GLOUCESTER — Whale watching tours, fresh seafood, sandy beaches, and guys fishing for “Wicked Tuna” on a Nat Geo reality show — Gloucester is justifiably famous for all of these. Meanwhile, tucked away in sunlit studios around this seaport city (and in neighboring Rockport), artists create stunning works that are inspired by this rugged landscape of sea and sky.
Lauded as one of the top 10 small cities for art by American Style magazine, Gloucester’s unique luminescence and dramatic geography have long attracted creative types. The city is home to Rocky Neck, one of oldest art colonies in the United States, and has hatched celebrities such as marine artist Fitz Henry Lane (1804-65), a Gloucester native. (The Cape Ann Museum, re-opening in mid-August, holds the world’s largest collection of Lane’s work.) Artists who have lived and worked here include Winslow Homer, Milton Avery, Edward Hopper, and Cecilia Beaux. And we’ve all admired “The Man at the Wheel,” the iconic piece created by sculptor Leonard Craske in the 1920s.
“Art is really part of the DNA of this place,” says sea glass artist Jacqueline Ganim-DeFalco, who relocated to Gloucester from Manhattan and unleashed her creative side. Painter Rob Diebboll describes crossing the bridge into Cape Ann as “entering a remote world, far from the mania” of Boston. “It’s an incredibly rich island for making art, which explains the diverse group of artists here,” he says. From seaweed to sea glass, granite to garbage, anything goes in the Cape Ann arts scene.
The best portal to this lively, color-splashed world: the 31st annual Cape Ann Artisans Open Studio Tour, on June 21-22 (and again on Oct. 11-13) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Most are also open by appointment. Twenty-six artists at 23 studios are participating. You’ll see art being made, and discover local neighborhoods that most visitors miss as you follow this Tour de Art to pocket gardens, tiny courtyards, a hand-built barn, and a boat builder’s shed. Download a map at www.capeannartisans.com, and look for magenta banners that mark the studios. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek behind the scenes.
In Gloucester, you’re never very far from the water, and nobody knows that better than Montgomery, who paints alongside the Annisquam River at a studio inside his family’s 104-year-old boatyard. Montgomery had attended art school but ultimately entered the family business. About seven years ago, he decided to delegate the boat building to others and focus on his painting. A major theme: wooden boats. “Some of the boats I’m painting are boats I actually built,” Montgomery says. “I try to capture the essence of Gloucester Harbor, and the feel of marshy places and my own little cove here.” 29 Ferry St., Gloucester, 978-283-0262, www.davidhmontgomery
Most of us have a bit of sea glass tucked away someplace. Then there’s Ganim-DeFalco, who could make sea glass art for the next decade without setting foot on a beach. Visitors simply gape at the massive, sea glass-filled jars in her studio, a kaleidoscope of colors, sorted by size and hue. The artist is an avid collector as well as a recipient of sea glass gifting: “People give it to me, and then ask me to make them something from their collection,” Ganim-DeFalco says. Hers is the real thing, not the tumbled glass you find at flea markets. “It takes 30 years to make sea glass — it’s very hard to duplicate what Mother Nature can do,” the artist says. Her line includes sea glass barrettes that look like jewelry for the hair, along with bracelets and pendants. Besides making the wearer feel like a glamorous mermaid, they provide a little piece of Cape Ann — “and you won’t turn one over and see ‘Made in China’ on the back of it!” Ganim-DeFalco says. 44 Thurston Point Road, Gloucester, 978-283-8333, www.capeanndesigns.com
Talk about putting a bit of nature into your work: MacFadyen uses seaweed, grasses, and other vegetation when she makes the collagraph printing plates for her silk scarves, clothing, and landscape panels. She gathers materials from a nearby site, perhaps Goose Cove, returns to the studio, and prints them onto hand-dyed silk. “It’s really fun that way. You never know what you’ll find,” MacFadyen says, who has has been working locally for 22 years. “I have a design in my head, but no idea what will actually happen,” she says. “That’s the beauty of it.” The result is beautiful, and definitely one-of-a-kind. 16 Langsford St., Gloucester, 978-290-6595, www.camillamacfadyen.com
