by Melissa Orozco-McDonough
Purchasing an historic building is one thing—the price tag for the property can sometimes be surprisingly affordable—but restoring an historic building is quite another. Just ask the ladies of Women’s Studio Workshop in Rosendale; they know this all too well.
In 1974, four female artists (Ann Kalmback, Tatana Kellner, Anita Wetzel, and Barbara Leoff Burge) founded WSW. Their intention was to create a new kind of space where artists could labor side-by-side to create new work, honing their own practices and sharing skills with each other. The original studio hosted programs such as etching, papermaking, and screen-printing, each craft with its own designated area within the two-story, single-family home that the studio occupied. WSW also created a series of regular workshops and special programs for the public to engage in. Before they knew it, they had quickly outgrown their house, and so began scouring the area for a more appropriate space.
|Photo by Joan Horton.|
Around 1980, the group found a building on Binnewater Lane in Rosendale that would suit their needs perfectly—the old Rosendale Cement Company Store, originally constructed in 1886. A historic structure, the house at the time was host to a bait and tackle shop, complete with any angler’s general needs. The building was situated on a peaceful and quiet road, outside of town, but still close enough to Main Street Rosendale—a great benefit to WSW. The open rooms within the home would provide the perfect space for artists’ studios and the price tag was low, due to the restorative work that would be needed on the structure. According to co-founder Anita Wetzel, it had no heating system and the back of the building had to be completely demolished and rebuilt.
The women of WSW decided from the beginning to do their best to maintain the interior of this building, to honor the historic nature of the structure as they worked to convert the space into their new studios. Considering their involvement in the restoration of a historic building, the group resolved in 1982 to do the administrative work necessary to establish the Binnewater Historic District, which has since been added to the list of Federal and State Registers of Historic Places.
WSW moved into the restored building in 1983. Their move from the original house to the old Rosendale Cement Company Store allowed for them to expand as a studio; as they were now able to house exhibition and studio programs within the same building. It also permitted them to begin offering artist-in-residence grants, a Summer Art Institute, and internships for young, female artists.
In 2000, WSW purchased a second building on Binnewater Lane. That building, also from the cement mining era, “needed a gut rehabilitation which was done over a period of two years with a lot of sweat equity and a grant from the NYS Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and a private donor. Today this is the Anne Atwood House, used for WSW’s Artists-in-residence,” stated Wetzel proudly.
Another piece of the restoration puzzle came to WSW in 2002, when they applied for and received a New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (NYS OPRHP) grant, which allowed them the funds to finally address and restore the exterior of the studio building. The project took several years, with the group celebrating its completion around 2006.
Wetzel explained that the “funding required a historic paint analysis. We were shocked when we saw the report, but the exterior paint scheme you see today is what existed in 1886! And it felt wonderful to finally have the exterior of the building cared for as well as the interior had been for a long time.” The paint analysis was done by Superstructures of NYC; Marbletown Hardware of Stone Ridge was instrumental in procuring accurate paint matches and garnering a paint donation from Benjamin Moore Paints.
WSW’s latest and biggest project to date, per Wetzel, is the acquisition of the adjacent building, also historic, which will house additional studios as well as a public access space. A second NYS OPRHP grant was awarded for this property and its exterior rehabilitation, and a second paint analysis was done, resulting in very similar colors to the studio—yellow tones.
“We have had a space crunch for years now as programs have grown…We don’t have enough studio space for everything going on at once,” shared Wetzel. “Completion of this first part of the planned expansion will alleviate some of that space crunch and give WSW, for the first time, a welcoming reception area, which does not disturb artists working or classes going on. With artists coming here from all over the world, as well as from the Hudson Valley, we will finally have a comfortable space in which to host the artists and the public.”
She went on to add, “Although these building projects are enormous undertakings for a small arts nonprofit, we are proud to have been able to work with these historic buildings and repurpose them in a way that maintains their integrity and the historic streetscape and serves 21st century artists and audiences.”