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New studio space in Beverly attracts full house of artists

Posted by Susannah Blair  February 3, 2012 11:00 AM

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BEVERLY, MA- Jesse Chamberlain, 30, is a Salem jeweler who specializes in creating wedding bands and engagement rings. Though he previously worked in Lynn, he saw an opening on Craigslist for a new studio space in Beverly, and this week moved his tools to a newly remodeled studio at Porter Mill.
“In Lynn the business is there, but there is no development of the presence of the arts,” said Chamberlain. “This [Porter Mill] gives artists a better opportunity to connect with people and other artists.”

Located on 95 Rantoul Street, Beverly, the Studios at Porter Mill opened in June 2011 for 30 artists and included a gallery space, accommodating a variety of artists including ceramists, photographers, painters, mixed media and pastel artists. But recent renovations of the second floor opened up 12 new studios for artists like Chamberlain, who began moving in Tuesday, Jan. 31, when Porter Mill received its occupancy permit earlier than expected. Now every studio is filled, adding 14 new artists to the Porter Mill community. The second floor includes painters, photographers, a jewelry-maker, a trumpet player, and more.

The new move also came in time for a new gallery exhibition: Bound and Written, which opened Thursday, Feb. 2 and runs through Sunday, Feb. 26. The exhibition is in collaboration with Monseratt College of Art and the college’s Book Arts and Printmaking Program. Porter Mill displays a new exhibition the first Thursday of each month.

Bea Modisett, 26, Beverly artist and manager of Porter Mill, said there was a waiting list of 15 artists when the second floor renovation began. 

“It was encouraging knowing the demand was there and the word had spread,” said Modisett. “Artists actually recruited their friends and that was helpful.” Modisett said the total of 45 artists now has lead to a solid amount of activity.

The Porter Mill building is a former factory with historical links to Beverly’s shoe industry in 1895, Superior Hat Company, Porter Sewing Machine Corporation and Red Brick Arts Center. George Vernet, 53, of Topsfield, owner of Vernet Properties Retail and Office Space in Salem, bought the building last January but wasn’t sure whether to utilize the additional interior for more studios or convert it into residential space. 

“This building is something special. There’s nothing like it on the North Shore,” said Vernet. “We’re happy to add more studio space (with the second floor) and impressed with the quality of artists.”

Amy Roberts, of Swampscott, is photographer and painter who also moved her studio residence into the second floor. Roberts learned of the openings through two artist friends who were already at Porter Mill. She originally shared a studio with another artist in Marblehead, but now has the opportunity for her own.

“I think they’ve done a wonderful job with the renovation,” said Roberts. “It’s a creative artistic space, conducive to work and a great community.” 

According to Modisett, the monthly cost of the spaces range from $130 - $600. The lease is year-long and all costs for utilities are included. Varying studio sizes and a range of prices are a key goal for Porter Mill in order to attract both recent graduates and full time artists.

Artists who want to teach or hold a class for the community can now rent out a newly added classroom located on the second floor. And if they need more space for larger projects, they can access it as well.

Michele Kenna of Beverly is a pastel artist and painter who has held her studio at Porter Mill since its opening. Kenna creates colorful abstract landscapes. 

When asked about the new additions Kenna said, “I think it’s great, wonderful. It’s creating a focal point for people who love art and hopefully creates the idea of Beverly as a destination for more artists.” 

Modisett agrees. “Artists can benefit from collaboration and happy artists can contribute to the community,” she said. “Even if you’re not an artist you can benefit from their presence here. It’s something different for Beverly. It makes the area feel vibrant.”

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