Kingston, like hundreds of other cities that once manufactured everything from lace curtains to boilers to overalls, has in this post-industrial age ever struggled to find replacement jobs. While the days of an IBM or DuPont opening a plant are gone, Kingston’s factory spaces, affordable prices and proximity to New York City have helped the city to re-invent itself as more and more artists and artisans choose to locate here.
It’s an economic engine better characterized, perhaps, as an economic mule, given that the trend harks back to the pre-industrial age, when people made their own soap and clothing and shopped for goods at the general store.
For evidence, check out Made in Kingston, an exhibition of locally produced products now in its fourth year. Held Dec. 8, a Thursday, from 4-8 p.m. at Ferrovia Studios, a raw industrial space located at 17 Railroad Ave., the event showcases the hand-crafted and/or designed products of 51 artisans. They include contemporary tintypes and ambrotypes (Tom DeLooza); ginger elixirs (Immuneschein); Edwardian-era and hand-crafted sterling jewelry (Mezzanine Vintage and Raychel Wengenroth (other jewelers are Sara Beames, BitiBesha, Emilia Stern, Michelle Elise and Piazza Pendants); tables crafted out of recycled pallets (The Green Palette); cutting-edge contemporary literary fiction and nonfiction books (McPherson and Co.); leather bags (Jay Teske Leather Co. and Lock Key Leathers); felt cloches and fedoras (Toucan Hats); Japanese-inspired indigo scarves (TrueBlue); spiced wine (Hetta); coats and dresses fashioned out of Tyvek (Conceptual Clothing); fused glass art (Gavin Glass);and beeswax candles (Urban Apis).
“We’ve got people on the waiting list,” said Pat Courtney-Strong, who organized the event, which is co-sponsored by the City of Kingston, Kingston Midtown Arts District, Arts Mid Hudson, the Business Alliance of Kingston and TRANSART. The event “is not just a feel-good crafts fair but is a good way for artists to make some money.” The crafts fair also highlights the city’s Midtown district as a creative incubator, perfectly dovetailing with the movement by local businesses and the city to create a Midtown Arts District.
This year’s venue — each year the event is held in a newly marketed Midtown space that’s in the process of renovation — features the raw, first-floor space of a 15,000-square-foot building that originally held a bowling alley and roller-skater rink, later converted to a coat factory. Owner Angela Voulgarelis, an artist from New York City who lives in Accord with her husband and son, plans to convert the second floor into artists’ studios (including her own), along with an exhibition space. Two storefronts, and possibly a facility for an arts education group on the first floor. “The space has been cloistered for the last 20 years, so I’m happy to open the doors and show people what’s inside,” said Voulgarelis, who bought the building last year. “I want to contribute to strengthening the local arts community. I feel pretty empowered being part of the change,” she added, noting she “divested from New York City to invest where I actually live.”
Courtney-Strong raised approximately $7,000 from local businesses and partnered with Arts Mid Hudson to cover heat, rental space, extra lighting and other operating costs. (A 75 kW solar installation on a canopy over the parked cars will provide electricity.) For the first time, vendors were charged $25. Admission is free, but visitors can register in advance for $4 tickets for beer (provided by Keegan Ales) or wine to save time at the drinks table. They can also register in advance to buy a $20 Made in Kingston T-shirt, ad in the events brochure ($25 or $50, depending on size), or to contribute $5 to a scholarship for a Kingston High School student who will be selected on the basis of his or her promise in the arts or technology.
Food will be provided by the Peace Nation Café, a restaurant serving Guatemalan specialties that opened five months ago on Upper Broadway. Courtney Strong said last year the event, which was held at the Lace Mill, the newly completed artists’ housing complex, attracted 500 visitors.
“It’s also an opportunity for people to network with each other,” noted Deborah Mills Thackrey, who will be launching her new pillows and other fabric items digitally printed with her photographs, in a venture called Art for Living, at the event.
Among the participants who are new to Kingston is The Green Palette, a company that makes kitchen cabinetry and furniture from wooden shipping pallets that opened in an industrial space on Greenkill Avenue last March. The company moved from New Paltz to Kingston because the city offered more diversity, said co-owner Marc Antony. Antony and his wife, Nataly Chesky, who also teaches at SUNY New Paltz, run after-school programs for kids participating in the Center for Creative Education. “The kids do art using the recycled materials,” he said, noting Spanish as well as English is spoken. “We were immediately accepted by everyone in the neighborhood. Kingston inspired us to build a Neverland including a DJ booth, bridges, and everything a child can imagine in our space,” which along with the classes has been funded by the sales of furniture as well as grants.
Ana Dediger-Pietra, a resident of Saugerties who moved her studio two months ago to Uptown Kingston, is also a newcomer to the city. Dediger-Pietra owns Pipicucu Bags, which feature sassy whimsical sayings printed on two-ply canvas make-up bags and clutches. The bags incorporate ribbon from Japan. Dediger-Pietra said her “bright and tropical” fashion sense was born in Buenos Aires, where she went to school for fashion styling. (Dediger-Pietra, whose parents are Serbian, was actually born in Slovenia; she grew up in Tivoli.) “The Kingston community is more supportive of artists than Saugerties. Kingston would be a good place to have a brick and mortar store,” she said, noting that’s a possibility if her business continues to grow.
The youngest participant in Made in Kingston is 14-year-old Phoebe Temple, who sells her jewelry charms and doll accessories on Etsy. “I’ve been trying to find a venue to participate in, but everything’s really expensive. My mom saw the Made in Kingston event on Facebook and she said ‘we have to try this out,’” said the ninth grader, whose company is called Phoebe’s Phashions.
“We couldn’t be prouder to support such a homegrown event that continues to expand every year, showcasing the diverse offerings made in Kingston and by Kingstonians,” said Mayor Steve Noble in the Made in Kingston’s press release. “The event has transformed office buildings and warehouses into pop-up boutiques overflowing with locally made products sought after by visitors from throughout the region and beyond. Kingston’s economy is growing stronger every day and it is thanks to the unwavering commitment and investment in our community by our local business owners and entrepreneurs.”
“Over the last few years, we have come to realize just how great the resources are that we have here in Kingston,” said Richard Frumess, a co-founder of the Midtown Arts District, in the press release. “Chief among them is the unique wealth of art manufacturing and crafts industry that is showcased by the annual Made in Kingston event. With our city officials, we are working hard to realize the creative potential the district represents for revitalizing the city.”