Rail Walk studio proves popular with artists

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 16, 2012

SALISBURY — Each of the six artists at Rail Walk Studios & Gallery has a key.
They move in and out of their warehouse accommodations on North Lee Street at all times of day and night.
Marietta Foster Smith is a sculptor, painter and founder of this place.
Annette R. Hall specializes in portraits, so a lot of people are always looking over her shoulder.
Sharon Forthofer works primarily in oils, but also loves watercolors. She is prolific, extremely neat and meticulous.
Karen Frazer is consumed these days with Encaustic wax, with which she paints, sculpts or makes collages. She can be messy.
Ingrid A. Erickson works wonders in the art of cut paper. She has a way with scissors, shears, blades and X-acto knives.
Elizabeth McAdams paints with pixels based on her digital photography.
Some of these artists may not bump into each other for weeks at a time.
As creative forces, they have their own points of view, working in many mediums and for widely different audiences.
They came to Salisbury from places across the country and vary in age, background and political persuasion. Their studio work can be terribly isolating.
But housing their individual studios under one roof, in 6,000 square feet of space, has created a beautiful melting pot.
“I like to feel a part of a community,” says Frazer, who has been renting space at Rail Walk Studios & Gallery since August 2009.
McAdams is the newest artist to locate here and is still moving things in.
“I like being in the environment with other creators,” she says.
In this brightly lit warehouse, there’s often opportunity for immediate feedback from a fellow artist and ample gallery space in the front for exhibiting one’s work or staging special shows.
The rents are calculated on the square footage an artist requires. The cost of utilities are shared, and the artists take turns with many of the mundane duties — from being on site for when the gallery is open to cleaning the toilets.
Hall, an artist here since April 2007, says she likes having a place to work away from home, where there can be a lot of distractions.
It makes her approach more businesslike, she says. Hall tracks her annual commissions, and she put in 1,600 hours at her studio last year.
“I learn from the other artists,” says Smith, the brainchild behind Rail Walk Studios.
Smith moved to Salisbury in August 2005 with her husband, Mark, and by that December, Marietta was looking for studio space.
When she didn’t find what she wanted downtown, Smith turned to Rowan Investment Co.’s John and Glenn Ketner, who had plans for an arts district focused on an old rail spur line running among their warehouse holdings.
Keith Collins already was renting a space for his Cascade Sculpture two doors away from a warehouse at 409 N. Lee St. that Smith was interested in.
That space — bigger and more costly than Marietta could afford on her own — was being used by a landscape company for storage.
When it became available in March 2006, Marietta thought if she and Mark cleaned it up and she established a studio, other artists might want to share the space — and costs.
The Smiths borrowed a pressure washer to clean out mulch and straw, among other things, while the Ketners made improvements. They gave her until the end of July 2006 to find the additional artists she needed to make the space at 409 N. Lee St. work.
She blanketed Salisbury with post cards and posters, searching for artists. By August, she had two — Norma Frink, a figurative sculptor and painter, and Jimmy Alston, a pastel artist.
The trio had a successful grand opening by November 2006.
Hall moved to Salisbury in 2007, and became Rail Walk’s fourth artist. A wall was added up front to create gallery space in June 2007, and Rowan Investment opened additional warehouse area next door for more studios and gallery, leading to a grand reopening in March 2008.
Over the years, renters who have come and gone include artists Carol Dunkley, Caren and Bob Briley, Cathy Sigmon, Jane Foster Johnson, James Haymaker, Patt Legg and Rachel Lee; photographer Jason Williams; and the offices of the Rowan Arts Council.
The studios have had up to eight artists at one time, and Rail Walk currently has room for one or two more.
Forthofer began renting space in May 2008, and Erickson came last year.
“Even before I got here, I really had a good feeling about it,” Erickson says of the shared warehouse. “… I am thrilled to be in such a great community of artists.”
Overall, Smith says, her dream for Rail Walk Studios and Gallery happened a whole lot faster than she imagined. “I am really delighted,” she adds.
Their place is open to the public from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, or by appointment with individual artists.
“We’re all immigrants,” Hall says, considering the wide range of locales represented by these artists.
Before North Carolina, Forthofer lived most recently in Missouri and Texas.
Frazer spent most of her life in Delaware and trained as an artist in Baltimore.
McAdams lived in Charlotte before moving to Salisbury several years ago. Hall was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Roanoke, Va., and lived a long time in Washington state.
Smith is a native of Forsyth County. Erickson has spent considerable time in New England and lived in China and Thailand from 2004-06.
“My theory is, that is why we appreciate Salisbury,” Smith says, adding that natives often don’t realize the advantages in this city.
The artists will tell you the warehouse advantages far outweigh any negatives in this space that covers 409-413 N. Lee St.
They wish they had more foot traffic and buyers. They look forward to sidewalk improvements the city plans on North Lee Street and hold out hope that a significant tenant can be found for a 9,000-square-foot building Rowan Investment has available at Kerr and Lee streets.
If that were to become something such as a farmers market, restaurant or micro-brewery/pub, the Rail Walk district would really take off, they predict.
Because of their different schedules and individual natures, the artists try to meet as infrequently as possible.
When it does happen it’s usually around a table of food, Smith laughs, adding, “It can be a long meeting.”
They develop a schedule for each open gallery day, delegate the chores and iron out any problems. Everybody gives great input, Smith says, though the meetings resemble discussions on the television talk show, “The View,” and the artists tend to interrupt each other frequently.
But that’s OK.
“We have a common love,” McAdams says, “which is art.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.

Events at Rail Walk Studios and Gallery:

1) The Red Show art exhibit
When: Now through March 31.
Gallery hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Where: 409 N. Lee St., Salisbury.
What: a group exhibit by Rail Walk artists, using red as the cohesive theme, with art also donated by local artists.

2) Red Cross fundraiser
When: 6-8 p.m. March 31.
Where: 409 N. Lee St.
What: Silent auction of the gallery’s donated art.
Cost: $5 donation at door.
Proceeds: All money raised from the $5 entry fee and silent auction go to the Red Cross.