Above, artist Sabrina Bland paints palm trees on a canvas in her studio space at the Tannery Row Artist Colony in historic downtown Buford on March 6. Bland took a photograph of some palm trees in Chinandega, Nicaragua, that she is using as a reference while painting. At top, a collection of paint brushes belongs to artist Madelyn Davis who works on an oil painting in her designated space at the Tannery Row Artist Colony in historic downtown Buford on March 6. (Staff Photos: Brendan Sullivan)
'Behind the Scenes' ... at the Tannery Row Artist Colony
In this week's 'Behind the Scenes' segment, we give you an inside look at the Tannery Row Artist Colony in historic downtown Buford.
BUFORD — Sabrina Bland begins with a base of sky, a canvas painted with bright blues and hints of purple and yellow. Using her paintbrush, she combines dark green, blue and brown acrylics on a palette. As she makes swift strokes on the canvas, the beginnings of palm tree fronds start to take shape in sharp, dark contrast to the bright sky.
The piece is one of hundreds, maybe even thousands, that have been created at Buford’s Tannery Row Artist Colony over the past decade.
“I’m doing the underpainting right now,” said Bland, one of 16 artists in residence at Tannery Row, “so I’m really trying to just get some of the shadows and the tone and then I’m going to build up more of the brighter colors and more of the depth and texture as I go on. Who knows where it goes? Most of the time an artist will tell you once you get that base you start to really see what that painting wants to be and that’s what you paint.”
Six years ago Bland set up a studio at Tannery Row, which is housed in an historic building in Buford built in 1919 as a shoe factory. It is there, for the past decade, that many different artists — 70 to be specific — have painted, crafted pottery, created mixed media pieces and shaped metal and glass sculptures, helping and encouraging each other along the way. It is also there that visitors have talked with the artists, watched them work and even learned to make art themselves.
Tannery Row is celebrating its 10-year history with a special exhibit of artwork created by current and former resident artists.
“We asked that people do something, give us something that’s new in the last 12 months that represents where their work is going,” Bland said, “so you’ve got all kinds of work from different people who might have done something in a different style before, but this is where they’re exploring right now.”
The exhibit, titled “A Perfect 10,” is open to the public and on display through April 26.
Two of the original Tannery Row artists — Judith Surowiec and Dennis Primm — are still artists in residence.
Surowiec, who works with acrylics and colored pencils, had a studio on Main Street in Buford beside the drug store when she was asked to look at the space at Tannery Row 10 years ago.
“Things were changing in downtown Buford and this opportunity came up,” the Dacula resident said. “At that time I came here it was just a big, empty space with chalk lines. It was exciting. I liked the artists that were in there.”
Since Surowiec has been at Tannery Row there have been several changes — changes in the aesthetics with a new door at the entryway, metal arches above the walkway that stretches the length of the artists’ space with studios on each side, improvements in organization, the addition of more shows and a desire for the artists to give back to the community.
“Now we’re getting to be a destination,” Surowiec added. “People are finding out about us and deliberately coming to the Tannery. That wasn’t the case before.”
Likewise, Surowiec said, one thing has stayed the same — the good people.
“Our artists are serious about what they do,” she said. “People actually work in the building. I like that. We help each other, give each other critiques. We encourage creativity.”
‘Inspiration is tremendous’
Bland said she thinks Tannery Row Artist Colony has remained for the past decade for two reasons.
“One, I do think that people in Georgia, when they find this place realize what a jewel it is. A lot of us will have the same people that come back show after show, year after year,” she said. “Once somebody buys original art that’s in their home and they pass by it every time, it makes them feel good, it’s almost like a little addiction. They want a little bit more … because it makes them feel good to know that they have something special,”
Echoing Surowiec, Bland said the second reason is the artists themselves.
“Everybody here … is very supportive, very kind, they want to give back to the community,” Bland said. “Most people here do give back to the community in other ways. This is just an extension of that. It’s a chance to do something and create something beautiful in the world and to do something with meaning. That’s why I think it’s continued. And my hope is that it will grow and more people will know about it because it’s a great place to come to.”
Prospective artists present a portfolio and are juried into the colony. Artists must make a one-year commitment.
Janet Poor is one of the most recent artists to be accepted into Tannery Row. Working with oils, Poor is self-taught and now teaches classes herself.
“I have loved every single minute of it,” she said of working at Tannery Row. “It’s so inspiring. I can do larger pieces and I teach classes here. The inspiration is tremendous. It is all and more than what I thought (it would be).”
Snellville resident Donna Biggee, who works with oils and pastels, echoed Surowiec, Bland and Poor.
“It’s a wonderful place to work and just all the creative energy,” said Biggee, who has been with Tannery Row for six years. “It’s a wonderful combination of all the arts. It’s been fun to watch it evolve. It’s fun to watch people’s progression. It’s wonderful to be around other artists and share information.”