Art is bursting from within the walls of the Picker Building in Nashua. Photographers, sculptors, jewelers, painters and more have come to this old building, just behind the Clocktower Apartments and along the Nashua River, to create works of startling diversity. They will open their studios on Saturday, May 21, to allow light to shine on a not so carefully guarded secret: the Picker Building is the epicenter of the Nashua art scene.
It is an unlikely place.
The Picker Building was built between 1861 and 1865 and got its name from the fact that workers used to pick seeds from cotton bales as part of the Nashua Manufacturing Co., according to Sid Ceaser, a photographer whose studio is in the building. But like many mill buildings, Picker lost its identity once the industry left town. Over the last six years it’s gotten a new one.
Albert Wilkinson, who runs A.W. Emboss LLC and is a photographer, was one of the earliest artists to call the building home in 2006. Over the years, Wilkinson has seen more and more artists arrive. Now there are more than 20.
“It has become a magnet,” Wilkinson said. “When people would visit during the Art Walk they would be amazed that so much art was in one spot.”
Ceaser (who has shot photos for the Hippo) said it was the success of the Art Walk that led the artists in the Picker Building to hold their own open studio. The first one happened last year and was a great success. Ceaser said one of the benefits for the artists is that because there is so much diversity — photographers, sculptors, jewelers, etc. — each business gets exposed to a variety of people. If Ceaser’s studio was alone and he held an open studio, only people who had heard of him would attend. But with so many other talented artists around, someone may come to see painter Dominique Boutaud and then end up loving Ceaser’s work.
This eagerness to work together is partially because the Picker Building is not located on Main Street and doesn’t get a lot of walk-by traffic, according to photographer Maria O’Brien, one of the newest tenants.
“Even though there are other photographers, it isn’t a battleground,” O’Brien said. “We’re getting our business from elsewhere and so there isn’t a sense of competition. We’re kind of a community.”
O’Brien had known about the Picker Building for years and waited for the right space to open so she could leave her at-home work studio. She said she now loves having a space to come to every day so she can separate work from home life. Her daughter, Erin, is a student at the New England School of Photography and will share the space with O’Brien.
“I was taken by the feel of the building,” O’Brien said.
This can’t be overstated. Abstract painter Patrica Ahern said as soon as she saw the windows and the view of the river and the high ceilings she knew the Picker Building was the place for her.
According to mixed-media artist Bonnie Guercio, each of the building’s four floors has its own culture. The second floor, where Guercio’s studio is located, is the most populated partly because it is the main floor visitors walk through.
Just down from Guercio’s studio is a large space that is home to Tanya Prather, fiber artist, Gail Moriarty, handcrafted jeweler, and D. Christine Lehmkuhl of Circus Bird Studio. Lehmkuhl, who works with precious metals, said she likes to hammer things, which she then turns into her personally designed pieces. She said after working more than 30 years as an IT professional she is loving life as an artist.
Art makes for a solitary profession but having like-minded people around can be helpful, according to Ahern. She said the creative energy in the building is infectious. In Ahern’s studio, she has two swings dangling from the ceiling that can hold up to 500 pounds of weight. Sometimes she swings for inspiration.
Potter Jim Convery fishes — right out the window of his studio. Convery spent his career building pipeline all over the country but began making pots in 2008. Now several potters come in to work in his corner studio, which has multiple windows. Since his window is right above the Nashua River, Convery is known to throw out a line from time to time.
“The Picker Building is really a great thing for Nashua,” Convery said.
And, as the word gets out, more and more artists will be attracted to it, according to Ceaser. This is a good thing for the artists who are already working there and for the city of Nashua. Guercio said Jim Bolger, the building’s owner, does all the renovations himself with a small crew and has kept the rent low, which has allowed artists to afford the spaces.
These spaces then transform into tiny galleries, which can be visited by the public.
“People get to see they’re supporting creative talent,” Ceaser said. “You’re not a franchise at the mall. You’re trying to make a living as an artist.”