If you think buying art doesn’t fit into your budget, you haven’t visited Lowell’s Western Avenue Studios or Helen Thomas Simply Smashing in Andover.
Western Avenue Studios (WAS) is located in an enormous complex of former mill buildings. It houses 300 artists in 250 studios and 50 live/work lofts.
Paintings, woodworks, photography, jewelry, letterpress creations, blown glass, sculptures, scarves, soaps and more can be found within this balanced community of emerging and well-established artists.
On the first Saturday of each month from noon to 5 p.m., visitors can observe the artists in their natural habitat and purchase pieces directly from them. An artist reception follows in the Loading Dock Gallery, a space on the second floor where multiple artists sell their work.
“You can build a personal relationship with the artists,” gallery manager Nan Hockenbury says of the Saturday events. “If you can’t afford original work, buy a print and work your way up.”
“Start with something as simple as a greeting card,” says Arlene Hammel, a member of the Western Avenue Studios Artist Association. “You may see the original on the wall, but I have seen people frame the cards, as well.”
Artist Denise Rainis, who paints beautiful acrylic landscapes and abstracts, offers her work on canvas or as $20 pendants and rings. Linda Dunn’s bookmarks cost $3. In glassblower Aaron Slater’s studio, you can pick up a unique glass ring for as little as $25. An experienced art collector with a larger budget can find a wide range of original paintings, sculptures and fabric art for sale.
“We have a full range of media, sizes and prices. It’s an experience unlike any other you’ve ever had,” says Hammel, adding that a visit to WAS can be an all-day adventure. Navigation Brewing Co. has a taproom downstairs for visitors looking to quench a thirst, and food trucks are often parked outside.
Helen Thomas Simply Smashing in downtown Andover may not be as expansive as WAS, but owner Lisa Schiavone has created an artist community that’s just as lively.
“I wanted to do handcrafted products from local artists and really support the community,” says Schiavone, who opened the Main Street shop in 2000. “You can buy everything online. I wanted to do something different.”
The artists whose work is sold in the shop have started collaborating. Stephanie Deady’s whimsical paintings of cows, whose eyes exude personality, can be found on pillows created by Lisa DiAntonio’s Green Park Studios.
“Because the artists are local, anything can be custom made,” Schiavone says. “And there is something for every style and budget.”
There are affordable cards and prints of artist Janet Hamlin’s paintings of Andover landmarks and special places, traditional watercolor landscapes by John Mulcahy, Michele Boshar’s eye-catching cowgirl-themed mixed-media collage that hangs on a wall, and a cocktail table that boasts another of Boshar’s collages — inspired by 1940s era illustrations — that is sure to be a conversation piece. Well-known local speed-painter and performance artist Rob Surette’s portraits of Albert Einstein and Taylor Swift bring light and whimsy to the shop.
At Helen Thomas, you can furnish a home with beautifully made rugs by Dash & Albert or have a decorative sign made to display your favorite quote. You can awaken your chakras by slipping on one of artist Marylee Fairbanks’ Chakras Yoga bracelets.
Schiavone, who displays boundless energy and quickly builds a comfortable rapport with customers, points out one of her favorite pieces, a pillow made by Green Park Studios that’s adorned by a quote from director Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”: “You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
Western Avenue Studios
Helen Thomas Simply Smashing