal staples that were sold around the world. King Fastener was later sold to Parker Manufacturing, but Reisert remained in control of the mill.
The mill was empty for a few years. Reisert had the idea of using it for what is now known as assisted living, but that concept did not exist back then. He recognized that people were living longer and it would one day become a growth industry. Unfortunately the presence of the nearby river precluded Reisert from any such undertaking.
It became clear that the facility would have to remain a commercial venture. Some carpenters who had worked for Reisert were looking for storage space. He offered the mill to them if they would agree to maintain it while it was vacant. In the early ’90s, someone had the idea of using the mill as a place where artists and other creative people could work.
The mill is now owned by Reisert’s daughter, Lynn Krim. It houses more than 40 studios, some of which are shared by multiple artists. All of the studios have been restored with refinished hardwood floors and freshly painted walls. The roof has been replaced, and access roads and parking areas have been upgraded. As money become available, Krim is replacing windows repointing brick.
Among the artists currently working in the studios are potters, glass blowers, photographers, woodworkers and jewelry makers. Classes are offered in art, guitar building and furniture making. There is also a yoga studio on the premises.
One other thing – some people believe that the mill is haunted.
“I like to think that the one that occasionally taps people on the shoulder – he’s a little old man dressed in period clothing with a smile on his face – is looking over our shoulder and seeing what we’re doing and he likes it,” Krim said.
The idea for the annual event – which takes place on Saturday, Dec. 1, and Sunday, Dec. 2, from noon to 5 p.m. – came about some years ago when residents of the mill’s neighboring community became concerned about the group of artists who were working at the mill. The artists decided to put the community members at ease by inviting them to a party in the hope that people would recognize the fact that they were respectable, hard-working artists.
“They did that for a couple of years,” Krim said, “then the people started asking if they could buy stuff. We grew and grew until a couple of years ago we had well over 8,000 people. It was too much, so we split it from one day to two. It keeps the crowd down. Parking is better. Artists can go back to talking to people, and visitors can really look at the art instead of milling around shoulder to shoulder.”
Krim said that visitors will have a unique experience at the mill, and have their eyes opened to the arts and culture that is available there.
“It’s a wonderful place for artists to gather,” Krim said. “They work together.”
Connie Payne is a potter who has been living in Jamestown for about five years since returning from more than 20 years living in Samoa. Payne shares her studio at the mill with two other potters, Sue Greene of Jamestown and Donna Thompson of North Kingstown. All three of the artists work with ceramics. Payne’s work is more decorative than functional. She has worked at the mill for four years.
“It’s the networking with other artists that is so fascinating,” Payne said. “There are so many different types of artisans that work there.”
Payne said that she hopes visitors to the mill will appreciate the handmade, one-of-a-kind items that are produced there. She also pointed to the fact that many of the artists provide food to their visitors during the event.
Sue Greene has lived in Jamestown for 20 years. She describes her work as “strictly functional.” She makes bowls, teapots and platters for everyday use. Greene has had her studio at the mill for eight years.
“It’s a community of artists, so it’s a nice place to interact with people who are involved with other kinds of artistic activities,” Greene said. “It’s a good crossfertilization, both socially and in terms of the art work.”
Greene said the open house is an opportunity for visitors to have access to many different artistic activities at one site.
Jill Munafo of Jamestown makes brass and pewter jewelry, and heirloom quality picture frames. She was one of the first artists to take up residency in the mill 15 years ago.
“I love the raw space,” she said. “It lets you spread out and make a big mess. In an office space or finished space you can’t really focus on the work without worrying about the space.”
Munafo also appreciates the view of a nearby pond from the windows of her space. She said that during the winter she can see otters, and in the summer there are dragonflies and turtles. Munafo has been there since the first open studios. She enjoys the festive nature of the event. She pointed out the number of demonstrations being presented, including a printmaking show by Jamestowner Casey Weibust that will take place in Greene’s studio.
“It’s the only time of year that almost every studio is open,” Munafo said. “Everyone has food, which is a big draw. In general, the whole feeling there is that it’s very welcoming. All of the doors are open.”
The mill is located at 215 Shady Lea Road. There is no charge to attend. In the event of a storm, open studios will be held the following weekend.
“We’re not a big corporation,” Krim said. “This has been a family passion. When there’s extra money, we continue to work on the building to keep the structure strong, and to keep my father’s legacy strong. It’s a wonderful place.”