The roots of the East Bay’s artistic community run so deep, they give any other Rhode Island region a run for its money. A flourishing art colony in Bristol Ferry – a Portsmouth neighborhood that prior to the Mount Hope Bridge being built was bustling with a railroad station, telegraph and post office, a hotel, and summer cottages – was a magnet for creatives in the 19th century, including renowned painters Oscar Miller and Sophia Mitchell, while Portsmouth’s own Sarah J. Eddy, the daughter of a wealthy art connoisseur, studied at the country’s leading art institutions at the time and became a prolific painter, sculptor, and photographer (in addition to being a suffragette, author, philanthropist, and animal welfare activist). These and many more artists propagated the region’s reputation as the apogee of creative inspiration, a legacy emanating today in the generous sweep of studios, galleries, and art-filled emporiums throughout the cozy coastal towns hugging its coastline.
More than 40 artists are represented at Made in Warren, a number that’s grown over its nine years in business. Nearly every artist is from Rhode Island or the south coast of Massachusetts, many of whom work out of Warren’s Cutler Mill, a 155-year-old repurposed mixed-use mill where you’ll also find handcrafted furniture by Warren Chair Works, copper fixtures by Ferro Weathervanes, sign makers, and more. Artist Megan Douglas creates in Cutler Mill, too, handcrafting pieces for her MDP Pottery line at Mudstone Studio. She also has a dual volunteer role at Made in Warren (treasurer and public relations manager), which functions as an artists cooperative.
“It’s a place that fully supports everybody wherever they are in the art world,” says Douglas, adding that the creative community she’s found at Made in Warren has encouraged her, and artists like her throughout the region, along the way. Douglas had only been making pottery for four years when she connected with the cooperative. “I didn’t think my stuff was worthy of selling, but other people did,” she says. “Made in Warren tries to get people kind of at the beginning to give them that jumpstart as a way to sell their art but also develop more what their art is going to be like and who they want to be as an artist.”
Douglas says the cooperative has “taken some time to evolve to that place” where everyone is on the same page – a hurdle with any large group – but now, they’re in sync, pitching in and capitalizing on their other skills, too, like carpentry for displays, photography for social media, and bookkeeping to keep the business organized, so they all can flourish. Shoppers range from locals and folks popping in and taking a respite from the East Bay Bike Path just around the corner to travelers from across the region. With a broad-based appeal, Made in Warren stocks original works, Douglas says, priced from $5 to $500, adding, “We’re trying to make it accessible to everybody.”
Douglas notes that the East Bay community has been equally supportive. “It’s so nice because it just feels so encouraging. When people come into the shop, they’re so excited to see art, but then they’re also always asking, ‘Where can we learn to do this?’” says Douglas, who points them to resources like pottery classes at Mudstone Studio, workshops at Cutler Mills, and the many offerings at Bristol Art Museum.
Hotpoint Emporium in Bristol follows a similar “rising tide floats all boats” model, operating as a non-profit collaborative with nearly 40 artists represented. Like countless artists and businesses, the pandemic crippled them a few years ago, and though Hotpoint Emporium survived by shifting to online sales, which added a new platform for many artists, they were eager to return to interacting with their community and customers.
Jewelry maker Richard Bradley, who’s My Pink Planet line of one-of-a-kind or limited-edition pieces, says being around creative people working in diverse disciplines has inspired him to expand his work into painting and sculpture as well. Working with the collaborative allows him to present his work to a wide audience he may not otherwise reach. “It’s much more sustainable because the rents are very high, and if you get yourself into a gallery, they take quite a large percentage out of the profit,” he explains. “Another thing that works out well for us is that there’s no sales tax on art in Rhode Island.”
Eco-artist and photographer Meredith Brower is a familiar face at Hotpoint Emporium. “The most fun for all the artists is really doing your shifts and meeting the people and talking to them,” says the owner/operator of Firefly Mandalas. A mandala is a geometric configuration of symbols, often used in Buddhist and Hindu religions as an aid to meditation; it’s just one of myriad types of art found in the charming canary-yellow retail gallery on State Street. Hotpoint Emporium’s artists come from all walks and backgrounds. Suzanne Housley Noonan is a RISD alumnus whose hand-painted cloth rugs are dubbed “art for your floor.” Ceramics by Vivian Whitcomb and Nasseramics (AKA Andrew Nasser), glass art by Maria Prus Scorsone, handcrafted woodwork by John Hugo, and even sailor valentines by Melonie Massa of Mermaid Baubles can all be found stocked on shelves and in Hotpoint’s windows. “There’s a wide variety of artists in the sense of all different mediums, but then there’s also some of the younger people coming in right out of college, and there’s some people that are retired, so there’s the whole gamut,” says Brower.
Emily Hirsch had already established her jewelry line when she opened Athalia of Newport on Franklin Street in the City by the Sea nine years ago. The wide street right off upper Thames Street enjoys a long legacy of retailers, and today, the majority of the long row of locally owned shops are women-owned. “We formed a community,” says Hirsch, who is looking forward to the merriment of the holiday season, especially when Franklin Street hosts its annual holiday strolls. ”And so we’re a family, and I don’t think you find that a lot.”
Hirsh says she carries the work of about 20 artists, and everything in the store is handmade, from the jewelry she makes plus that of a half dozen other jewelry makers to photography, ceramics, painted pottery, scarves, bags, and even some self-care items. She started carrying items by Spindrift Soap Company, owned by Colby Field, which includes skincare products handmade from beer, wine, and essential oils, like the hops-infused cleansing bar with hemp seed oil and pine. Stained-glass hearts by Newport’s M.EYEimages, decoupage shells by Rhonda Bishop, and a host of new items for the holiday season are tucked into every nook and cranny.
Hirsch says that while the throngs of visitors in Newport are wonderful, it’s the local support Athalia of Newport and shops like hers thrive on. “I love and appreciate the tourists, but truly it’s the local people that support these businesses,” she says. “Rhode Island supporting Rhode Island, you know? I’ve had people come in and say, ‘Well, we did Bristol last weekend. We’re doing Newport this weekend, and we’ll do this next week, and they go to all the small towns and support the local businesses.” And for that, she’s grateful. “The point of what I do is to educate people on buying from artists and buying locally, and coming in and just seeing what these amazing artists are making. It’s basically a craft fair under one roof.”
Some of the many shops selling local
brands and goods around the region.
Beach Barn Art & Gifts, Warren
Beau Bleu Boutique & Gifts, Bristol
Courtyards LTD, Tiverton
Daisy Dig’ins, Barrington
Firefly Mandalas, Tiverton
Four Corners Gallery, Tiverton
Imagine Gift Store, Warren
LouLou’s Decor, Tiverton
Studio by the Sea, Tiverton
Tiffany Peay Jewelry & Healing Arts, Tiverton
Wink Gift Store, Bristol
Find even more at DiscoverNewport.org
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here