Art takes a seat

The pottery wheels are spinning in Madeline Gallo’s studio. In another room, Gallo’s strong feelings
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Strolling Village Artisans

WHEN: Shop, gallery and studios open Tuesday through Sunday. “More Clay Less War: A Presentation for Peace,” an exhibit by Madeline Gallo and Jim Best, runs through June 27.

WHERE: 20 Washington St., Ballston Spa

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: 885-5855, strollingvillageartisans.com

The pottery wheels are spinning in Madeline Gallo’s studio. In another room, Gallo’s strong feelings about the war in Iraq emerge in a provocative clay exhibit by her and Jim Best. Upstairs, Heather Leyh turns on a torch. In the super-hot blue flame, she melts and sculpts rods of glass, creating candy-colored jewelry beads.

It’s just a typical afternoon at Strolling Village Artisans, an artists’ cooperative in Ballston Spa, and the doors are open to everyone.

“They are welcome to be here. It’s open studio space,” says Leyh, as she lifts her gaze from the liquid glass and peers through her safety glasses at a visitor. “We feel strongly that we want to educate the community. We want them to ask questions, to explore for themselves.”

Community connection

Strolling Village Artisans has only been around for five years, but with its mission to connect with the community, it has stimulated a thriving art and craft atmosphere in Ballston Spa.

Four years ago, the Artisans launched Ballston Spa’s First Friday, a monthly arts celebration that draws more than 200 people year-round to shops and cafes in a village of less than 6,000 residents. Now run by the Ballston Spa Business & Professional Association, First Friday offers live music, gourmet food, art demonstrations and exhibits at 18 venues.

Eleven artist members sell their original works in a bright, inviting shop in their headquarters, a renovated two-story house on Washington Street that’s close to Milton Avenue and a short walk from Front Street. Visitors can browse around or buy jewelry, hand-painted furniture, paintings, photographs, fabric collages, clothing and sculpture. Many items are small and reasonably priced.

Checking out the chairs

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Strolling Village Artisans is also a teaching center, with classes for adults, children and teens in clay, bead-making, drawing, painting and photography taught by five of the artists. There are private “Girls Night Out” workshops, and an “Art of Giving Program,” in which children make art from recycled materials, sell it at an auction and donate the funds to charity.

Stay-with-it attitude

Rocking For “Ballston Rocks,” the village’s big outdoor art project, three artists decorated Adirondack rocking chairs. Painter Liza Martinez of Stillwater came up with a picnic scene, cutting a new back for her chair that’s shaped like wine glasses. Tiny clay people perch on the back and arms of Gallo’s chair, titled “A Peaceful World.” Leyh’s colorful “Pink Gypsy” chair is embellished with handmade beads and wire curlicues.

In the cooperative’s Iron Spring Gallery, monthly exhibits often feature guest artists, and for three years, the group has hosted a high school art show.

“Strolling Village Artisans has contributed a tremendous amount to the village. It’s bringing a lot of people into the community,” says Mayor John Romano.

“What I love about it is the spirit, the stay-with-it attitude,” says Dolores Taisey, co-owner of the Medbury Inn & Spa.

Clifford Baum, BSBPA president and operator of The Coffee Planet, has worked closely with Gallo, a co-founder of the cooperative, from its first year as a tiny group of artists without a home. In its second year, Strolling Village Artisans rented space at 49 Front St.

Role in revival

“Their role in bringing the arts to this village has been wonderful,” says Baum, noting that since the cooperative moved to Washington Street, a needlepoint shop, In Stitches, opened next door, and soon there will be a quilting shop.

“They have definitely played a part in the revival of the village,” Baum says. This summer, visitors tracking “Ballston Rocks” chairs will discover three new downtown businesses: 51 Front Wine Bar & Bistro and The Village Bakery, both on Front Street, and The Brickyard Pub, on Milton Avenue, in the space vacated by Paul’s Restaurant.

But artist cooperatives are different from other businesses because “they are totally evolving” and “people come and go,” says Gallo. A Ballston Spa resident who helped start an artists’ cooperative in New York City during the 1970s, she is the only original member of the Strolling Village Artisans. “Cooperatives help launch artists on different careers, give them the opportunity to sell work and give classes. You have to stick with it and believe in what you are doing.”

Besides Gallo, Leyh and Martinez, the current roster of artists includes Jim Best, who makes hand-thrown pottery; Patrick Coffey, metal sculpture; Daniele Ippoliti DeShaw, nature photography, cards and clothing; Deb Guilfoyle, hand-painted home furnishings; Cheryl Gutmaker, glass lamps, glass-blowing and stained glass; Tess Howard, mosaics and mixed media; Michele M. Martens, quilt and fabric collage; and Joey Giannone, painting.

Members pay a fee to sell their work and exhibit in the gallery, and are required to staff the shop and serve on committees. Membership does not include studio space, which is a separate rental from Spa Property Group, the building’s owners, and most of the artists work in their homes.

Source of energy, creativity

A Schenectady native who returned to the area after living in New York City and Boston, Leyh joined Strolling Village Artisans last summer and moved to Ballston Spa. Her new studio is better than working at home because “I tend to be introspective and isolate myself,” she says. “It’s really, really inspiring being around this energy; it gives me the energy to do what I love.”

In addition to operating Heather Hollywood Designs, she works part time as a speech pathologist at Wildwood Programs.

Martinez joined four years ago because she wanted a place to show and sell her nature-inspired paintings, photographs and painted furniture. “I’m able to associate with other artists, people who are serious about their art,” says Martinez, who also has a job doing landscape work. “It’s perfect for me.”

Gallo, a full-time artist who has taught more than 100 students how to throw and hand build clay on Washington Street, loves to help people discover their inner artist.

“I hear it all the time. People say ‘I have no creative vein in my body.’ That’s not true,” says Gallo. “Everybody has a creative vein.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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