Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Where art and business collide

By Christine Gillette Staff writer for The Salem News

SALEM Local creative economy leaders are forming an association designed to help businesses in that sector network.

But creative economy ventures, large and small, are already finding each other, even by chance. In at least one instance, that has translated into business for local artists.

Juli Lederhaus, general manager of the Hawthorne Hotel, finally was in the last stages of redecorating 60 guest rooms after years of remodeling the downtown hotel. Leading much of the interior design herself, Lederhaus oversaw the painting and repapering of walls, the laying of fresh carpet and selecting of new bedspreads. But the last detail was missing  the artwork.

"I knew I wanted art from local artists and I had a limited budget," said Lederhaus.

Lederhaus found her answer unexpectedly. Attending a meeting on the North of Boston creative economy initiative at the Peabody Essex Museum, she sat at the same table as Susan Fader, co-owner of Ditto Editions in Marblehead, which specializes in reproducing artwork, including work of local artists.

"We just clicked," said Lederhaus. "If not for the creative economy (initiative), I don't think Susan and I would have met."

"I thought I had the right kind of art; local artists, local subjects," said Fader, adding that to bring the opportunity to local artists for a sale of that size "was a big deal."

"I have to break the news to artists all the time that they're a business," she said.

Lederhaus went to the Marblehead gallery the same week, and saw the work of several local artists. Together, Fader and Lederhaus chose 20 paintings that the pair would later load onto a luggage cart and roll through the hotel, trying them in each of the variations of the newly decorated rooms.

Color was the biggest factor in how Lederhaus decided which pieces would hang in which rooms. Bold shades like red, yellow, deep blues and green are featured in the redecorated rooms. While some elements are repeated, none of the rooms is exactly alike.

In the end, Lederhaus and Fader selected the works, watercolors and oils, of three artists: William Cloutman of Swampscott, and Catherine Landergan and Patricia O'Hare Williams, both of Marblehead.

In total, Ditto Editions used its archival-quality copy technology to duplicate 14 paintings multiple times, for a total of 84 images.

"She couldn't have bought 84 originals," Fader said, estimating that would have cost Lederhaus and the hotel at least $84,000. Lederhaus' budget for the project was $20,000.

Fader wouldn't reveal exactly how much the hotel deal was worth to the individual artists or her business, but did say, "There's one artist who made as much on the project as (Ditto Editions) did."

The artists were shy about revealing their commissions. O'Hare Williams said it was "absolutely" a good sale for her, and added that working with a business that prints artwork is a "whole new part of the art world" that's been opened up because it's difficult for artists to manage printing their work and marketing it on their own.

Cloutman called the sale "excellent."

"I virtually had to do nothing to get the sale because somebody did it for me" other than painting the original some time ago, he said.

Lederhaus decided to further economize on the project by reusing the frames and glass holding the artwork that was being replaced.

Duplicating the paintings also offered flexibility  some of the originals were the wrong size and shape to fit in the spots where Lederhaus wanted them and the frames, so Ditto Editions resized some of the paintings, with the artists' permission, during the copying.

The copies made, the challenge was getting the old art out of the rooms and replaced with the new art without disrupting the hotel's guests.

In a single afternoon, crews from Ditto Editions and the Hawthorne joined forces to take down the old pieces, pull them out of the frames, and replace them. Lederhaus picked a Sunday, the day with the highest checkout rate, for the switch. And she sent letters to guests in advance to warn them, just in case.

Going door to door, crews worked in hallways and vacant function rooms for five hours. Old paintings came down, glass and frames were removed and cleaned, and new images mounted inside.

"That was a huge undertaking," said Fader. "That was the part I was most worried about and shocked when we were done."

With the job complete, the Hawthorne's guest rooms are decorated with local scenes like Marblehead's waterfront, the marshes of Essex, the gazebo on Salem Common and the House of Seven Gables.

"It feels like the essence of Salem to me," Lederhaus said.