I entered 72 Spring Street for the first time ever from the blustery sidewalk last Monday, unsure of what I’d find. Like many of my peers, I’d never set foot in the building’s former business, the Library Clothing Co. — I hadn’t found need for a $125 alpaca sweater emblazoned with the College “W,” and was secretly pleased to find it shuttered this fall. When the “Art + Flea” window decal went up promptly after Library Clothing Co.’s closing, I couldn’t help fearing the new business, a 12-day pop-up shop, might be as pretentious as its predecessor. However, as soon as I stepped inside, a woman in a paint-splattered vest poked her head out from the back room. “Come sit!” she said, and dragged over two wooden crates.
Entering Art + Flea, the overwhelming feeling is not elitism but enthusiasm. The pop-up shop, open through Dec. 10, features jewelry by Beth Carlisle, paintings by Tracy Baker-White, pottery and illustrated cards by Stephanie Boyd as well as curated vintage and used clothing by Jennifer Lemieux. “This is the third time we’ve done a pop up,” said Boyd, who organized Art + Flea. “Williams owns most of the buildings on this [the West] side of Spring Street, so if they have one vacant, they’ll offer a good deal to do a pop-up shop.” Pop-up shops are common around the Berkshire area as a way for holiday visitors to support local artists and stimulate local economies — the Holiday Shindy in Pittsfield as well as the Handmade Holiday Festival in Dalton feature local crafts. The handmade works and hand-picked clothing of Art + Flea follow in the tradition of these holiday markets in the region, allowing students from the College to support local artists.
Of the four artists selling work at Art + Flea, two are College-affiliated: Tracy Baker-White, whose landscape paintings are shown, is married to Professor Rob Baker-White of the theatre department, while Stephanie Boyd, whose handmade pottery is for sale, worked for the College in facilities, served as the founding director of the Zilkha Center, and is married to Professor of Computer Science Bill Lenhart. “I decided my last career was going to be artistic, so now I’m making pots,” Boyd quipped.
Boyd’s turn to a full-time artistic career was perhaps sped along by the sparsity of employment opportunities found for partners and spouses of College faculty in Williamstown. “There used to be this joke people would say: ‘It’s a problem to come to Williamstown if you’re single and it’s a problem to come to Williamstown if you’re married,’” Boyd recounted.
The support of a small community, however, has allowed artists — including artists who are spouses or partners of faculty — to connect to each other and find outlets for their creative work. “What’s really nice around here is that some of the stores are quite supportive — The Clark gift store has some of my black and white pottery, and MASS MoCA also sells some of my work,” said Boyd. “I have some mugs that say ‘F-U-C-K’ on them, so when I went to MASS MoCA to see if they wanted to sell them, they said, ‘Oh we’ll have to check with the manager.’ But now they sell them by the dozen.”
With its museums and music scene, Berkshire County has also attracted artistic individuals who are unaffiliated with the College. Jennifer Lemieux, who curated affordable and adorable vintage and thrifted clothing for Art + Flea, is one such individual. A native of Clarksburg, Massachusetts, Lemiuex spent time in San Diego before moving to Williamstown, where she now operates Salon 290, a full service beauty and hair salon, at 290 Cole Avenue. Lemieux echoed that the close-knit nature of Williamstown helped artists get their footing. “In a small area, it’s easier to connect sometimes. I met Annie from WCMA next door [Anne Kennedy, WCMA’s Event and Program Coordinator], who had a pop-up called The School for Style, so she connected me to other ladies,” said Lemieux. “I then did pop-ups for FreshGrass at MASS MoCA, and at Hancock Shaker Village.”
In addition to providing support and recognition for local artists, Art + Flea is also an agent of philanthropy; last weekend, for Fair Saturday (a holiday akin to Black Friday in the artisan community, I learned from Boyd) Art + Flea held a fundraiser to promote arts programming at Roots Teen Center in North Adams. Despite only being open for twelve days, Art + Flea’s pop-up breathes life into 72 Spring Street by showcasing the work of local artists, and providing College students with a chance to support them.