NORTH KINGSTOWN – The denizens of Shady Lea Mill are currently busy preparing for the 22nd Annual Open Studios, a two-day event in early December that allows guests to tour and interact with several artists and their work.
Shady Lea Mill, now comprised of more than 40 separate studios, had an extensive history before being converted into a haven for artists.
Originally established in the 1820s as a fabric mill, it was purchased by Ambrose Reisert in the middle of the 20th Century to serve as a global manufacturer of metal staples and staple machines.
However, after the manufacturing business was sold in the 1980s, the Reisert family decided to convert the mill into a “haven for dreamers and creators” to “form a community where they can learn, share, and work”–giving way to the mill’s current form and purpose of housing a collection of artist studios.
Now owned and operated by Andy Reisert’s daughter, Lynn Krim, the mill continues to function as “a fortress of creative solitude,” a descriptor dubbed by one of the mill’s founding artisans, John Bolger.
“The important thing for my dad was that a space was created where artists can be free to be themselves, and not feel the pressures of the outside world. And I guess that’s what it was,” Krim said.
Today, more than 40 studios comprise the mill, operating as a place to work for artists like Martin Keen, creator of Keen shoes and Focal Furniture; painters, Ethan French, Jo-Anna Wendall, and Jo-Anna Melrose; jewelry designs Nancy DiMarzio, Lisa Gibson and Petri Kymlander; fashion designs by Diane Harrison; and many, many more.
And while the mill–a large brick building, packed with studio after studio–could rightly be called a “fortress,” that doesn’t stop Krim and many of the artists occupying it from opening their doors to the public every year for the annual open studios event.
Not only do they showcase their work, but the artists also demonstrate how the work is made, offering interactive experiences for guests.
“It gives the artists the opportunity to share their life and their work with the local people,” Krim said. “We have demonstrations going on the whole time and their doors are open. They meet people and have the opportunity to talk and show what they do.”
The demonstrations will include displays of glass blowing, pottery, weaving, spinning, metalwork, sculpting and much more.
Other artwork on display will feature several types of fine art, mixed media, fusing, illustrations and more.
Krim is also especially keen to share the open studios with Rhode Island’s youth, conducting a special outreach to area high schools to encourage participation at this year’s weekend-long event.
Krim explained that, more than two decades ago, when there were only a handful of artist studios, surrounding neighbors expressed some skepticism and intrigue about the function of Shady Lea Mill. To put them at ease, the artists invited the neighbors to tour the studios–which kicked off the annual tradition of opening the doors to the mill and allowing guests to peruse the artists and their work.
“It all started when there were just a few people in the mill and the neighborhood was a little sketchy about what was going on, so they decided they’d open the doors, have a party and invite the neighbors in,” Krim said.
Twenty-two years later, and the tradition still goes on, with roughly 3,000 to 4,000 people attending the open studios event each year.
Shady Lea Mill’s 22nd Annual Open Studios will take place on Dec. 7 and 8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days at the mill’s location at 215 Shady Lea Road. While admission is free, guests are asked to bring a non-perishable donation for the North Kingstown Food Bank.