hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture July 2018


A farm transformed by and for artists

At Salem Art Works, the attractions evolve with the growing creative cast


Salem Art Works 2018 Joan K. Lentini photoThe staff and artists in residence at Salem Art Works gather on the Mark DiSuvero sculpture “Ringer” (1987) with SAW founder Anthony Cafritz, right. The sculpture is one of many displayed at the 120-acre former dairy farm that was transformed into a working artists community and educational center beginning in 2005. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


The sign posted along a grassy lawn on Cary Lane is simple and unadorned – “Salem Art Works” – and the words don’t begin to explain what lies up the winding gravel road.
But the lawn’s towering metal sculptures are often an effective lure to beckon the curious onto the 120-acre property, which is a veritable beehive of creativity.

It’s a place where Bennington College scholarliness meets a Yaddo-like artist immersion program on a property that rivals the impressive scale of the Storm King sculpture park in downstate Orange County.

As the founder of this “artist-maker space” is eager to explain, Salem Art Works is a destination that is meant to be both discovered and created.

“I wanted a place where all disciplines and artists can converge in one location and work without a sense of judgment to push past the boundaries of self,” Anthony Cafritz said.

The goal, he said, is to provide an environment where creative people can pursue their ideas with passion, focus and a willingness to take chances -- “whether someone is here doing a sculpture, silkscreen or writing a novel.”

Cafritz founded Salem Art Works in 2005, transforming a former dairy farm at the edge of the village and repurposing the property’s many outbuildings for creative endeavors. The organization is known by the acronym SAW, and early on it adopted its red logo in the shape of a circular-saw blade.

Today, Salem Art Works offers residency programs for artists from a wide range of disciplines, including both self-funded and subsidized residencies that range from two weeks to two months.
But it’s far from being a cloistered artists’ colony. SAW hosts exhibitions, concerts and other public events as well as educational workshops, and its Cary Hill Sculpture Park is open to visitors from dawn to dusk year-round.

Salem Art Works also has provided hands-on classes for visiting high school students, and this summer it launched its new “Art 201” program – a series of weekly 3-hour classes for students 14 to 18 in blacksmithing, glassblowing, clay, metal casting, metal fabrication and silk-screen printing. With funding from the state Council on the Arts and private sources, students were able to sign up for the classes, which began in late June, for a mere $80 for an eight-week session.


Proving the doubters wrong
Cafritz’ dream for an experimental and supportive arts community may have taken root before he was even aware he desired it. The first proverbial brick in the wall was set decades ago when he decided to leave his native Washington, D.C., after high school.

“I didn’t want to stay where I had grown up; I wanted to scare myself,” he recalled. “I thought of joining the Marines, but realized I could also challenge myself in college.”

It was a challenge Cafritz says he took in part because of less-than-supportive input he’d received during formative years.

“I wasn’t the model student -- and was told in so many words I didn’t have a bright future,” he said with a smile. “So I decided to pursue art and put myself on the line. I wanted to see how far I would fail -- or if I would fail. Maybe I wasn’t as challenged as my parents or teachers thought.”
He studied sculpture and painting at Bennington College as an undergraduate and later earned a master’s degree in fine arts from the State University of New York at Purchase.

Eventually Cafritz met fellow artist Thomas Dunn, now a founding principal of Salem Art Works who serves as its design and marketing director. Both Cafritz and Dunn had participated in artist residencies elsewhere, and this only fueled their desire to fill the missing gaps they saw in the experience.

“It became clear to us that no place we’d experienced was truly about enabling the creation of art and allowing the emotional space to push the boundaries,” Dunn said.

“Anthony had talked about his dream for years,” Dunn recalled. “But around 2002, he grew more determined, and that’s when we began looking for a location.”

Cafritz said Salem Art Works was founded on a belief system that fosters a creative atmosphere.
“I had the vision for the place before we closed on the property,” he said.

He also had gathered a core group of supporters and principals that included Dunn and the artists Barbara Carris, Ciaran Cooper, Peter Lundberg and Gary Humphreys.


Discovering Salem
Dunn said he won’t forget the day Cafritz found the 120-acre former dairy farm at the edge of the village that would become SAW.

“I remember him calling and saying, ‘I found it!’” Dunn said. “Anthony was super-excited. We did a walk-through, and it was clear: This was it. The day we closed, I took a bunch of photos, and one of them was of this big-ass saw blade that later became the iconic element of our brand, and SAW was born.”

“We had no money and took out five loans to make it happen,” Cafritz recalled. “It was all hand-to-mouth. But we all collectively believed in the core vision of what we were doing.”

Dunn recalled that it took time to organize Salem Art Works as a legal nonprofit entity, but he said the founders all had experience serving in nonprofit organizations elsewhere and “loosely structured ourselves as if we were.”

A major prerequisite of putting their vision in motion involved the restoration of the 14 buildings and barns on the property, which had fallen into disrepair.

