It was as if all these artists, with their energy, ideas and talent, were trapped in solitary confinement. It took their coming together to cause a huge creative explosion, scattering artfulness in scazillion directions.
That's exactly what happened about this time last year, and the resulting big boom — with its epicenter in Lawrenceville — is still going on.
When the town's Main Street organization was charged with taking the community's pulse a couple years ago, that started it all. One finding: residents' desire for an art presence in the community. The call for artists that followed led to a gathering of those from the town and nearby who wanted to know and work with other artists.
One of them, charter member Christina Peckham, had written an invitation to artist-friends, "I often feel I am painting in a little bubble and I long to have some connection to other artists in the community . . ."
She was not alone in that feeling, and before long, these things happened: the responding artists began meeting, a Main Street storefront became available for conversion to a gallery; the new Artists Network members chipped in for the lease and celebrated a ribbon-cutting in December '09.
With four rooms downstairs and second floor space for studios and classes, the gallery building is located on Main Street, a.k.a. Route 206, which connects Princeton and Trenton. Each is an art venue in its own right, but now, finally, they're challenged by the town in the middle.
Though other Lawrence businesses deal with art, none is predominantly a gallery. With establishment of the Lawrenceville Main Street Artists Network Gallery, artists had a dedicated place to display their work beyond the area restaurants where some of them showed work or the studios some rented in the area.
Co-op members decided on monthly "Second Saturday" gallery receptions that started in January '10. Besides themes that changed each month, the group — numbering 30, give or take — regularly rolled out new ways to support the local community and schools . . .
- displaying flyers and cards to boost neighboring businesses;
- adopting a system of attractive electronic reception invitations and reminders;
- inviting area musicians, including some from Lawrence schools, to play at receptions and enlisting nearby restaurants and bakeries to provide snacks;
- offering art classes for children, teens and adults - as well as a summer art camp for children;
- starting a series of ARTtalks;
- attending and contributing to various community and school events;
- putting up a website and expanding gallery hours
- and on and on.
It sometimes can seem as if artist-members compete to see who can cooperate more with the cooperative's goals. As either member of a network committee or individually seeing a need, there's an artist spackling the walls on a free afternoon; here's another one sitting the gallery or pouring wine at a reception or re-painting the giant concrete pear that sits outside the building . . .
As old-fashioned as it may sound, these artists revel in their togetherness and what it's done for them. Citing her new-found friends and the progression in her art to levels she never imagined, Marge Miller anticipates "a whole new life phase ahead of me," while Carine Fram extols the "generous, talented and hard-working group of people" she now works with.
Janneke Van Der Ree says because "We all speak the same international language, the language of creativity," she feels at home with everyone else. Jean Joslin notes modestly that she now feels like an artist, "unknown and ‘unselling,' but an artist." She's proud of "what we have all built together."
Of his gallery colleagues, Bill McCarroll says, "I feed upon your kindness and encouragement." Michelle Rosenthal claims "personal and artistic growth and new friendships," and Kim Moulder describes "this incredible journey" and its learning experiences as "life-changing."
No longer feeling alone in her artistic endeavors, Denise Schwartz believes the network provides "fantastic art in many mediums along with arts education, community outreach and wonderful social events."
Network members probably all agreed with Peckham's pre-network "little bubble" metaphor. During the last year, though, they've worked together to burst all those isolation bubbles and form something much bigger and better.
Now, with a year's history of seeming to do more each month — and to all appearances, doing it happily and congenially as a team — Lawrenceville Main Street Network Artists will "Celebrate!" their first birthday this weekend at the "2nd Saturday" artists reception. Call it "birthday," "anniversary," or both, it marks their strong beginning and their promise for the future.
Also for the Newsroom on this subject:
Lawrenceville Main Street Artists Network Gallery & Gift Shop, an artist cooperative featuring the work of 29 artists representing virtually all mediums. 2683 Main St. at Gordon Ave., Lawrenceville, NJ.