NASHUA — The Picker Building offers affordable studio space to local artists, but they still struggle at times because it's difficult to find the building. Now they worry because the Riverwalk project could mean a different use for the building.
Local artists have called it a hidden gem and the city's best-kept secret, and first-time visitors who made their way to the Picker Building on Saturday for an open house were surprised by all the art just a short walk from Main Street.
Still, the Picker Building, which sits alongside the Nashua River, just behind Clocktower Place, hasn't managed to create a real connection to the rest of downtown. And some artists wonder it the city's Riverwalk, a 1.6-mile riverfront avenue of public space about 30 years in the making, will help or hurt their businesses.
"We're kind of anxious to see how it affects us," said Kathleen Frank, owner of Renaissance Glassworks, a stained glass studio, retail gallery and one of the first bursts of color visitors see when they walk through the Picker Building door.
Renaissance Glass was busy during Saturday's open house, but Frank said most of the shop's sales come from annual craft shows and online sales. Others, like Darold Rorabacher, a retired mathematician who now runs Darold's Woodshop, work exclusively on commissioned pieces.
"We were on Main Street for eight years before coming here," said Frank. "We just loved the feeling of the place."
For the past decade, the Picker Building, a mid-19th century mill building that was once part of Nashua's mighty textile industry, has provided affordable studio space for painters, jewelers, stained glass artists, woodworkers and other creative entrepreneurs. Artists who have set up shop in the building have nothing but praise and appreciation for landlord Jack Bolger, who is at the Picker Building most days fixing a cracked window or replacing an old thermostat.
And all of the artists working in the building also agreed that being together under one roof has priceless benefits.
"There's all different types of art and everyone works together and everyone helps one another," said Christine Lehmkuhl, a Picker Building jeweler.
But open houses and events like the city's Artwalk, are usually the triggers for bringing people down to the building.
"Every time we have an open house, we get people to come down here," said Gail Moriarty, who also designs hand-crafted jewelry. But on ordinary weekdays, it can be very quiet."
"We're really tucked away down here," said Frank.
Some artists watching the work on the Riverwalk from their studios wonder what the project will mean for the Picker Building.
Some, like Frank, think it may bring more exposure, pedestrian traffic and sales to the studios.
But others watching the Board Street Parkway project and changes along the river worry that the Picker Building could eventually be destined for a use other than providing workshops for struggling artists. And while most say Bolger has been extremely supportive of maintaining a downtown hub for artists, there's a feeling of uncertainty about the future.
On Saturday, Lehmkuhl was focused on crafting unique pieces of jewelry at her workbench, but she has kept an eye on the work the city is doing through the windows at the back of her studio.
"They have already taken down all the perches for the raptors," she said,