Cape Cod is a mecca for artists and crafters, who are drawn to the peninsula’s vibrant landscape, its ever-changing moods, the luminescent quality of air and water, and the community of fellow artists and art lovers. Despite the challenge of making a living through art, many local artists give generously of themselves and their talents to help others. We’d like to introduce you to a few who embody the art and soul of giving.
Michele Preston: The SheArt Network
The original textile designs Michele Preston creates for clothing, accessories and home décor were for many years a labor of love, a hobby while she devoted her energy to working in the New York financial industry and to raising three daughters. After leaving corporate life in 1995, she focused on nurturing her aesthetic side. “I like to use textiles in unusual ways,” she says. “Right now, I’m doing textile jewelry.”
But Preston, who splits her time between Orleans and Pennsylvania, wanted to do more with her art, to develop it not only as a source of income, but as a way of giving to the community. “Over the years, I’ve had a passion for supporting women,” she says, recalling women friends who have helped her and each other. “Creativity could be a springboard for a support network.”
In 2007, Preston, along with Sally Kane, Mary Doyle and Lauren Cascarella, wove art together with a mission by founding the SheArt Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing women of all ages, backgrounds and talents the opportunity for emotional and financial growth through creative expression.
Preston describes SheArt’s mission as three-pronged: To inspire the creativity that lies in all of us; to provide opportunities for women to show their work as they’d like, whether it’s sharing at a meeting or selling at a show; and to help women in any way they need support, from lending a sympathetic ear to raising funds for women’s organizations on Cape Cod, such as WE CAN.
Local restaurants, community centers – and Preston’s home – have provided welcoming space for women to develop and market their art. SheArt has few rules, and the shows are not juried. “I’ve been adamant about maintaining inclusivity,” Preston says. Yet the quality of work has been impressively high, and interest has soared.
Women’s creative talent abounded at the SheArt Mother’s Day Fine Art and Craft Show in May, held at the Cape Cod Cultural Center in South Yarmouth, where 32 member artists sold paintings, jewelry, pottery and other pieces. The event unveiled the SheDress, an updated version of the Trevira Instant Dress originally designed by Lee Stephanie Roscoe in the 1970s. Roscoe, who now lives in Brewster and is a member of the SheArt Network, says she designed the modular knit wrap, which can be customized a myriad ways, “to provide elegant couture accessibly to women.” But those many years ago, her creation was misappropriated by a designer boutique, which sold it at haute couture prices. “As a very young woman and a pioneer, I got brutally plagiarized,” she says.
Nearly 40 years after its debut, Roscoe donated her design and Preston produced 11 one-of-a-kind dresses to raise money for women’s organizations and to sustain the SheArt Network. The garment, which Roscoe says goes from beach to ballroom to bed, exemplifies the SheArt spirit: “It’s unique, it’s got flair, there’s a lot of care put into it, and it’s very community.” The SheDress is also available online at thesheartnetwork.org.
From those who are just beginning to explore selling their work, to established artisans, the SheArt Network provides ample evidence that women united for a common cause can find success with creative, financial and emotional support. “It’s fulfilled the need that we saw in all three areas,” says Preston.
717-503-5859 thesheartnetwork @hotmail.com
Caryn Samuell & John McNamara: Glass Art & Green Lanterns
A serendipitous collaboration between glass artist Caryn Samuell and John McNamara, who with his wife, Sasha, helps young adults with learning disabilities gain a foothold in independent living has led to new business for the Samuell Day Gallery and to meaningful vocations for clients the McNamaras support.
Trained first as an electrical engineer, Samuell built her artistic career from teaching stained glass and etching in her home in Grafton, Massachusetts in 1983, to opening her own gallery and workshop on Route 6A in Cummaquid, after moving to the Cape in 1996. In between, she taught at the renowned Worcester Center for Crafts and was commissioned for several stained-glass window installations in churches.
Samuell says she’s always looking for unique ways of creating beauty, whether its making jewelry that goes through five to seven firings to achieve deep colors, or using her engineering background – and years of rough hands from working with glass – to develop Sea Shore Secrets grade A shea-butter, non-greasy moisturizing cream that can be used on the whole body.
The Samuell Day Gallery is filled with items crafted by 25 glass artists and Samuell’s colorful window sculpture (hangings which encompass more negative space than traditional stained glass), as well as her iridescent jewelry and home accent pieces, including dishwasher-safe etched stemware, bowls and vases – all made from recycled glass. Some glass comes from the dump, or people drop off old items. “A lovely lady in Yarmouth gives me Skyy vodka bottles,” she says.
