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This article was published 3/11/2019 (207 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While searching for a studio for his stained glass work, Wesley Krahn stumbled upon a West End warehouse that also became his creative community.
"I like the vibe of the building, and the people," the stained glass restorer says of his 150 sq.-ft. main floor space with 14 ft. ceilings in Artlington Studios.
"We feed off each other. That’s a very important part of being here."
Krahn is one of about two dozen artisans and artists renting studios on the first three floors of the 107-year-old building at 618 Arlington St.
Real estate broker and home renovator John Hunsberger purchased the former Northland Knitting factory in 2010, updated the building’s wiring, plumbing and heating, and then created an eclectic, vibrant space full of salvaged architectural elements and vintage pieces.
The owner of The Old House Revival Company dug through his storage units and scoured his sales floor for metal railings, old doors, signs and curiosities to divide and decorate the 25,000 sq.-ft. building, creating a sense of openness and whimsy at the same time.
"You are kind of forced to interact," Hunsberger says of the open concept studios, separated from the hallways by windows and walls fashioned from vintage stair railings, including a set salvaged when The Bay’s downtown store underwent renovations.
"If it was sealed off, you can’t see what’s going on here."
And there is plenty to see on the walls, ceiling, doorways and staircases, features that attracted sculptor Sandra Vincent when she was looking for a place away from her busy household to finish a novel.
Now spending more time on creating ceramic figures of politicians, bears and birds than writing, Vincent finds inspiration from the daily trek to trip to her third-floor studio, passing the building’s many quirky decorations and touches, including the top of a green motorboat mounted on a wall.
"It’s certainly a stimulating place with all the texture and all the reclaimed things," she says of the building, which features tin garage siding and reclaimed wood on walls, vintage bicycles near the ceiling, and a white confessional booth salvaged from a Roman Catholic church.
"For me, it definitely was a draw to get here, because it was so stunningly beautiful," adds Vincent’s studio neighbour Danielle Fontaine Koslowsky, who accesses her third-floor painting studio through a set of arched church doors.
Their proximity and the ability to see each other’s work led them to consult about a recent installation in what Vincent calls "drive by chats." Vincent was attaching her ceramic birds to a vintage wooden kitchen chair, and Koslowsky suggested painting the chair white and mounting it on a small platform to give it a grander sense.
"It’s not even collaboration, we just process with each other," says Koslowsky, an abstract painter.
"It’s part of the creative process."
That sort of casual sharing of ideas occurs because the open space gives people the ability to see each other’s work without necessarily intruding on each other’s space, says building manager Barb Bottle, an elementary school art teacher who creates multi-media work in her third-floor studio.
She says Hunsberger’s building offers more to artists than typical warehouse studios divided by walls and locked doors, and the space sparks creativity even when artists aren’t at work.
"It’s inspirational because on any given day, even if an artist isn’t around, you can walk around the building and see what they’re working on," says Bottle, a tenant since 2014.
That means artists don’t have to be in their studios at the same time to learn from each other, but it helps when they are, says painter Jean-François Godbout, located across the hall from Koslowsky.
"You start talking about your work and you start bouncing ideas" off each other, explains the high school vice-principal.
"You investigate your medium in community."
For fashion designer and retailer Sarah Sue MacLachlan, owner of Sarah Sue Design, her small showroom of women’s clothing just inside the building’s front door offers her a place to consult with customers, as well as connect with a community of fellow creatives.
Inspired by the building, she also finds energy from interacting with other artists trying to make a living from their creative work.
"Being an artist and a small business owner is a hard gig," says the Manitoba-born MacLachlan, who produces her clothing in Oakbank with the help of a small contingent of employees and contract garment makers.
"We all feel that same artist battle, but in a different medium."
And sometimes artists explore the possibility of other creative pursuits just by stopping by to chat or sitting down over coffee in the common spaces on each floor, says Koslowsky.
Those moments can lead to the cross-pollination of ideas and support during the creative process.
"We need people who understand what our day-to-day work is about," says the painter who also has worked in stained glass.
"Once you created something, who understands it better than someone who saw you doing it?"
For Krahn, who rented his studio after seeing a sign outside the building advertising space, says working alongside other artists feeds his imagination, as well as providing fewer distractions than a home studio.
"It’s a creative space to do creative work," says the 58-year-old floor installer who designed and constructed a round stained glass window over the front door, spelling out the street number and name of the building.
And its also a creative space to share, says Koslowsky, both with other artists and when the studios are open to the public for events like Doors Open Winnipeg, Nuit Blanche and a show and sale in mid-December.
"This community brings people together to offer support, empowerment, collaboration, critique, networks and dreams," she says.
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
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