Peek Behind the Painting

Peek Behind the Painting

By David Ortiz 
Cambridge Tab 
April 26, 2002

Jeannie Motherwell spends each day working alone in her studio on Pemberton Street in North Cambridge. Every day, the artist sits down and composes acrylic paint, photo snapshots, torn pictures and snippets of conversation into intensely personal shadowbox Giclee prints. Motherwell hopes her art also expresses something meaningful to others.

Motherwell is not the only one—there is a startling concentration of artists who work every day in the solitude of their studios in the 02140 ZIP code, and each one grapples with the same duality that is inherent in making a work of art: All artists are moved to creation by very personal urges, no matter what type of art they create. But all good artists want their work to connect with other human beings.

And like the work they produce, the North Cambridge artists themselves feel a dual tug. They need to work in seclusion. But then they really want to come out of their holes to share.

Five years ago, North Cambridge Open Studios was born out of this truth. NoCa is a collaborative of approximately 20 artists who live or work in North Cambridge. The collective will hold its fifth annual All Arts Open Studios event May 4 and 5.

Emily Rubin, a writer who joined NoCa a few years ago, describes the group as "kind of like a support and advocacy group for artists."

"NoCa, and the annual Open Studios, came about out of a community need for artists to get together and talk about their work," said Rubin. "This little area of Cambridge has an incredibly diverse and eclectic range of artists in it, and they wanted to show their work to the community and support one another.

Throughout the year, the artists and artisans meet weekly over a spaghetti dinner, an informal way to get together and stay in touch, said Rubin. Once a month, members hold a more formal meeting to critique each other's work and discuss the business of staging the open studios weekend.

The event, in which the artists open their studios to the public, is the highlight of the year for NoCa. Several artists used words such as "fulfilling" and "invigorating" to describe the exchange with others about their work that the Open Studios weekend allows.

"Being a visual artist is a very solitary thing, and being involved is a good way to come out into the community and share what I do," said Motherwell.

Not all NoCa members are visual artists—included in their ranks are writers, furniture makers, musicians, fabric makers and jewelers—but they all consider themselves artists.

Dan Kamman, a Harvey Street resident and former Polaroid engineer, fashions jewelry out of small industrial parts. Kamman's earrings and bracelets, made of mechanically connected electronic connector pins, rubber O-rings, gears and brilliantly colored laser filters, fit together by some form of alchemy to create jewelry that is balanced, delicate and even beautiful—they are works of art.

It's just wonderful to be able to talk to people and have them explore how I do my work, and have people tell me what they like and don't like," said Kamman. "Sometimes they see things in my work that I don't see."

Some, but not all, of the work on display during the Open Studios weekend is for sale. Writers such as Rubin don't expect to sell individual pieces they have written. Much of the more physical artwork on view is still in the process of creation, which is very much the point of the event, said Rubin.

"The founding members really wanted to show not only end-products, but also the process of their art, how they create their art from the moment of inspiration to the finished product," said Rubin. "I don't sell my work, I have a reading, but it's a really exciting experience—people are coming to you, they're interested in your work. There's always a really nice exchange between the artist and the visitor."