October 25, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 11
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For some Roxbury artists, studio security an issue

Jin-ah Kim

A friendly white-and-grey Husky and five pots of yellow chrysanthemums greet Deniz Osan-George and her 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth as they walk into Wendy Ellertson’s house. Out front, balloons and a banner reading “Roxbury Open Studios” welcome visitors off the street.

Osan-George, who lives on the same street as Ellertson’s studio, attentively gazes at depictions of dragons in the dining room, sharing her thoughts on the pieces with Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth is today’s art collector. [You can] never be too young to start,” Osan-George said. “We especially love to come to the open studios. This is a special time artists put their works out like this.”

Sponsored by Arts, Culture and Trade (ACT) Roxbury, a nonprofit arts organization seeking to use culture as an economic development tool in that neighborhood, this year’s ninth annual Roxbury Open Studios featured works by more than 150 artists shown at 26 scattered sites from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 13 and 14.

But while audiences like Osan-George and her daughter love to see artists’ personal studios, relatively few Roxbury artists actually open their doors to the public. Some established artists hesitant to open up cite concerns about the security of their high-priced art.

Lou Jones, a 30-year veteran of the commercial photography field, is one of them. Despite owning a spacious photography studio in Roxbury for the last 25 years, he has never participated in the open studios.

“I don’t want to bring foot traffic to my studio. I’d rather keep a low profile,” he said.

Jones fears for both the cutting edge equipment in his studio and his expensive photographs, all carrying price tags of $500 or better.

Artists like Ellertson and Dianne Zimbabwe, on the other hand, see things a little differently.

When Zimbabwe, a Roxbury artist since 1975, opened her outdoor studio for this year’s exhibition after a four-year-absence, she changed the items she had on display. Gone were her thousand-dollar acrylic paintings, replaced by mud cloths and accessories ranging from $5 to $30.

“Now I have my things to sell [at] community-level prices,” said Zimbabwe. “I made bookmarks that I sold out.”

A few streets away from Zimbabwe’s studio, Ellertson cut a welcoming figure, treating her visitors to hot apple cider, home-baked cookies and fruit. Guests received an exclusive tour of her second-floor studio, a special exhibition of her works and more interaction with the artist.

“I’ve been doing shows for the last 30 years, but neighbors do not exactly know what I do,” said Ellertson, whose mixed-media work frequently showcases mythical figures like phoenixes and dining room dragons. She sees opening her studio as a way to reach out not just to her neighbors, but to the rest of the community as well.

She points to a picture on the wall called “Chaos,” a scene of a wrecked ship being tossed in roaring waves. “It’s the way we live,” she said with a laugh.

Ellertson has opened her studio several times, but admits she used to share the security concerns others have raised. Now, though, she thinks “you are more secure when you are open.”

“For the last few years, people feel more comfortable because ACT Roxbury worked really hard on building the community and getting people to know each other,” she added.

ACT Roxbury Program Manager Terri Brown said she’s familiar with the worry, but she hasn’t heard of any security problems at the open studios in the last eight years.

“There is a security issue with some, but once they open their doors, they will realize this is not really an issue,” said Brown.

The use of a large number of group exhibition sites — necessary because Roxbury doesn’t have enough studio space to accommodate each individual artist — helps reduce the risk, according to Brown.

One such site, Roxbury Center for the Arts at Hibernian Hall, hosted 18 artists, including 32-year-old Derek Lumpkins, who showed his large- and small-scale digital urban photography.

Security wasn’t a concern for Lumpkins, who saw the exhibition as an opportunity for under-the-radar artists to raise their public profiles.

“I think Roxbury has people who are not as established as [those in] JP and Cambridge. Roxbury and Dorchester have more emerging artists, so the energy is a little different,” said Lumpkins, who started taking pictures professionally about two years ago.

And those emerging artists, like Cullen Washington Jr., use Roxbury Open Studios as an opportunity to gain exposure, increase awareness of the arts — and in the process, sell a few paintings, reaching for a different kind of security.

“I participated in Open Studios for two reasons: for commerce and for connections with the community,” said Washington Jr., a second-year graduate student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, who displayed his classical figurative works at the offices of Central Boston Elder Services. “I don’t recall how many, but I can tell you I met some significant people — some people that I probably wouldn’t have met had I not done this.”

Wendy Ellertson, a Roxbury artist who recently opened her studio to the public during the ninth annual Roxbury Open Studios, has had her studio compared to a nest. It features hundreds of photos, pieces of jewelry, small clay works, boxes full of fabrics and stacks of papers. The event, which took place at 26 sites around Roxbury on Oct. 13 and 14, was sponsored by Arts, Culture and Trade (ACT) Roxbury. (Jin-ah Kim photo)

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