Friday, what a concept: the work week ends, the weekend beckons with the promise of freedom and fun. Now Artists & Makers Studios (A&M) in Rockville wants to improve the Friday night experience, with free wine, snacks — and art.
“We have First Friday on Nov. 2,” said Judith Olivia HeartSong, A&M’s founder and executive director. With more than 160 affiliated resident artists, HeartSong said First Friday at the two Artists & Makers locations typically draw2 “300 to 500 guests, and we’ve had as many as a thousand.
“We’ve got people who come back every month because they know there will be good food, good wine, a really warm, welcoming, loving atmosphere — and you get to meet this tremendously diverse group of artists.”
Free wine and refreshments, lots of art and activity: Every first Friday of the month from 6 to 9 p.m., A&M takes Friday night and elevates it to, well, an art form.
And they don’t stop there. HeartSong pointed out that this First Friday will lead into the biannual Open Studio Weekend, this Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. at both A&M’s Rockville locations. HeartSong said that many of the artists have work for sale, and that there’s something for everyone.
“Painters, sculptors, pastel artists, photographers, printers: you name it and they’re here,” she said, adding that prices range from affordable to serious-collector-friendly, and that A&M is a great place to shop for unique holiday gifts like scarves, jewelry and prints. “Shopping local, buying from artists — I don’t think there’s any better way to spend your money.”
HeartSong may shop locally, but she’s not a native Washingtonian, having moved to the D.C. area from Central Florida 16 years ago. “I’m so glad I moved here,” she said, noting that she entered the local art scene through Alexandria, Va.’s Torpedo Factory, moved to VisArts in Rockville, and worked as an art consultant before founding A&M.
“I really thought there had to be a different way to do this,” she said. “I eventually moved to open this for-profit art center that has now expanded.”
Art was “pretty much the only thing I did through high school,” said HeartSong, who grew up in Pennsylvania. “I became a professional artist not too long after that, exhibiting and showing, with gallery representation and all of that. This has been a singular focus since childhood.”
Now she is on the other side of the canvas, with a studio that offers more to artists than just a room of one’s own. “Having done a lot of work with nonprofits over the years, I really felt as though some stuff was getting lost in the mix,” HeartSong explained. “My feeling was, if we could run the business on a solid for-profit footing, we could focus more on artists and art education — and that’s our cornerstone.
“We don’t just collect rent from the artists that work with us; we offer discussion groups, special workshops with teaching artists from around the country, private business tutorials. Our entire goal is to help artists be the best, most well-rounded people they can be.”
With its “beautiful environment and collegial atmosphere,” HeartSong believes A&M allows artists to feel “happy, supported and comfortable.”
One of those artists is Pat Coates, a Fairfax, Va.-based art aficionado who turned professional as an adult when a bout of plantar fasciitis confined her to a cast for six weeks. “I couldn’t move around, so I started playing with art again,” she said. “I guess it’s been about 10 years.” Coates got serious about painting, taking lessons with another happy artist, Glenn Kessler, at Glen Echo’s Yellow Barn Studio — and following Kessler when he opened his art school, Compass Atelier, at A&M.
“I was in his first graduating class at Compass Atelier,” she noted. “Glenn’s just an incredible teacher and a very giving man.”
Coates paints almost exclusively in oils; her landscapes reflect her journeys abroad, her still life paintings offer a meditative depth. This month her work will be on display at A&M in an exhibit called “Finding Peace,” which details everyday objects that bring her joy.
“I thought I was a landscape painter when I started,” the artist said. “Then I started doing more still life, and the more I saw, the more interested I became in really looking close.” Painting has helped Coates find peace for more than a decade, and she said that by focusing on her subject, she is able to relax and go deep. She finds the interesting details that hide in plain sight: tea cups, cider glasses, a table setting. She paints her still lifes as if they were landscapes, revealing the depth and wonder of the mundane.
“That’s what informs my exhibit,” she explained. “It’s really about my journey to finding peace with myself.”
Before ending up two concurrent (yet completely different) exhibits at A&M, photographer Roy Sewall’s journey started in the great outdoors. He grew up in the D.C. area, hiking and biking the trails around the Potomac River and the C&O Canal. He became an engineer, and then a consultant.
“When I got out of the corporate world, I continued to work hard as a consultant, but I had more flexibility with my time,” he explained. “So, I found myself walking along the canal a lot more.” He walked with a friend, they took photos, they joked about writing a photography book about the river and its surroundings — and Sewall suggested they do it.
“He was not interested,” the photographer said. “So, I went along and did the book — and I became a lot closer to the river and the canal as a result. I learned a lot.”
As it turned out, his two books, “Our Potomac” and “Great Falls and Mather Gorge,” were a hit. Sewall went pro, selling prints, judging photography competitions and training judges, running critique groups and shooting in his studio as a freelance fine art photographer. He became the first chair of the board of the C&O Canal Trust and then joined the board of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network.
“The health of the river is critical to all our health,” he said. “This living, breathing thing in our midst is such a treasure.”
A treasure that can be explored this weekend — and throughout November — at A&M, where Sewall’s “C&O Canal Panoramic Views” is on display, as is “Mysterra,” his paean to fantasy, whimsy and spirit.
He credited HeartSong, who he knew through art circles and reconnected with a few years ago. “Fortunately, she invited me to exhibit, and I was thrilled she gave me two galleries.”
“Mysterra” represents Sewall’s “creativity mission,” with photos that are carefully composed, combined and embellished to evoke an air of fantasy and mystery. “They’re extremely realistic looking,” he said, “but there’s this sort of illusionary twist to them.”
The twist, for HeartSong, is that Sewall’s dual exhibits, along with Coates’ “Finding Peace” and the other exhibits (“DMV Drop-In: Highlighting the DC Metro Skate Scene,” curated by Dan Roncesvalles with Sara Moline and “Hats, Magnificent Hats” curated by David Hubbard) will bring even more attention to A&M — and make First Friday fantastic for guests.
“Wherever you spent your workday,” HeartSong said, “We’re gonna take good care of you while you’re here.”
November kicks off with First Friday festivities on Friday from 6-9 p.m. and Open Studio Weekend on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. at Artists & Makers Studio 1, 11810 Parklawn Drive, Suite 210, Rockville, and Artists & Makers Studio 2, 12280 Wilkins Ave., Rockville. Exhibits at both locations open Friday and continue through Wednesday, Nov. 28. Viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and Sundays and Mondays by appointment. Admission is free. Call 240-437-9573 or visit www.artistsandmakersstudios.com.