The wooden floor creaks when you walk down the hall and the paint on the walls in the staircase is chipped and looks like its been unattended for years. At the end of the long hall, painted in bright red letters, is “More Artists This Way,” with an arrow pointing haphazardly around the corner.
Light from the rooms on either side shoots out, creating the illusion that you aren’t on the fourth floor of a building in the South End during the dead of winter, but a summer beach house with windows open wide.
The first door on the left opens into the studio of Marcia Wise, an artist who has been painting her bright and colorful abstract works in the building in the SoWa district for a little more than a year. She stands in front of three windows facing downtown Boston, holding her paintbrush and facing her easel.
Her studio is open to visitors as part of a program put on by the United South End Artists. It might be surprising that so many artists would willingly welcome people into their office while they’re trying to work, but Wise was thrilled to have people come in and chat while she paints.
“It is exciting, they’re trying to bring more people to the area and to inform that we’re here,” she said. “There’s hundreds of us.”
The artists at 450 Harrison Ave. occupy the second, third, and fourth floors—the halls that house the 84 artists twist and turn, going on for longer than the eye can see after stepping off the elevator.
Owned by GTI Properties, the building has a long waitlist for artists trying to get one of the coveted rooms with painted white brick and bright natural light. Some, like Wise, have been there for only a few months to a year after waiting on the list for more than two and a half years.
Others, like Patricia Busso, have been in their studios for 10 years. Busso is set up in a corner room, with a gallery when you walk in that has a small makeshift hall that blocks the view of her own workspace. Although Busso still has her gallery set up and was around for the Artists in their Studios event, she hasn’t seen too much of her space lately. The former math teacher has taken a break from teaching. She’s been living in Italy—painting and tutoring—since her husband’s job took them there three years ago.
“Don’t hate me,” she said with a laugh after disclosing why she hasn’t been around much.
Busso sat on the couch looking out on her paintings. She said that earlier in the day, she saw a family hovering outside of her door but they wouldn’t come in. Confused, she went over and asked if they wanted to take a look inside.
They pointed out that her sign was turned to “closed.” Busso had some more luck with visitors after that and hoped to increase the volume of attendants by putting out snacks: mini chocolate chip cookies and all-natural lollipops.
Some of the artists lingered in their neighbors’ doorways—for those who have been there for years, there probably isn’t a stranger in the hall. Paul Pedulla sat on a stool on the far wall of his studio, in front of the window, talking with two artists from down the hall.
A Boston College alum, Pedulla started off in his career as an advertising copywriter after graduating with an English degree. Now, he’s made his entire life his painting—his work is in New York, Virginia, and Georgia to name a few.
“It kind of happened by accident,” Pedulla said of his decision to become a full-time painter. “I woke up one morning and was like, ‘I have to paint.’”
For some, visiting a gallery is as much about the artist as it is about the art. Wise said she’s realized that some people are intimidated when they walk into the studio, so she tries to be as welcoming as possible without seeming pushy.
“It gives them that ease and they start to get to know artists and they start to realize that we’re normal, we’re really normal people,” she said, although she noted that her husband might disagree with the assertion that she’s “normal.”
Increasing the amount of people who know about SoWa and the art there is crucial, Wise said. People just don’t know how much there is to be seen in the South End. But once they come, Wise said she thinks they’ll keep coming back to see more.
“Everybody’s who’s doing whatever their form of art is today is a reflection of who we are today,” she said. “And throughout history this is really important stuff to keep our culture alive.”
Featured Image by Colleen Martin / Heights Editor