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Saxonville Gets a Green Light

Once written off as a run-down mill village, this little corner of Framingham has found a whole new groove.

Three years ago, on her way to Sudbury to scout locations for her fledgling art gallery, Heather Roy stopped at a traffic light in the heart of Saxonville. This village is a section of Framingham whose industrial history, which includes now defunct 19th- and 20th-century textile mills, dates to the 1650s, when John Stone built a grist mill on the Sudbury River.

Roy looked around at the freshly painted Victorian homes where millworkers once lived, the renovated mill buildings turned into artists' lofts and specialty stores, the old-time barbershop, and the antique clock business -- and never made it to Sudbury.

"The place had a certain energy," she recalls. "I just knew it was right."

Soon after, Roy opened Artana, featuring works by New England artists, right next to Head First, a craft gallery owned and operated by artist Georgia Gisone. Nearby is a cluster of mill buildings that house Lasting Presents, a clothing, gift, and furniture store; lofts, where artists of Saxonville Studios work; Hand Painted Glass, a tiny wholesale operation; and myriad quirky retail and wholesale businesses, from a collectibles and auction establishment to a motorcycle repair shop.

Today, the store banners and spiffed-up buildings cause drivers to look twice when passing through the heart of the village; just a decade ago, few people would have stopped if it hadn't been for the traffic light. Though locals knew of Saxonville's history and admired the architecture-in-the-rough, most newcomers and commuters wrote off the area as a run-down has-been.

Then, in the early 1990s, Nexum, a real estate development company, acquired a block of Victorian buildings and began renovating them for its own offices and as residences. The Framingham Historical Society took notice, as did potential retailers.

Lori Wolf, owner of Lasting Presents, says she and her husband were attracted to their mill building because of its architecture, natural light, affordability -- and because "the traffic between Route 9 and Route 20 is nonstop every day. So many people come in and say, `I was driving by, and I had to stop.' "

Artists, too, were lured by the big windows and low rents the mills had to offer. Soon, they organized Saxonville Studios, a group to support one another and promote art in the community.

At the same time, the Friends of Saxonville formed. Its mission was to heighten awareness of the village's historical significance and raise money to preserve and promote the area. Since then, it has begun to restore several buildings, including Atheneum Hall, built in 1847. Working with the nearby Mary E. Stapleton School, the Friends also helped create a nature trail along the Sudbury River behind the school. Open to the public, the trail is named for the late Carol Getchell, longtime principal at the school and cofounder of the Friends of Saxonville.

Though the noise of trucks and cars rumbling between Route 9 and Route 20 can sometimes detract from Saxonville's charm, the traffic, plus the new mix of schoolchildren, residents, galleries, boutiques, and services, has revived the bustling mill buildings and given new vitality in the SoHo tradition. Only this village has a river view, its own nature trail, and plenty of parking.

Artana, Panorama of New England Art
3 Elm Street (508-788-5225)
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or by appointment.
Gallery owner Heather Roy maintains a select and growing collection of original art, created by artists who live and work in New England. Her rotating exhibits and shows bring fresh eyes to new works in a variety of ways, whether through traditional openings, fund-raising galas, poetry readings that relate to featured work, or collaborating with an art teacher to bring elementary schoolchildren into the gallery for a tour.

Head First
3-A Elm Street (508-788-1846)
Hours: Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 4.
After years of making crafts at home, Georgia Gisone plunged into business several years ago as a gallery owner with handcrafted gifts and art that often have a witty or vintage bent. Head First's melange of offerings varies constantly, depending on Gisone's creative whim. She opened the gallery with fanciful life-size papier-mache busts and figures, then turned to wire work, glass fusion, and oil painting. She also carries crafts and gifts by area artists.

Lasting Presents
2 Central Street (508-788-1814)
Holiday hours: Through January 1, daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Regular hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Owner Lori Wolf started her store with apparel made from the lush, cozy textiles of Kennebunk Weavers. Shoppers can purchase ready-made garments like shawls, coats, and dresses or choose from fabric samples and have Wolf make a garment to order. She has recently branched out into accessories and gift items for the home and carries a line of Indonesian furniture known as Emu Art.

Wex-Rex Collectibles
2 Central Street (508-788-5474)
If Gary Sohmers's office looks like the back room at PBS's Antiques Roadshow, it's no coincidence. Though Sohmers has been collecting and selling junk since long before Woodstock, he has become famous through his appearances on the show, where he is instantly recognizable by his Hawaiian shirts, white ponytail, and flamboyant style. Sohmers recently moved his own appraisal and auction business to Saxonville from Route 9 in Framingham. By appointment, he'll buy or consign your Barbie collection or go through your granny's heirlooms to appraise and sell them at auction.

Saxonville Studios
1602-B Concord Street
Fifteen years ago, a group of artists working in textiles, paint, clay, photography, and mixed media came together to form what is now known as Saxonville Studios. Located in the old Roxbury Carpet Co. mill building on the Sudbury River, the studios are open by appointment.

The Saxonville Studios Open House/Holiday Sale will be November 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ten artists will open their doors and offer works that include paintings, photographs, and prints. Visit for more information and directions. The group also holds an annual open studios event in the spring.

Friends of Saxonville
The mission of the Friends of Saxonville is to educate the public about the special identity of Saxonville and to preserve, enhance, and protect its cultural, environmental, and historical qualities. The Friends periodically hold festivals, art auctions, and other events to raise money and encourage others to enjoy the area.

Cate Coulacos Prato is a freelance writer. She lives in Framingham and can be reached at

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