Old School Meets New School at Barnstable Studio
By: Elise Hugus, March 8, 2012
ELISE HUGUS - Richard Neal and Jackie Reeves share a studio at the Old Schoolhouse overlooking the First Parish Cemetery in Barnstable.
Sleepy Barnstable Village may seem an unlikely setting for a groundbreaking art movement, but studios housed in a 19th-century schoolhouse on Route 6A are providing fertile ground for a new school of Cape Cod artists.
Whether it's Jackie Reeves' ethereal nudes, Richard Neal's oil paint/found objects collage, John Cira’s mixed media sculptures or hot wax and oil paintings by Mary Moquin, Old Schoolhouse artists are pushing the uninspired lighthouse n' landscape boundaries typically associated with "Cape Cod art."
In the former schoolhouse, run by the non-profit Friends of the Schoolhouse, these artists now share workspace, techniques, art history books—and above all—support, giving back by opening their studios twice a year to neighborhood art enthusiasts.
In August 2009, Centerville artist Richard Neal joined forces with Jackie Reeves, a Montrealer currently enrolled in MassArt's MFA program and Cotuit Center for the Arts founder and artist James Wolf to found the Chalkboard Studio on the building's ground floor.
Splitting a large room with high ceilings and north-facing windows overlooking the First Parish Cemetery, the three painters say they are lucky to have found such a perfect location—and partners—with which to create.
“I’m realizing now there really aren’t many places like this on the Cape,” says Neal, who worked out of his basement until meeting Reeves and Wolf at a weekly artist’s workshop at Cotuit Center for the Arts.
“All of us are compatible. We’ve got a bunch of smart artists in here that I can ask questions [of] and get feedback,” he adds, turning down a jangling rock song on the stereo out of deference for Reeves, a mother of three who said she “gets plenty of noise at home.”
Away from domestic distractions, the studio allows the artists to be social and productive at the same time: Neal’s work is currently represented by the Patty DeLuca Gallery in New York City and Provincetown; Reeves has a residency at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown this May and show at Boston's NKGallery in July.
Several Old Schoolhouse artists have work in a group show on display at the Cape Cod Chat House through March; Reeves and Neal face off in a "Gender and Art" exhibit at the Cotuit Center of the Arts in September.
“For me, a big part of being an artist is sharing," says Reeves. "The biggest advantage is having an identity as a group.”
Artists in residency
Noting studies that show the positive impact of art studios and galleries on local economies, the artists suggest Cape Cod follow New Bedford’s example of making municipal or historic buildings available—even subsidized—for artists.
“The presence of artists in a neighborhood has economic value. Then, of course, the prices move up and artists can’t live there anymore," Reeves says. “We need to recognize the contributions of artists to society. We need affordable space to work in."
Having a studio of one’s own could give local artists the boost they need to be taken seriously, Neal and Reeves say, though they're quick to name collegues who are perfectly happy in their own home studios.
Referencing the recent debate over whether artists should donate or be paid to display their work at the renovated Barnstable Municipal Airport, Neal says local artists have to tackle the perception that art is a leisurely activity or hobby for retirees.
In that regard, “I feel that we’ve made some sort of difference. We’re showing that you can have a studio and make art that’s not just ‘Cape Cod art,’” he says. “It’s important to get out and connect and see there’s options. It’s much better than working in your basement.”