BETHLEHEM — When the coronavirus pandemic forced the 42 Maple Contemporary Art Center to close several weeks ago, co-director Tadgh Slater knew he had two choices.
“I could either paint darkly, or I could be part of the solution,” he said.
Born and raised in Boston, Slater chose the latter, drawing upon his past experience as a maker of premier soaps to launch the Bethlehem Soap Company at the art center with the mission of providing free, unscented, “handcrafted, organic soaps” to health care workers, emergency responders, small businesses, “and anyone who needs it.”
Making soap, said Slater, who moved to Bethlehem five months ago, was “the only option I saw” to do something positive in terms of the pandemic.
To offset the cost and allow more soap to be made and donated, the Bethlehem Soap Company is selling scented soaps online at www.bethlehemsoap.com. For every bar sold, a bar is donated, Slater said during an interview Saturday.
BSC had made some 450 bars of soap by then, said Slater, and had already donated 120 bars to Ammonoosuc Community Health Services, which, through six sites in northern New Hampshire, provides integrated-health services to nearly 10,000 patients in more than two dozen communities.
On April 15, Ammonoosuc Community Health Services, on its Facebook page, acknowledged the delivery. The soap is “gorgeous,” the post said, and is both “a great way to keep our hands clean” as well as a boost to the “the team’s spirit!”
Slater, who describes his painting style as expressionism infused with a strong sense of social justice, said he sells his mural-sized works for thousands of dollars. Making soap seemed the best way for him to personally do something to help people fighting the pandemic, he said.
And, it will also boost the local economy. The Bethlehem Soap Co. this week added two employees, both fellow painters at the 42 Maple Contemporary Art Center. Before it shut down, the center had provided work and display space to a sculptor and four painters.
Slater is the former owner and operator of Voodoo Soap in Boston. He said he took what he learned there and applied it to the Bethlehem Soap Co.
The soaps are made of all-natural, sustainable ingredients; contain no parabens, phthalates, or sodium laurel sulfates; are never tested on animals and are animal-free; and they contain moisturizers — great, Slater said for folks who have to wash their hands a lot, like health care providers and first responders.