Where They Work: Artists’ Studios

Where They Work: Artists’ Studios

From her Chilmark studio high atop a ridge with sweeping views of Squibnocket Pond, Wendy Weldon paints luminous renditions of iconic barns and the stone walls that surround her landscape. A few miles down the road, tapestry artist Julia Mitchell hand-weaves her intricate interpretations of the natural environment in the second floor of a barn adjacent to her antique home in West Tisbury. And, in a rustic studio built in the backyard of his Oak Bluffs home in a wooded neighborhood near Norton Farm, fine art ceramicist and painter Washington Ledesma makes clay and canvas magically come to life with his vivid imagery and Latin American-inspired sense of whimsy.

Just steps from their year-round homes, the three Vineyard artists have each developed highly personalized environments in which to produce and nurture their work.

“It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen,” Ms. Weldon says, speaking about the setting of her home and adjacent studio atop the north side of Squibnocket. After a lifetime of Chilmark summers with extended family, she built her own compound in 2000 on a nearby parcel of land where she can feel and see every facet of the changing seasons. “Wind, heat, cold, snow — I find all of it comforting,” she says.

In designing her studio, she incorporated the elements she considers crucial to her comfort and productivity: Abundant storage space, a combination of light (north, indirect, and artificial), large wall space, enough square footage to allow her to step back from her paintings and see them from a distance, the tools of her trade, personal collections, music and television, and room for her pets.

Her 800-square-foot, two-story studio is open to her dogs, Mollie, 15, Zoe, 9, and Gracie, 7, who flop on a futon cushion under a long table at her feet. There is color and clutter and a collection of objects that inspire her. Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags flutter overhead in the damp summer breeze. Near the front door is an obvious shrine of sorts: Crosses and religious symbols, paintings and kitsch cover the flat surfaces and hang on the wall above.

“Religious imagery and fetish-type objects are symbols of the past. They’ve been around for thousands and thousands of years,” Ms. Weldon explains. “They remind me that imagery has been used forever to describe how people feel.”

Interruptions seem somewhat welcome: Friends drop by with children or other dogs; the phone rings; emails arrive and are answered. Ms. Weldon rolls with it, managing to juggle a prolific volume of work with gardening and other hobbies. Singers John Prine or Bruce Springsteen provide background, sometimes traded for weekday soap operas on television. “Motherwell, Warhol, and Rauschenberg all watched them,” she says, as if to reassure that her predilection for daytime drama won’t compromise her art.

In West Tisbury, along a quiet tree-shaded lane, Julia Mitchell created a place to live and work that reflects a sense of calm and order. A vintage Cape, circa 1720s, sits in a clearing surrounded by well-tended gardens and white picket fence. Nearby, a simple two-story shingled barn with small square windows and skylighted roof provides a home for Ms. Mitchell’s 600-square-foot second-floor studio.

She grew up on the Vineyard and was introduced to tapestry, a 3,000-year-old art form, at age 15 by a weaving teacher at the private school she attended off-Island. By 1975 she was a professional in the field, building a national reputation for her traditional flat-woven semi-representational tapestries. Using classic techniques, Ms. Mitchell creates works that range from literal to abstract, deriving her subjects from the natural world — wind, water, light, and shadow.

Ms. Mitchell’s two Swedish counterbalance looms fill up most of her studio, leaving just enough space for storage bins brimming with the colorful wool, silk, and linen she uses for her work. two desks, bookshelves, and an expanse of wall on which she can view her tapestries.

There is no question that this is exclusively her domain. “There are no alternative uses,” she states. “No one else can put anything here. This is my space.”

And, while she says she welcomed her daughter Anna’s visits as she grew up, she deliberately chose to design the studio without windows facing the house. “I didn’t want to be pulled by anything out there,” she says, gesturing in the direction of the source of potential distraction. “It was the first thing I thought of.”

Three large skylights, air conditioning, ample horizontal surfaces, a quality sound system and total privacy are Ms. Mitchell’s keys to a functional and pleasing workspace. “This is my sanctuary,” she says. “No one can come up here unless invited.” The warmth of her personality melts the deliberateness of her words but there is no doubt that Ms. Mitchell takes her work very seriously. After 35 years as a professional artist, she clearly controls the elements she needs to get the job done. When she designs, she says, she works in total silence, while her weaving is often done to the sound of audio books (generally mysteries), music or NPR. A Van Gogh print from childhood, photographs, books, and art created by Island peers complete her haven.

Fine art ceramicist and painter Washington Ledesma’s Oak Bluffs studio has an unassuming exterior that belies the wild world of color that erupts within. Mr. Ledesma’s barn-like building behind his home doubles as both studio and gallery.

A native of Uruguay, Mr. Ledesma has spent nearly 40 years conjuring the spirit of his Latin American heritage and channeling it into his vessels, tiles, sculptures, and paintings. Goddesses, birds and animals, all depicted with his trademark playfulness, convey a sense of magical realism, with a Noah’s ark theme often running throughout his pieces.

His studio, while serving as a place to display his work, also affords him space in which to paint and hand-build his ceramics. He keeps his potter’s wheel in a separate location where it won’t interfere with exhibiting his finished pieces. He designed the studio/gallery, he says, with just the right light, height and floor space to accomplish his tasks. Accompanied by classical music and, on occasion, by his 10-year-old Shih Tzu Alegria, Mr. Ledesma works most often alone, beginning his day at 5 am and winding down in the evening, sometimes in the wee hours of the morning.

“Artists can be packrats,” he confesses, “so it’s a constant process to purge.” Everywhere you look, on shelves, tabletops and walls, there is an explosion of color and a sense of joy.

“If I could, I’d create a studio around a tree,” he fantasizes. “The living tree would become the center of the studio and the space would be round and spiral-shaped, like a snail.”

Wendy Weldon is represented by the Carol Craven Gallery in West Tisbury. Julia Mitchell’s work can be seen at Shaw Cramer Gallery in Vineyard Haven. Washington Ledesma’s studio in Oak Bluffs can be visited by appointment by calling 508-560-2647.

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