For many years, the artists of the Boneyfiddle Art Center brought color and vitality to downtown Portsmouth, through local art and craft exhibitions, free programming to the public, gifts that embodied the culture of the area, and learning opportunities. After an untimely and unforeseen closure this past year, many artists lost a venue to express themselves, and the community lost a major cultural benefit.
After some time to recollect, some of the artists have risen back into the community, as lone forces and in community spaces; the artists have slowly, but surely, been learning to thrive in new environments.
In a three-part series, we will be looking at some of these artists and where they are now.
Five of these artists have moved directly across the street from their old home, within the River Town Antique Mall.
The artists dwelling within the relatively new business includes Martha Padgett, Vicki Bentley, Marcia Spradlin, Bill Spradlin, and Larry Brown.
Martha Padgett is an artist with a unique trade, which she brought with her from Europe. She learned at a young age to decorate naturally-dyed eggs through various forms of media. Her method consists of scratching detailed sketches into the eggs with the tips of razors. She then seals them to protect the dye and to make them more durable. Her eggs also range in size, depending on the bird that laid it.
Padgett explained that, after Boneyfiddle Arts Center closed, she felt a loss that she didn’t think she could ever fill. She stopped making her eggs and she said she was sure to be done. After requests to join River Town, and a few trips to the shop, she decided to give it another run.
“I was heartbroken, I really was. It was a nice group with a bunch of very, very talented people. To have us break apart like we did? It was sad,” Padgett said. “It was devastating to me. I didn’t feel like doing any art. Why would I? What for? Then, I found this place and I decided to give it another try, and I really like it.”
Sharing a space with Padgett is Larry Brown, who is a woodturner. Brown downplays his art quite a bit, saying it is an extension of his carpentry background, but Padgett won’t have it, pointing out all the artistic elements in his work.
Brown has been involved in woodworking since he was eight-years-old. He said woodworking turned into a major hobby when he studied carpentry in high school. He has since developed it into an art, creating pens, bowls, vases, boxes, and more, each having more detail than the last.
Some of Brown’s merchandise is made from wood purchased from South America and other exotic places, but a lot of his wood comes from recycled and discarded materials.
The idea to move into River Town came from artists Marcia and Bill Spradlin. They had worked with the owner, Gary Kenyon, in the past and decided to open in his new space.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for us to reach a whole new group of people who don’t normally go into an art center,” Marcia Spradlin said. “They are often looking for antiques, but find something they are totally not expecting.”
Bill agrees with her, saying he enjoys having his products in an antique store. It has even opened his eyes to antiques, pulling him into the business and placing other things in the store as well.
“It creates a big diversity, combining everything together like we have,” Bill Spradlin said. “We’ve actually sold both, art and antiques, here. It is just different and the people here are fantastic.”
Marcia Spradlin creates photography and painting artwork. She has always had an eclectic range of hobbies, but art has always stuck.
“I’ve taken many classes and joined many clubs, from canoeing to dance, but art is something that has always stuck,” Marcia Spradlin said.
Marcia also explained that she enjoys being in downtown Portsmouth, where she has been provided inspiration to create better photography.
Bill Spradlin is the newest to his art form, having started only four years ago, but growing quickly. After a visit to his sister in Umatilla, Florida, who creates art out of stained glass pieces, he decided to pick up the hobby, as well.
“It is something I always thought I’d try,” Bill Spradlin said. “I decided to try it and taught myself. My first piece was supposed to be a sun, but it looks like a squashed bug, but I’ve grown a bit. I like to do stuff with a lot of detail, now.”
Bill says that all of the cut fingers have been worth learning a trade he values and has fun doing. Since he has begun, he has made clocks, hangings, jewelry boxes, and more.
River Town Antique Mall is in the conjoined buildings of 541 and 543 Second Street. Kenyon may be reached by phone at 740-821-5383. The shop is opened Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.
“I enjoy having them here. I enjoy art and I think having them as vendors adds a different twang to everything. We have antiques and art and they work well together,” Kenyon said. “I adds a whole different touch to River Town.
Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.