II live here in Turners Falls, Mass, snug in the armpit of the Connecticut River as it turns back on itself after the Great Falls. Turners is a would-be Industrial Age wonder turned delightfully deferred, down at the heels hip town. Housing, rather than business, dominates the downtown due to conversion of many building to subsidized housing during the 1980s. This has kept the old brick heart of the village beating. Recent improvements to the town have raised the quality of life with a canal side bike path, rehabilitated buildings, park ampitheater, and various public art projects dotting the streets and paths. The streetscapes and people of Turners have inspired my artwork for decades
My favorite items right now are my Slimy Sam and Slippery Sally slugs. I've been making small clay slugs for about 15 years and they are my best selling item always. So I thought huggable fuzzy stuffies would bring the creatures into the arms of babes and seed a new generation of slug lovers who might enjoy the "spineless circus". They amuse me so much. I love putting out my basket of Sams and Sallies outside my little shop in Turners because I know it makes people smile as they go by and it is a child magnet.
The slug thing started as sort of a contrary joke for a "Garden Art" exhibit. Rebelling against the reign of jewel like watercolor flowers in still life, I decided to invade the exhibit with slugs. There is something of the fourth-grader-willing-to-eat-bugs-for-attention about me. I'm not above being rather gross in the service of being different. But they really weren't gross, they were cute, and I sold out two batches of them before the show was over! And so I continued to make and sell at various locations and I have kept the price under $5. I tried gluing them to fabric leaves in order to raise the price to $8 but they just didn't sell that way. I also tried to get Agway to sell them but they had no sense of humor about slugs there ("we sell stuff to kill those, etc")
Like many artists I am motivated to make things and excited about the process of creating...and not so great about marketing, promotions, etc. Since I have a "bread and butter" job making wheelchairs for pets at Eddies Wheels, I am more committed to keeping it interesting for myself than driving myself crazy in the promotional arena. Like sunlight hitting a slug, I shirk from the spotlight in favor of getting under a rock and propagating.
That being said, it is exciting and validating to sell the work from my brain and hands. I am a terrible example of a shop owner on Etsy or in Turners, as far as making a living at it goes. But it does pay for its own expenses and that is something.
I have also discovered that it is sometimes enough to just share my work, as people wander in to Nina's Nook to sit and enjoy looking around without buying anything. I imagine many people live in a world of mass produced mediocrity lacking the sort of colors and textures that real fabric, paint, ceramics offer. They come in to refresh the soul. I see their eyes feeding on it. It is a very tiny space I have rented, only five feet wide by twenty feet long, so I am sort of in a very intimate space with people when they come in, like being in an elevator or a closet together. Sometimes I will ask to record their stories if they feel like talking
My hidden talent? I am a good business person... For other people! I've worked like hell for my boss to help his business grow and succeed. I can do that. I have an incredible nitpicky left brain obsessively cataloging side of me that thrives in inventory and information management. I've designed the paper flow, work processing forms, the parts numbering system, and written and designed the technical and sales literature at Eddie's Wheels. I make sure that things get done and done right by instituting systems and procedures that take into account our tendency to err. I make sure things are orderly and beautiful and meaningful as possible. Things (and people) need to speak their own truth.
How do I support the local arts community? I figure everyone benefits from whatever contributions we make, the arts community as part of the larger picture. I try to respond as generously as I can to demands upon my talents and offer them up as well. I try not to calculate about all this but ask instead. What do I want the result to be? What gives me pleasure in life? What matters? When I work for my boss, I do the equations and the numbers. For myself? Not so much, not to be ruled by that. I like that it can be a pleasant surprise when money comes. I like that my efforts can at least cover their own expenses. I like that what I make can become part of other people's lives and make them happy.
Some other facts about me:
I enjoy the challenge of building a three dimensional object, whether for decorative or functional purposes. I work in metal, wax, resin, clay, wood, and fabric and every type of industrial material in between.
I like to incorporate little bits and pieces of industrial materials into my collages and paintings. WHen working on a two dimensional surface, it is my urge to incorporate some sort of three dimensional textural material.
Currently I am sculpting in wax to make my rodent musicians, which are then molded and cast into a cold bronze.
I have maintained a home here in Turners Falls since 1987. Prior to that, I lived in Amherst, Sturbridge, and Provincetown. I left high school in Amherst to run a winch on a fish pier in P-town. I have also maintained highways, cooked breakfasts behind a grill, and managed an auto parts store. I married and had two boys, then I went back to school in 1993 with the aim of getting an MLS; seven years later I had received an AS in Studio Art from Greenfield Community College and a BA from Smith College, where I fell in love with the history of sciences program and was awarded prizes in both poetry and short fiction.
Since then, I have written an arts column for the Greenfield Recorder under my married name, Nina Bander; ran a bag lunch service for private schools from my kitchen; worked as a freelance graphic designer; and have helped another small business grow as a fabricator and production manager at Eddies Wheels for Pets in Shelburne, MA (www.eddieswheels.com) . I am also a member of the Shelburne Artisans Cooperative gallery (www.shelburneartscoop.com) where my work is regularly featured.
Recently I decided to make an old dream a reality by renting a tiny hole in the wall space on Avenue A in Turners Falls. When "Nina's Nook" opens in June it will be part interactive art installation part gallery part store part comic book come to life. Inspired by Russell Miller's "Northangle Nocturne" (www.roothogrecords.com) there will be a "story collector" available at the rear of the 5x22 space. There will be plenty of work to do before it is ready for visitors. I hope it contributes something to the Avenue. Follow my journal entries to see what's going on at 125A Avenue A, or become a friend of Nina's Nook on facebook.