Since January, Samuell Day Gallery has featured a line of recycled glass products called Green Lanterns. The etched hurricane lanterns, candy dishes made from wine bottles cut lengthwise, candlesticks, vases, and sleek ringed pendants and earrings are made by John McNamara and learning-disabled young adults he works with at Halyard Services in Hyannis. There are even vases and candlesticks 2.0: re-worked pieces that had cracked when they were initially cut. “It’s recycling our waste, which was already recycled,” Samuell says.
John and Sasha McNamara dreamed of developing a way for their clients to engage in meaningful work and learn to negotiate the skills of day-to-day life. “With the economy crashing down, what could we do that’s challenging and creates steady income?” John recalls asking. The idea of producing gift items out of recycled glass came when he cut a bottle to make a bowl for a family member. He says, “We’re creating a product line that we can work on ourselves and get our materials from the dump.”
The problem was, he kept burning out his tools. He came repeatedly to Samuell for help. Samuell provided so much guidance about glass art and etching, they agreed to form a partnership. Samuell says, “He’s the CEO and I’m the CFO. We really mix well. I’ll say we need to do this with the glass and he’ll rig up the machine.”
Elizabeth Zibart, 25, of Hyannis, works in the glass workshop part time, grinding the bottles that McNamara cuts and pasting on the simple etching designs of fish, dragonflies, trees and dots. “I think the whole idea of recycled glass is brilliant,” Zibart says.
McNamara and Samuell try to match clients who show an interest in glasswork with appropriate job skills. Zibart, for example, had machining experience working in stagecraft at Cape Cod Community College. Others might sort bottles or help sell the products at a craft show. McNamara says, “There are also interim opportunities to keep people from stagnating and being inactive. Cognitive and physical activity is all good.”
Samuell and McNamara are seeking more retail outlets for Green Lanterns products, which are also available online at Samuelldaygallery.com and sterlingwineonline.com. Currently, some 10 galleries and wine stores on the Cape carry the line.
The product line is evolving, and McNamara plans to create commemorative dishes from champagne bottles over the wedding and graduation season. “It’s our hope to be profitable, afford salaries, and provide more opportunities,” McNamara says.
McNamara relates what another client-employee said, comparing Green Lanterns to his previous job in maintenance: “I feel like this is more rewarding. I made this.”
Glass Art & Green Lanterns
4039 Main Street, Cummaquid. www.samuelldaygallery.com 508-362-0175
Kristin Knowles: Outermost Pottery
One of Kristin Knowles’ favorite quotations is from theologian and civil-rights activist Harold Thurman Whitman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people that have come alive.” Whether it’s writing and performing poetry, working in human services, dedicating herself to the two children she and her husband, Thomas Fettig, adopted from Kazakhstan, or developing pottery from a hobby to her Outermost Pottery business, Knowles, a lifelong Orleans resident, embraces what she does with an open spirit.
For much of the last seven years, Knowles worked with emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally challenged youth at the Latham Center in Brewster. But a layoff provided another chance to grow. She says, “I had invested myself in that job; it was part of my identity. At first it was a huge blow, but I turned it around as an opportunity to start my own business.”
Knowles turned her efforts to creating and selling beautiful functional and sculptural stoneware inspired by the symmetry of the natural world and religious imagery. She was accepted into juried shows and is nurturing a market for her work, as she develops who she is as a potter. The SheArt Network of women artists opened up even more opportunities for Knowles. “For me, it’s a venue for marketing work and connecting with other artists,” she says. “That’s what I love about Cape Cod: it’s a community.”
The inner call to approach her craft with an open heart came one day when she was at the wheel, throwing mugs for the Wellfleet Oyster Festival. She recalls thinking, “What am I doing this for? Is this all about making money, or can I go about having a philanthropic goal that dovetails into this?”
Knowles created “Filled with Hope” mugs as a way to give something back for the support she and her husband had received from the Cape Cod Adoption Network and Good Hope Adoption Services of Dennis, when they adopted their children, Jack and Sasha, in 2008. Five dollars from every handmade mug Knowles sells is donated to Good Hope Adoption Services, which took over the crucial transition services that the Adoption Network had provided before it lost its funding last year.
For SheArt’s Valentine’s Day show, Knowles created “Hearts for Haiti” ceramic wall pockets, which she sells to benefit The Haiti Project, a connection between Wellfleet’s Ellen LeBow and other local artists and the Matenwa Community Learning Center in Haiti.
Twenty percent of the pottery Knowles sells supports charitable causes. “What I do is empowering. Not only does it help me pay my bills, but it’s giving back – not just a donation here and there,” she says. “I think a lot of artists operate that way, because they’re doing what they love and it feeds their spirit. It perpetuates positive energy.”
Outermost Pottery, www.outermostpottery.com
Written by Susan Spencer