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Portraits of the artists: Florence artists open their studios at Brushworks Arts and Industry

  • Hilary Price, an illlustrator and cartoonist, in her studio at Brushworks Arts and Industry in Florence. The creator of the “Rhymes with Orange” strip has worked in the building for over 20 years. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Justine Barrett Figura sands the bottom of a planter in her pottery studio, Tandem Ceramics, at Brushworks Arts and Industry in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Planters rest on a shelf at Tandem Ceramics in the Brushworks Arts and Industry Building in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Grant Figura works on planters at his pottery studio, Tandem Ceramics, in the Brushworks Arts and Industry Building. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Justine Barrett Figura sands the bottom of a planter in her pottery studio, Tandem Ceramics, at the Brushworks Arts and Industry Building in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Grant Figura cleans up a planter at his pottery studio, Tandem Ceramics, in the Brushworks Arts and Industry Building in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mary Risley hammers a silver ring at her jewelry studio in the building. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Justine Barrett Figura stamps the bottom of a planter in her pottery studio, Tandem Ceramics, at the Brushworks Arts and Industry Building in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rings made by Mary Risley, a jeweler at Brushworks Arts and Industry in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mary Risley holds earrings at her jewelry studio at Brushworks Arts and Industry in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mary Risley slips an amazonite stone into a silver ring base at her jewelry studio at Brushworks Arts and Industry in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Thursday, November 07, 2019

It’s not too early to begin thinking about the holidays — and this weekend, you’ll have an opportunity to check out some possible gift ideas and see how those potential gifts are made.

On Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., more than 50 artists and craftspeople at the Brushworks Arts & Industry building in Florence will open their doors and offer a behind-the-scenes look at their craft, from pottery to jewelry making, as well as illustration and more, during the 27th annual Open Studios and Holiday Sale at the 221 Pine Street building.

The 160,000-square-foot brick complex, which dates to the 1860s, features four floors housing more than a hundred artists and craftspeople. It’s the former home of the Pro Corporation, a 19th-century, mass-market producer of toothbrushes in the United States that now serves as a community of artists and creative individuals.

Mary Risley, a jeweler and founder of Mary Risley Jewelry, has been making jewelry with sterling silver, gold and semi-precious gemstones for more than a decade. She moved into the Brushworks building in 2012; her studio is on the second floor.

“My aesthetics are a little bit more minimalist,” she explained. “Oftentimes I will have either a scrap of metal or a stone to start with that I’m inspired by in some way. And then, I go from there rearranging shapes and working with what’s physically in front of me.”

She said many of the artists and craftspeople who work out of the Brushworks building have had studios there for years. But many new, creative people rent studio space in the building every year, she added.

“It’s really nice to have that camaraderie and to pop in and say ‘Hi,’ and to see what everyone is up to,” Risley explained. “We see each other in the halls and have lunches together sometimes. It feels like an extended family in some ways, too.”

Justine Barrett Figura and Grant Figura are the owners of Tandem Ceramics, who in their third-story pottery studio make ornate ceramic planters.

Barrett Figura said she and Grant have worked out of the studio during the past five years. As of this past summer, they expanded their space. Their studio features a kiln as well as many other tools for mold-making in order to create their line of planters.

“Now our footprint is doubled, so we mostly are in production in our line of ceramics,” she explained. “Most of it is being sold wholesale, so we kind of have our nose to the grindstone and are making a lot of things and shipping them out.”

Locally, Tandem Ceramics products are sold by Kestrel on Masonic Street in Northampton, Grant Figura said.

The color palette for their line of planters includes subdued “cozy hues” and matte colors, Barrett Figura added.

The couple moved to Northampton from southwest Virginia. Being natives of upstate New York, they wanted to return to the Northeast region, but on a visit to Northampton they realized that there are a plethora of artisans in the city.

“It’s pretty great — this floor in particular has so many different potters on it, and we’re all close friends,” Grant Figura said of the building’s third floor, which features five potters.

Cartoonist Hilary Price, creator of the nationally syndicated comic strip “Rhymes with Orange,” has worked out of the Brushworks Arts & Industry building since 1998. Her studio is currently located on the fourth floor.

Having worked in the building for more than two decades, Price, whose cartoon strip is featured in more than 350 news publications, mostly in the U.S. and Canada, explained that she feels like it’s more akin to a neighborhood.

“While I feel like I might not be interacting with artists, it’s every day that I get the sense that everyone’s working here. They’re here to work. So, I’m working too,” she added.

As for the Open Studio and Holiday sale, Price enjoys connecting with her readers on a more personal basis, gaining immediate feedback from people who stop by her studio.

Price said she considers the annual event “a farmers’ market of art,” adding that there are many nooks and crannies to the building, which can lead to surprising discoveries of local artists and crafts studios.

“It’s really fun and special, and once a year I get to see people coming and experiencing the art,” she noted. “And I get to hear laughs. That’s the gift right there for me. And then, I think for people walking around the different studios, it’s a marketplace of ideas. You can walk around and be inspired.”

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.

For more information about the Open Studio and Holiday Sale, visit brushworksartsandindustry.com.