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Shady Lea bustling with trade and talent

December 6, 2013

Dan Collins, owner and operator of Rhode Island Guitar Company, is one of many craftsmen plying his trade, building guitars, at The Mill at Shady Lea in North Kingstown.

NORTH KINGSTOWN—The sounds of clanking and tinkering often emanate at The Mill at Shady Lea in North Kingstown as artists ply their multivariate trades, from glassworks to furniture making to metallurgy. Craftsmen converse among each other, talking about their latest designs or projects. This Saturday and Sunday, The Mill at Shady Lea will open its doors for the public to see all of its artists’ hard work and dedication.

“This mill is about people,” said Lynn Krim, owner of the mill. “It is about talent and collaboration.
This weekend, over 40 artists located at The Mill at Shady Lea will invite the local community in to view their crafts during the mill’s 16th annual Open Studios event. Every form of artwork and craftsmanship will be represented, from Petri Kymlander’s jewelry to Ryan Baird’s furniture designs.

The Mill was established as an artistic haven in the 1980s when Krim’s father, Andrew Reisert, took over his father’s empty mill. Over the years, Krim’s family has renovated the space to house over 40 studios, a collection of talented artisans who work seriously, but enjoy the community as well.

Dan Collins, owner and operator of the Rhode Island Guitar Company, is one such tenant at The Mill at Shady Lea, building unique, quality guitars, as well as offering guitar-making lessons to a diverse group of students.

“A friend I grew up with told me about the mill,” said Collins “It is off the beaten path, but the space is amazing. I fell in love with the place.”

Collins’ studio is lined with wooden planks, guitar-shaped pieces and other woodworking tools. Having been at the mill for the past five years, Collins offers his expertise to any person who desires the knowledge or training, and is often aiding the production for numerous kinds of stringed instruments, not just guitars. Collins has stated that production and participation is solely up to the individual, but that the process is a trying one.

“Making guitars is very detail-oriented,” said Collins. “Progress is slow, so patience is always key. Not rushing is the hardest part.”

“It is about knowing when to step back and look at what you are doing,” he continued. “We do everything from scratch, which may be hard for people to grasp.”

Ariel Bodman, an Ohio native working under Collins, is studying ethnomusicology at school and consulted him about constructing an ancient Anglo-Saxon lyre. She noted that working at Collins’ studio has given her a hands-on experience unlike simply performing with a musical instrument.

 “I got in touch with Dan and it has been really exciting to work with him, said Bodman. “[Guitar making] is so tangible, watching this thing happen before your eyes. It is so much fun and very fulfilling.”

“The students make a great community,” she added. “They come together to do this [guitar making] and have loads of fun.”

Bodman is one of a group of 15-20 students, of various ages and abilities, who have taken to Collins’ instruction and guitar-making.

“We have had disabled people build guitars, as well as veterans,” said Collins. “One friend [who lost a number of fingers] couldn’t play an instrument, but he build a guitar with just four strings. It fits his hand and serves as not just an instrument, but therapy for his hand. That is really cool.”

“There are huge social aspects to what we do here, and this is definitely a crew of people who are happy and making it work,” he added. “There are huge networking benefits here [at the mill].”

Collins, who has been at the mill for five years, hopes that the community which the guitar-making studio has created will make the public aware once more that craft trades are alive and well in Rhode Island, as well as giving opportunities to many who would not initially think they could create something from their own hands.

“I see it as an opportunity for people in the community to try an art form that has been lost,” said Collins. “The art of luthiery has been lost due to mass production. [The studio] has been welcomed by a lot of people and I am really glad to bring it back to Rhode Island.”

Krim is also glad for the myriad artists working under the roof of the community which her father first established, seeing them dedicate their time and face the challenges which craftspeople often encounter. The Open Studios event this weekend will be just that; an eye-opener to those who have not yet seen the talent on tap at The Mill at Shady Lea.

For more information on the 16th annual Open Studios event, visit The complex will be open on Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 5 p.m.


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