Life with Art

A visit to Molly Carter’s apartment is a little like walking through and art gallery. Just inside the door of her loft at the Mitchell Wagon Factory, you are greeted by a multimedia piece titled “Attirement for the Bride.” This impressive installation features a long flowing cloak made of bight red feathers that streams off a dress form.

On the wall behind it hangs larger-than-life sweeping sketches of dress forms. And beside them are precisely constructed collages depicting a collection of somewhat disjointed female forms, using paper, hand-stitched historical fabrics, etched Plexiglas and more.

There are just a few examples of the many ways in which Carter, a 34-year-old multimedia artist, explores issues of female identity in her work. Having done her graduate work in fiber and materials studies at the Art Institute of Chicago, Carter has exhibited her work at the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Kohler Arts Center, as well as in Chicago and other cities around the country. Racine audiences will have a chance to see some of her pieces for the first time Sunday, when she opens her home to the public as part of the Mitchell Wagon Factory Lofts Artists Open House.

Carter is one of more than 30 resident artists whose work will be featured at the Open House, which will include tours of the converted Mitchell Factory building lofts, art displays in four galleries, artist demonstrations, live entertainment and refreshments. It is the first time since the converted manufacturing landmark became artists’ lofts that residents will be opening their studio and galleries to the public. The building, which features 100 lofts designed as living and working spaces for artists, also offers such amenities as common galleries, ceramics and painting studios, a photography dark room, a woodworking shop, a theater, a cyber lounge and a fitness center.

The open house is designed not only to allow people to tour the unique building, but to familiarize themselves with the work of its residents according to Jon Beidelschies, a representative of Gorman & Co., the Madison-based firm which renovated the building.

“We’ll have things set up so that people can tour the building (tours will leave every 15 minutes), and some residents are going to open up their apartments and studios so that visitors can see how artists are utilizing the space,” Beidelschies said. “We want to open our doors and let people see that we have a bunch of talented folks here.”

Carter, who shares her loft with her artist husband, David Menard, moved to the Mitchell Factory building about six months ago from the Chicago area. After she accepted a teaching job at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Carter and Menard looked in the Milwaukee area for housing that would suit their living and working need, but couldn’t find anything appropriate. They heard about the Racine artists lofts and were hooked after their first walk through.

“As soon as we saw it, we said ‘Oh, yeah. This will work,'” Carter said, “You can’t beat this amount of space for the price.”

While living in Chicago, the couple had to rent separate studio space in addition to their apartment. It was not only expensive, but inconvenient to have to travel between the two locations.

“Having everything here in one location is really convenient,” said Carter. “I can get up in the morning and work on something for a half hour before heading off to work.”

She and Menard, who is a printmaker and freelance, artist, have divided up the loft space so that they each have their own working areas. Since Menard, 37, spends a lot of time working from home, he has his office in one of the closed-off rooms of the loft, while Carter has carved out studio space in the open area, which serves her larger pieces well.

“So far things are working out very will,” she said. “If we need to, David can shut the door and we each have some privacy.”

Mark Denman also enjoys his combined living and working space in the old wagon factory. While Denman, 44, is not an artist by profession, his loft looks as if he might be. Large painted canvases adorn the brick walls, and easels and spattered dropcloths fill a studio area alongside his kitchen.

Denman, who has worked in real estate and the insurance business, discovered his hobby of painting as a form of therapeutic distraction while going through some major changes in his life. Inspired by such abstract artists as Mark Rothko and Gerhard Richter, he applies paint to canvas with unconventional tools like a floor tile trowel and a drywall tape applicator.

“My motto is ‘never use a brush,'” he said

Mostly self taught, Denman enjoys learning about art, as well as creating it. And living among other artists is one of the things that drew him to the Mitchell Factory lofts.

“There is a really diverse group of people living here, from a broad range of backgrounds,” he said. “I’ve made some very good friends.”

Denman will be sharing his artwork with visitors in the building’s central gallery spaces. He and his daughter, Taylor, 8, will also serve as tour guides during the open house.

Like Denman, Carter and Menard, most of the artists living at the Mitchell Wagon Factory work in the visual arts. The lofts are not limited to people I those disciplines, however. Musicians, writers – even disc jockeys – also live in the building, according to Beidelschies. They, too, will take part in the open house.

John Crews, a musician who plays with the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra, will perform during Sunday’s event, as will cellist Lori Covelli. And some of the visual artists will give demonstrations of their techniques in the buildings shared studio spaces. Artwork created by children living in the building will also be displayed.

Other artists whose work can be seen or heard on Sunday are: Ramele Paytes, paintings; Chase Hendrix, functional art; Katie Kennedy, ceramics/functional art; Barb Pellegrino, paintings/multimedia art; Veronica Estes, paintings/multimedia art; Stephanie Walser, paintings/multimedia art; Elizabeth Mathews, lithographs/photos; Marlesia Marshall, photographs; Nathan Wells paintings; Joey Nelson, pencil art/music; Jody Willems, paintings; Sophia Jones, paintings; Becky Dahlke, photographs; J.D. Strauss, musician; Ray Zirkle, photographs; Sherri Myers-Wray, paintings; Garett Peterson, paintings/multimedia art; Stacey Gunzman, multimedia art; Katie Skowronske, photographs; Anne Asher, paintings; Lisa Held, glasswork/woodwork; Justin Leach, sculptures; Leslie Ryan, actress; Brad Bomkamp, musician; Lori Covelli, musician; John Crews, musician; Justin Jakimiak, musician; Elmer Golon, disc jockey; Johnathan Zbinden, photographs/body art; Wes Barwick, paintings; and Safiya Tolson, paintings.