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For artist, a room of her own no longer

Email|Print| Text size + By Christina Pazzanese
Globe Correspondent / January 13, 2008

Moving out: It's a prospect the tiny, 82-year-old artist never thought she'd have to face.

But Harriet Casdin-Silver is reluctantly leaving the Fort Point Channel studio in Boston in which she has worked for 22 years. She's in the midst of packing up more than two decades of artwork, supplies, and the accumulated detritus of old phone books, catalogs from past exhibitions, and the like. "I feel like there's been a death," says Casdin-Silver, surveying her chilly 1,100-square-foot workshop last week.

After the Melcher Street building was sold in 2005, Casdin-Silver says the tenants, most of them artists, were given until Nov. 15, 2007, to leave. So far, many have moved on, she says, though some have stayed behind because they still can't find suitable - or affordable - space in the neighborhood, where many older warehouses are now being converted to luxury condominiums or office space.

"The community here definitely has been hurt and a lot of people have moved away," she says.

Casdin-Silver thought she had another space lined up in Allston, but those plans recently fell through when the landlord told her the current tenants aren't moving out after all. Now, she's not quite sure where she'll go.

"I'm looking, but not very hard," she says with a mischievous smile. She insists that even if she has to put her things into storage for a while, it won't stop her from working.

Casdin-Silver plans to continue doing large holographic portraits and digital prints from the nearby studio of Daniel van Ackere, a photographer with whom she frequently collaborates.

Though she's lost much of her hearing, and says there are times when she needs a hand setting up or moving equipment, Casdin-Silver is still very much a working artist."She's so amazing to be her age and still making art on a regular basis," says van Ackere.

"She's inspirational and creative and fearless," he says. "She'll try anything to do what she wants to do."

Having shown her work all over the world, Casdin-Silver is "one of the most important artists in the area and one of the most important holographic artists in the world," says Arthur Dion, director of Gallery NAGA, a Newbury Street gallery that has represented Casdin-Silver for 16 years. The DeCordova Museum in Lincoln has three pieces of Casdin-Silver's work from its permanent collection on display, including her best-known work, "Venus of Willendorf 1991," which recasts the ancient fertility symbol as a naked and obese middle-aged woman.

The eviction Casdin-Silver faces has become a familiar fate for many artists, as the real estate development boom in Fort Point has depleted the supply of affordable work space.

"I think it's really sad; the writing's been on the wall for years now," says van Ackere, who rented space next to Casdin-Silver from 1996 through 2005 and now lives and works in a studio down the street, where his rent is three times what he paid on Melcher Street, he says.

"The definition of 'affordable artist lofts' is changing here," he says.

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