Artists tackle the topic of being seen

By Barbara Taormina
Union Leader Correspondent
November 03. 2013 11:19PM
Painter Helene Levasseur talks about the challenges of being a professional artist during Saturday's Open Studios tour at the Picker Building in Nashua. (Barbara Taormina)

Karen Bruson demonstrates her painting technique during Saturday’s open house at the art studios in Nashua’s Picker Building. Barbara Taormina

NASHUA — Artists at the Picker Building opened their doors Saturday afternoon and invited the city in to tour their studios and see their latest work.

The old mill building, tucked inside the mill yard, is a working home for several dozen painters, photographers, potters, silversmiths and artisans who work with textiles, stained glass and wood. Artists from Nashua and surrounding cities and towns who have set up shop in Picker Building have established a hub of color and creative energy that has become one of the city's most valuable assets for art.

But their role in Nashua has often been limited to special events and exhibits, and what they are hoping for is to make artists and art an integral part of the city's everyday life.

"There are about 24 studios, and it's a great group of people," said Diane Whittemore a watercolorist and designer who shares a large sunny room overlooking the Nashua River with three other painters. "We've learned a lot from each other being in the same place."

Whittemore and other Picker Building artists agree the city has shown its support for the arts with special events like the annual ArtWalk, and by hosting exhibits of their work at the library and other well-traveled buildings and spaces.

And they are grateful to Picker Building owner Jack Bolger, who has transformed the old mill building into something rare — affordable studio space.But even though the Picker Building is a short walk from Main Street, it can be hard to find. Much of Nashua seems unaware that there is a dynamic arts community in the heart of downtown, and that's made it a challenge to sell work, score commissions and enroll students in the classes that some of the artists offer. "We're not visible and we spend so much time doing our work, we don't have time to promote ourselves," said Whittemore.

The Picker Building artists feel they could help bolster the local economy if they had a stronger day-to-day presence in the city. Nashua is known for its industry and commerce, but it's not always considered a destination for visitors and tourists.

Art galleries and artists typically draw crowds in other cities and towns, and the Picker Building artists think they could help bring more people, and more business, to Nashua if more people knew about them and their work.

Lori Woodward, a Merrimack artist who shares studio space at the Picker building, said a few years back a group of artists used to set up easels and paint on Main Street.

"But the city came along and told us we needed a vendor's license to do that," she said.

Helene LeVasseur, a painter who works in oils and acrylics, said the Picker Building is filled with art that's diverse and affordable. LeVasseur acknowledged it's up to the artists to promote themselves but so far, a working strategy to spread the word about Nashua's art's community has been elusive.

There's hope that the Riverwalk, a 2-mile trail along the Nashua River that has been decades in the making, will give the Picker Building a stronger connection to the rest of downtown.

But the artists hope people in Nashua won't wait for the trail to visit their studios.

"We love showing our working and explaining what we do," said Karen Bruson as she added a few brush strokes to the painting in progress on her easel. "We want people to stop by and look."

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