“There was a lot of sweat equity put into this in the beginning,” recalled Jenny Hillenbrand, who’s now SAW’s director of artist programs. “Even in the past five years, the place has undergone significant transformation.”

The path to the summit of the hill is now a veritable road, replacing a grassy trail, and the living spaces for artists in residence have expanded, thanks to the Art House Residency, which invited artists to repurpose onsite trailers into cabins for artists to live in.

For the first Art House Residency project, a team of young intern artists constructed a single cabin out of repurposed objects from the sculpture “Porch Pieces,” built by British artist Bryony Graham in 2010.

“It was beginning to fall apart, and rather than throw ‘Porch Pieces’ out, we transformed it into a livable structure,” Hillenbrand explained.

The second year of the project, SAW invited 10 artists who didn’t know one other to collaborate in teams and build four art houses on former trailer beds.

The most recent Art House Residency had an open call for proposals and accepted seven artists divided into three teams to build more living spaces.


Infrastructure for the creative
The property’s main structures are three large, multi-level barns that serve as artists’ studios. Situated around them on the hilly terrain are smaller buildings, each dedicated to a particular discipline.

SAW provides state-of-the-art facilities allowing artists to work at casting, ceramics, dance, glass, iron, metal fabrication, music, painting, performance, sculpture, silk-screen printing, smithing, stone carving, woodworking and writing.

In the summer months, meals are prepared in an open-air kitchen in the center of the campus where everyone pitches in to cook and clean up.

“It’s no frills, no luxury,” Cafritz explained as he sat at a picnic table under the tented dining area after lunch on a recent afternoon. “The collaborative cooking is a metaphor for how SAW is run. More-established artists get paired with newer ones. It’s all part of stretching the self and pushing boundaries without a sense of judgment.”

Cafritz made his way up the hill toward the sculpture garden, but first he stopped to admire an in-progress sculpture by Hugh Bryant, a resident artist who just completed his master of fine arts degree at the University of Maryland.

“It’s an African American woman on a red compressor top,” he explained. “The megaphone she’s holding is made of Dixie Sugar paper. … It speaks to things like race, shared history, Jim Crow laws.”

Although the number of artists in residence shrinks considerably in the winter months, Hillenbrand said the property now has several heated spaces that are available throughout the year.

Salem Art Works offers four subsidized artist residency programs, for fellows, emerging fellows, studio artists and young artists. The latter two include a work-exchange component. Dunn said the residencies are competitive and take place mainly in the summer. SAW also rents space to artists and small groups for independent studies and projects.

Alumni from SAW workshops also are encouraged to design and teach their own programs.
“Workshops are designed to give a participant enough knowledge, typically after four workshops, to work independently in that medium,” Dunn explained. “Our shop directors will then certify that participant to rent time in that given shop. We don’t specifically have our students teach classes. However, we do have Jordan LaMothe, who is a former student and winner of The History Channel’s ‘Forged in Fire’ competition, teaching our bladesmithing classes.”


Events, attractions for all
Cafritz stressed that Salem Art Works serves a community that’s wider than just artists.
Besides the open-enrollment workshops, the facility regularly plans events that are open to the public, including the Music on the Hill series. Visitors are encouraged to wander the property any day, whether to meander through the sculpture park or to explore the five miles of hiking trails at the back of the property.

“We feel the sculpture park is important for the community as a way of enriching lives,” Cafritz said. “And views of the of the village below and the Green Mountains in the distance are amazing.”

The top of the property sometimes is rented out for weddings and other events.
Upcoming SAW events open to the public include Music on the Hill, from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18, and the ongoing Open Studios with Music and Pizza, which takes place Saturdays through Sept. 8. A full schedule of events is available on the organization’s Web site.

What Cafritz and the board are currently most excited about, however, is the annual fund-raising gala, Taste of SAW, from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, July 14. The evening will feature an array of locally sourced food donated by 9 Miles East Farm in Schuylerville, a silent auction, and sculptor Peter Lundberg dedicating his newly installed “Ode.”

The gala will culminate in the premiere screening of a short film by Salem resident Adam Harrison Levy, “David Smith at Storm King,” about the late abstract expressionist sculptor, who lived in Warren County. Tickets to the day’s events are $150 per person.

Cafritz said SAW relies on grants, donations and revenue from paid programming, as well as revenue from the sale of sculptures and other art created on-premises.
The goal is to keep attracting more first-time visitors.

“We don’t want to be archival,” Cafritz said. “We change the sculpture park every three years. And we like getting sculptures out into the community.”

So two sculptures from SAW are now displayed farther up county Route 30 at Gardenworks, and Cafritz said there’s a possibility of moving some works to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
As Salem Art Works celebrates its 13th summer, Cafritz looks back on the evolution of his dream and how it has morphed. He’s proud of what SAW has become. But please, but don’t call SAW an institution.

“Institutions can become institutionalizing and contrivances of themselves,” Cafritz said. “The premise of this place is a belief system, and we continue to create an atmosphere for that to exist.”


Visit www.salemartworks.org for more information on Salem Art Works and its programs and events.