For some 200 years, Cape Ann has been a destination for artists, with painters, writers, and sculptors all drawing inspiration from the striking light, moody seas, and working waterfronts. And that artistic legacy has endured. Today, the region remains home to dozens of artists working from their gardens, back rooms, and small studios scattered throughout downtowns and side streets.
Since the early 1980s, Cape Ann Artisans has gathered some of the best of these artisans and craftspeople, nurturing artistic community, bringing customers directly to the artists, and giving community members a chance to glimpse the artistic process in action.
“The idea from day one was to open working studios to the public,” says Jacqueline Ganim-DeFalco, a Gloucester-based jeweler and member of Cape Ann Artisans. “You don’t often get to be in an actual working studio to find out where artists get their inspiration, to see what their process is, what their tools are.”
This year, the artisans group is celebrating its 40th year of connecting artists and community, just in time to coincide with Gloucester’s yearlong observation of the 400th anniversary of the European settlement of the city. The schedule of events includes the group’s regular studio tours—full events in the spring and fall—and a mini-tour in August.
For other events, the group has partnered with the Cape Ann Museum. Several artisans will be participating in the museum’s Cape Ann Blossoms event in May, while others will be teaching classes at the facility. Artist Melody Phaneuf completed a class on oil painting at the museum in March. Multimedia artist Sinikka Nogelo will lead a workshop on turning trash into art in April, and jeweler Marcie Rae will teach jewelry-making in July. Mosaic artist Pam Stratton will be sharing her craft in November.
The centerpiece of the schedule, however, is an exhibition in the fall, at the Rocky Neck Cultural Center, that aims to include work from all members of the group, past and present, says Rae, current president of Cape Ann Artisans and one of the main planners of the anniversary events.
“We decided to make it a real celebration by finding as many of the 90 members over the 40 years as we could and inviting them to participate,” Rae says.
Through the decades since it began, Cape Ann Artisans has become an integral part of the artistic life of the region, members say. Its studio tour was among the first in the country and remains the backbone of the group’s work. Attendees on the self-guided tours use maps and studio listings to ferret out artisans’ workshops throughout Gloucester and Rockport. Pink flags mark the way, creating an experience something like a treasure hunt, Ganim-DeFalco says. The marketing that precedes the tours helps members reach new potential customers, and the events themselves let the community gain important insight into the art.
“There is a real emotional connection to the artists when you’re in their space and you see what they see every day,” Ganim-DeFalco says.
Beth Williams, who makes glass beads in her downtown Gloucester studio, has participated in the tours nearly since the beginning. She embraces the chance to demonstrate what she does in person and to greet customers who return year after year. She even has clients who came with their parents as children, coming back now as adults with families of their own.
“It’s why I still have the studio,” she says. “It’s the most fun—it’s joyful.”
The Artisans is a juried group—artists must be approved for membership based on the strength of their portfolio—which has helped the tours cement their reputation as a way to find beautiful, high-quality pieces of art. In fact, Rae notes, many former members have found acclaim well beyond the borders of the North Shore. Metalsmith Charles Crowley has had his work displayed at the prestigious Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton; pieces by potter Cynthia Curtis have been included in an exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; and other artists’ works have been exhibited and sold in galleries, shows, and shops throughout the country.
“They’ve been part of a wealth of creativity and accomplishment,” Rae says. “While we may live on Cape Ann, we are not confined to Cape Ann.”