Nestled atop the rolling hills of Canajoharie is Mapletown Studio.
“There used to be a hamlet here called Mapletown,” said Julie Takacs, “At one point in [the] history of the Mohawk Valley, this was actually [a] little hub.”
Takacs, an artist and graphic designer, opened the studio on Mapletown Road earlier this month, both as a place to work and to build the artistic community around her.
“I’m looking to make a center where people can meet and do various [art forms],” Takacs said.
Although there are a few arts-focused venues in the area, such as the Arkell Museum and the Fort Plain Free Library, there’s a dearth of locations at which artists can come together to work, especially when compared to places such as Saratoga Springs or Albany, said Takacs.
The idea began with a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts. Takacs has won a few grants over the years, but it was a $2,500 award through Saratoga Arts, won by Takacs in 2015, that really changed things.
“It was scary, because I was writing to change platform. It was kind of an out-there thing to ask for,” Takacs said. “But they gave me the money.”
Takacs works as a graphic designer and as an adjunct professor at SUNY Cobleskill. For years, she typically worked in collage format. But in 2015, she wanted to branch out and work in watercolor, capturing Canajoharie by painting it plein air. After winning the grant, Takacs was able to buy supplies and organize a community event. She put in hundreds of hours and eventually led a workshop on plein-air watercolor painting, inviting other artists in the community to get out and paint with her. It went well, but it was a one-time event.
Shortly afterward, Takacs was asked to join the grant committee at Saratoga Arts, an ars organization that runs workshops, exhibitions, education programs and awards grants throughout Saratoga, Fulton and Montgomery counties. Takacs helped to review and select submissions from artists around the greater Capital Region. What she found surprised her.
“It showed me the void that’s out here in this region,” Takacs said, “We’re not Schenectady County, we’re not Saratoga County.” Takacs said there’s a lack of cultural momentum like that found in those counties, and it’s not due to a lack of artistic aptitude but a lack of community.
“There [are] so many talented people here, but we haven’t really located each other yet or collectively become a force,” Takacs said.
With Mapletown Studio, she wants to build that force little by little, giving artists the support they need on a more personal level. She’ll host workshops, both plein-air and in other mediums artists are interested in.
About once a month, Takacs hopes to host a saloon of sorts, where people can bring their work to either get constructive criticism or to workshop it. The studio is relatively small, so it would keep the group size down, creating an intimate environment and one that will make it hopefully not as intimidating to newer artists.
She also wants to let people know about other arts grants, which have benefited her work in the past and which she believes can benefit other artists. During the first day the studio was open, she hosted a Saratoga Arts Meet the Artist-Awardee event.
"Each year, we offer a number of site-based informational grant seminars throughout the region for artists and nonprofit organizations interested in learning more about the varying funding categories available through the program”, said Sharon Wait, grants administrator at Saratoga Arts. “Partnering with Julie to offer a special Meet the Artist-Awardee informational seminar at her new studio is very much in the spirit of the grant program -- bringing artists and the community together. It's a great opportunity for other artists to learn about the artist grant directly from someone who has gone through the application and award process.”
Takacs said it was well-attended, in part because people have been curious as to what’s going on with the studio and the grants, but also because people are looking for that sort of community space in Canajoharie.
Mapletown Studio is insulated, which makes it a year-round workspace. Sweeping hillside landscapes and lush wildflower gardens can be seen from the door and from just outside -- the perfect place to work. Much of Takacs’ artwork revolves around the natural environment, whether it’s a plein-air watercolor of the Adirondacks or a collage with a colorful mushroom as the central focus.
“Most of my work is about nature, so I want to connect people with nature through art and creativity,” Takacs said.
When The Gazette visited the studio, Takacs had arranged a mandala of wildflowers in the center of the floor, taking the flowers out of their natural context and turning them into art, making people aware of the plants in a way they wouldn’t normally be.
“You can’t dominate it. You have to be aware of it and exist with it,” Takacs said.
By opening up Mapletown Studio and letting other artists know about all the grant possibilities available to them, Takacs hopes to make Canajoharie an even more supportive place for artists and to get fellow artists interested in the environment right in their backyard.
To learn more about the artist grants or to sign up for one of the upcoming grant seminars, which take place across the Capital Region, visit saratoga-arts.org.