“Look at that piece of marble! It’s a mosaic right there,” Stratton says to a visitor, pointing to a faceted bit of rock at her garden studio. Her Koi pond is surrounded by chunks of local granite embedded with vibrant mosaics. Stratton uses pebbles, shells, pottery shards, and natural stone in her work. “I just love the texture,” she says. “You won’t see me working with [something smooth like] stained glass.” Rockport’s granite quarries are a favorite source for materials, as sculpture pieces or to chop up, along with glass blower’s glass and other materials she finds interesting. “When most people think of mosaics, they think of ‘square’ and ‘uniform.’ I’m moving away from all that,” Stratton says. 16A Prospect St., Rockport, 978-546-7582, www.pamstrattonmosaics.com
Displayed in his airy studio, Diebboll’s large paintings are populated with people and dogs at the beach — lots of figures, lots of intertwined stories. The figures are all real, observed on site at local beaches, the artist says. “But the composition is an imaginary construction . . . figures are placed to create questions of relationship and purpose. I inject humor, love, and mystery,” Diebboll explains. The local landscape is integral to his beach and figural work, he says. “It defines the light and space, and it provides the perfect context for my themes of serenity and the now.” 1 Camborne Way, Rockport, 978-559-1881, www.robdiebboll.com
Feel free to bring a small piece of trash to Nogelo’s studio during the tour; she’s making a “Kitchen Egg” wall, creating art using the plastic compartments one finds inside egg cartons. She fills the containers with trash and paints them, and the result is intriguingly attractive. When she began her “kitchen egg” series, “I felt like I was packaging the archeology of our time,” Nogelo says. She has since branched out into metallics, using cans, DVDs, and discarded materials she finds on walks to the beach. There’s an environmental message in this work, and in her paintings, where Gloucester’s sea and sky are favorite motifs. Ask her about the piece she painted on Marathon Monday. 97 East Main St., #4, Gloucester, 978-761-3003, www.sinikkanogelo.com
Tucked behind a flower-filled courtyard in downtown Gloucester is a tiny jewel box of a studio, where Williams creates lamp-worked glass beads and contemporary art glass jewelry. Layering color on color, with accents of pure gold granules and fine silver threads, the artist works with light and transparency, influenced by her surroundings. “I’m inspired by my gardens, the ever-changing light on the ocean, the seascapes that surround me, anywhere colors collide in nature,” she says. 17 Pleasant St., Gloucester, 978-283-5566, www.bethwilliams.com
“My work is inspired by the ocean and what lives in it,” says Stuyf, a former dancer. Inspiration is close at hand, since his Mussel Point studio overlooks the Atlantic. He primarily works with copper, using acetylene torches, welding and soldering equipment, and, he estimates, 200 different hammers. His gallery and workshop are filled with creatures large and small, from lattice-winged dragonflies to giant octopods. On a tour, he’ll entice little kids to make copper jewelry, and entertain the guys who come to talk about the tools and techniques. His fanciful frog sculptures help soothe kids in the waiting rooms of hospitals in Waltham and Danvers. 16 Mussel Point Way, Gloucester, 978-921-8089, www.bartswork.com
It takes a bit of stair climbing to reach the studio of David Piemonte and Terry Del Percio-Piemonte, but the reward is a look at David’s simple but powerful black-and-white photographs, and Terry’s vividly hued abstract and whimsical paintings. The commonality: how Gloucester informs their work. “Cape Ann is incredible — the light, the architecture — there’s so much tucked into this northeast corner of Massachusetts,” David says. Adds Terry: “You know how they say that some places are a center of spirituality? I think this is one.”
38 Bond St., Goucester, 978-281-1188, www.newmoongreetings.com/BondStreet/
As he began working with beach stones, Mike Foley noticed that many stones didn’t look like the bedrock from the area. “My theory is that these are ballast stones from long-ago ships,” Foley says, which adds a hint of mystery to his Easter Island-like heads, fleets of sailboats and sailor’s knots, and other artful objects made of stone. Granite, basalt, periodite and rhyolite are some of the stones used in Foley’s work, which ranges from useful things like soap dishes and mortar-and-pestle sets to a curving, caterpillar-like sculpture he named “Wormhole,” carved from local granite. Here in Gloucester, nautically themed items sell especially well, he says. “People want to take something home with them based on what they’ve seen.” 376 Essex Ave., Gloucester, 508-284-5885, www.msfoleystoneworks.com
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.