Nonprofits – Shining a light on local artists: Electric City Barn remained a creative ‘escape’ in pandemic

Schenectady resident Pauline Saunders sews at Electric City Barn, where she is a key-holding member and runs her business, Evadneyline
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Schenectady resident Pauline Saunders sews at Electric City Barn, where she is a key-holding member and runs her business, Evadneyline

It seemed like the lights went out on so many art-making studios last year, yet the Electric City Barn managed to keep them on, offering local artists and creatives the space to keep working.

“That alone touched my heart, because they knew that as an artist … that’s our escape,” said Pauline Saunders, a key-holding member of the Barn and owner of Evadneyline Boutique.

Located on Craig Street in Schenectady, the Electric City Barn is a hub for established and emerging artists and entrepreneurs. Stretching across 9,000-plus square feet, the building is divided into several different studios, including a woodshop, metal shop, fiber arts and textile studio, and a digital media lab, among others.

Saunders is in charge of the textile studio, where she works just about every day of the week. The Schenectady resident designs and sews bags, accessories, masks and more. She specializes in making memory bags — made from the clothing and accessories of clients’ family members and loved ones who have died.

Key discovery
When she founded Evadneyline in 2017, Saunders ran the business out of her home, designing and sewing each bag in her kitchen or living room. That all changed when she discovered Electric City Barn.

“I came in here and I just was looking around, and then I finally inquired about it,” Saunders said. “At this time, my kitchen, my living room — everything was full of materials — and I said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ So I started coming here every day. … It was just by accident I stumbled in here and I’ve never left ever since.”

The space has helped her grow her business and, perhaps more importantly, provided her a better work environment.

“I can think here. I can look and see inspiration. I can hear someone playing a song downstairs on their laptop and then I’m off to the races. So this place means more to me than I think people understand,” Saunders said.

The collaborative environment has also had a positive impact on her personally.

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“It’s like it’s a family in here. We all help each other. I just received an embroidery machine and the photographer [Jeff Johnson] had one before me, and he helped me set it up and go through everything. Because he does photos and Photoshop, he was explaining to me how to take my pictures to sell [online],” Saunders said.

McCauley Cannizzo, operations coordinator at the Barn, has also helped with marketing and getting the Evadneyline name out there, said Saunders.

“She’ll find vendor events. She goes beyond the call of duty. She’ll find grants that are available,” Saunders said.

That sense of community was especially important at the start of the pandemic. The Electric City Barn remained open to members throughout the entire pandemic, though it closed at certain times to the general public.

“Just imagine how much people who are used to going to work and couldn’t go to work — it was heart-rending. So we supported each other here because money stopped. … We were allowed to come here and support one another,” Saunders said.

Making masks
She turned away from her usual designs to make and give away masks to anyone who needed them.

“I stopped sewing bags. I literally had to stop. It got so bad in here, Jeff [Johnson] started to make masks also. … We were in here nonstop. I made masks for the hospitals, I made masks for my doctor’s office, my church,” Saunders said.

She’s still making masks these days, often to match the clutches and other handbags she creates. They’re sold via her website as well as at the Electric City Barn. Some bags she simply designs without a specific buyer in mind. For others, such as the memory bags, she meets with the buyers and there’s plenty of back and forth about the design. Saunders often asks about what the deceased loved one was like and what was important to them, which helps her find the best design to honor them.

“It’s a different approach with the memory bags. It is heart-pulling sometimes,” Saunders said. But the bags are not meant to be grim. “This is a creative way of having a memory of your loved one,” Saunders said.

Metal shop
Not too far from Saunders’ workspace is the metal shop, which is led by Matthew Bartik, a Mariaville artist known for fork art. Using hand tools, he creates intricate sculptures with forks, along with copper and other metals. Last year alone, Bartik made a replica of The Egg and the Empire State Plaza skating rink, with fork figures flying around the ice.

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He started working in the medium while he was a freshman at SUNY New Paltz and he’s been a full-time artist since then. Bartik was associated with the Albany Barn, which is under the same leadership as the Electric City Barn, for more than a decade. He shifted to the Schenectady location last year when he was looking for a workspace closer to home and a way to become more involved with the community.

“The metal shop was the last studio associated with the Electric City Barn that didn’t have a prominent key holder until I signed on. It’s mainly a space that is for jewelry smithing and working in a sculptural manner. We don’t have welding capabilities quite yet, but we have everything you need to be able to produce and manufacture jewelry, work in soft metals. Pretty soon we’re going to have a metal CNC machine (a computer numerical controlled machine for carving, cutting, molding or milling metal) up and running. That’s going to be a nice expansion of the ability of the shop,” Bartik said.

Working there has allowed Bartik to expand the types of materials he uses.

“Having access to the jewelry smithing tools, the torches, the hammers, anvil — being able to form and get outside of what I do on a professional basis has … [freed] up my creativity and reenergized my artistic being. Because sometimes when you’ve been working in one medium for 20 years, things get a little quiet, a little stagnant,” Bartik said.

“It’s the great part about being part of a maker space. If I want to do my own T-shirts through the printmaking studio, I can do that. I can work in the wood studio, I can go upstairs and use the computers with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and work on my website. I can use the photo lab. It allows creative people to be able to expand and do what they see in their head,” Bartik added.

During the pandemic, the Barn has also been a place where he could focus solely on his work.

“It was a refuge that I wasn’t expecting it to be. It was something that got me through the hardest parts of the pandemic, creatively and somewhat professionally as well. While I’m not actively selling my artwork because of the pandemic, I’ve been actively creating artwork for the last year because of being able to have the space to work in and the ability to have space that I don’t have to mix with other distractions of home life. It allows me to focus,” Bartik said.

For information on Bartik’s work, visit fork-art.com. For more on Saunders’ work, visit evadneyline.com. And for more on the Electric City Barn, visit electriccitybarn.org.

Electric City Barn
Year founded: 2018
Areas served: Schenectady County
Mission: Electric City Barn is an innovative hub designed to bolster the creative economy by connecting emerging makers and community members through project-based programming — a place where creativity works.

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Categories: Life and Arts, Nonprofits 2021

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