Tour boasts insiders’ view of artists’ milieu

Crates are stacked against the walls of Kennett Square painter Robert Jackson’s studio. He often uses them as props in his eclectic still lifes.

Works by Oxford artist Vicki Vinton will be showcased during the Chester County Studio Tour.

Works by Oxford artist Vicki Vinton will be showcased during the Chester County Studio Tour.

In the historic West Chester house where Diane Cirafesi lives, paints, draws, and does mixed-media works, the interior design melds with the artwork. Visitors sometimes don’t know what is art and what is part of the décor.

In East Coventry, sculptures grace the outside and inside of Bob Bauers’ three-bay garage workspace, where he uses welding and traditional blacksmithing techniques to put together his metal creations.

These and 50 other studios, featuring the works of 127 local artists, will be open Saturday, May 21, and Sunday, May 22, as part of the Chester County Studio Tour, an annual event that year gets bigger each year. The artists are painters, sculptors, woodworkers, ceramists and jewelers, who work with materials that include steel, clay, porcelain, paper and glass, according to a tour press release.

The event began about 10 years ago, when Downingtown pop-art painter Jeff Schaller – whose studio features a small spaceship outside it – promised his patrons a private art party at his Downingtown studio if they bought a painting that year. It was a success. Next, he did an open-studio event for the public. Again, success.

“I’m out in the middle of nowhere, and I was amazed at how many people came,” Schaller said.

He asked artist friends if they wanted to join in, and they did.

Now, from the Oxford studio of painter Susan Melrath to the murals of Teresa Haag in Phoenixville, from the Chadds Ford glass studio of Lore Evans to the Spring City sculpture studio of Charles Emlen, the tour has grown into a two-day event that gives visitors a rare glimpse into the artists, their work, and the creative process.

The studios are scattered throughout the county - tucked away in the alleys of small towns or in flower-filled neighborhood back yards and townhomes.  For these artists, it seems, almost any structure will do - the former living room of a contemporary home, a structure that resembles a pool house, or a former bedroom - as long as it gives them plenty of light and enough room to work on their large sculptures or paintings.

“It’s a chance to see the personality of the artist,” Schaller said.

All of these spaces are working studios. Many of them will feature artist demonstrations or works-in-progress.

Schaller said the tour closes a void between collectors and artists. “When we were starting this, a lot of galleries were closing. We kind of didn’t know what to do, and how to get our artwork out there. At the same time, collectors didn’t know where to go to experience new artwork,” he said in the release.

While many of the artists are well-established, the tour also gives visitors a potential jump on emerging talent. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if you had the opportunity to go meet Jackson Pollock when he was in his studio? Or Norman Rockwell when he was just starting out?” Schaller said.

And while some of the most expensive works sell for thousands of dollars, one feature highlights more affordable art. Many of the artists have created a unique 6-by-6-inch piece of original art and are selling it for $75. Chester County Studio Tour wants to make art affordable for everyone and wants to show that art can be everywhere.

The tour now attracts visitors from as far away as New York and D.C. They often make a bed-and-breakfast weekend of it, visiting half the county one day and the other half the next.

Visitors are encouraged to design their own self-guided tour with the catalogue. Simply download a map or catalog from ChesterCountyStudioTour.com  and head for the nearest studio. For those collectors looking for a specific kind of art or who want to take the scenic route from studio to studio, the web site offers links to specific routes such as the sculpture and ceramics tours.

The tour will take place on Saturday, May 21, from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Sunday, May 22, from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information and a list of artists, visit  www.chestercountystudiotour.com.

 

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