MANCHESTER, NH – Verne Orlosk is a fused glass artist, which is easiest to understand after you step inside her place of business, Studio Verne. But if you think you know where Orlosk’s studio is, where she stretches and bends her incredibly intricate glass art, think again.
She recently relocated to 412 Chestnut St. It’s a mere 130 steps from where it has been for the past decade, on Hanover Street.
On a recent afternoon she’s tucked into a V-shaped desk surrounded by containers of powder in shades of seedling green, pencil sketches, and fragile swirls of glass fashioned into stems. At her hands, the commissioned piece is taking shape as helicopter seed pods that twirl from maple branches.
As she works in walks her old friend and new next-door neighbor, fellow artist Grace Burr. Her business, Creative Framing Solutions, also just moved around the corner after the building both she and Orlosk occupied on Hanover Street was sold to make way for apartments.
“It was totally coincidental that space was available next door to each other,” says Orlosk of what would otherwise appear to be a deliberate shift in the downtown art hub.
They are now ready to welcome the public in to see what they do during an open house May 26 from 5-7 p.m. Art and small confections from Queen City Cupcake will be the hook, but once you arrive the hope is that visitors will become regulars and the community will help manifest a vibrant and lively downtown arts scene.
You know – buy some local art, get something precious framed, make art a fixture in your life.
For every person whose creative juices were dammed from flowing by the words “you can’t make a living as an artist,” Orlosk and Burr would counter that you can make a living doing what you love — as long as you’re willing to work long and hard at it.
It’s the only way to keep a roof over your art supplies.
For Burr, that means finding her niche in the framing business, which is so much more than tacking some wood around a canvas.
“I love when people bring me things to frame,” says Burr, who was peeling the protective plastic from a piece of vintage Beatles-themed wallpaper that has been fitted with UV acrylic on a museum board. She is about to encase it in a wooden Italian frame for the customer, who she says is a “big music collector.”
The wallpaper was his mother’s.
“He originally was going to have it framed for her, but he liked it so much he decided to keep it for himself,” says Burr. She points to other projects she’s created.
“Sometimes you just need something over your sofa. But there are so many other ways to create art from everyday items,” Burr says.
Another work in progress in the back of her shop is a map of the Ashland Knitting Co. which helps tell the story of a family’s journey on the land they own. Another is a shadow box of someone’s grandmother’s costume jewelry. She’s also framed doilies, lobster claws, war medals and a luna moth – she has an entire mural made of square photos depicting some of her favorite frame jobs.
“This is the key to the Palace Theatre from the original doors, before they replaced them,” says Burr. “Peter Ramsey brought it in and we framed it for him.”
Orlosk opened Studio Verne about a year before Burr arrived from Gloucester, Mass., which was 10 years ago. Burr was looking for a production space and found one on the second floor of the Hanover Street building. Eventually Burr decided she would rather have a street-level space, like Orlosk.
“At that time there was this weird oxygen bar – remember that? – and I was hoping for that space. I ended up in the back of the building for a while, with the squirrels,” says Burr of her quest to find the perfect storefront.
A little over a year ago she took over the former Jupiter Hall, an open art gallery run by Dan and Katie Berube until a temporary COVID closure in March of 2020 became permanent. For one year Burr enjoyed the space of her dreams. Then, time ran out as word of a renovation project for their building circulated. Although they could have stayed, they both agreed that it would have been impossible to work in a construction zone.
Although the new place on Chestnut Street has much less wall space, Burr is counting it a blessing to be neighbors with Orlosk on a stretch of Chestnut Street that officially expands the “art block” anchored by The Palace and The Rex.
“At the beginning, I thought the move was going to set me back because I saw how many great events Jupiter Hall did there but I realize I don’t need a big storefront,” Burr says. “To be honest, we’re just happy to have a lease and Ann is our landlord now, which is great,” she says, a reference to Ann Masterson, who operates Hooked and Ignite at the corner of Hanover and Chestnut.
For Art’s Sake: Elevate and Celebrate
Orlosk says she’s determined to figure a way to solidify Manchester as an arts destination.
“There’s a disconnect. People think of the Palace and the Currier, and that’s great. And the Chamber has always focused on dining but when you live here you know that there really are a lot of other things to do and see,” Orlosk says. She and Burr were happy to sit down recently with Erick Lesniak, who has been hired to serve as a business liaison for the recently revived Economic Development Department.
“I’m not so jaded as I used to be. I think there’s still a way forward and Erik is open to ideas and questions,” Orlosk says. She has been working on a decal that could be distributed to all the art-centric businesses in the downtown, as an identifier that they are part of the Queen City’s art collective.
Both she and Burr agree that there should be an interactive online map that highlights places like theirs, alongside other creative businesses like Studio 550 on Elm Street, Diane Crespo Fine Art Gallery near the intersection of Hanover and Elm streets, Kevin Kintner, who moved off of Chestnut and now has a display case at the Beacon Building. It could allow the city to promote itself as an arts destination and help build a community of creatives alongside those who crave the arts.
And there is good reason to be hopeful.
A consortium of arts-minded businesses are planning a week-long fall Citywide Arts Festival Sept. 12-18 that will culminate with a two-day street fair contained in the “Opera Block” on Hanover Street, Sept. 17-18, featuring an art market made up of dozens of local artists, artisans, and crafters, interactive art installations, live performances by musicians and dancers, food trucks and coordinated events at “partner” locations ( including The Bookery, The Palace Theatres, The Currier, Dimensions in Dance, Manchester Community Music School, Studio 550) around the city. Artists interested in securing a booth can fill out a request form here (deadline is June 1).
“Over the years there have been moments where it felt like everything was coming together,” says Burr. “People would get together and talk about having art walks or ‘first Fridays’ but it never happened.”
With Lesniak taking time to connect individually with downtown businesses, and the festival on the calendar, Burr and Orlosk are happy to stick around, for art’s sake.
“The taco tour was fantastic. We need more of that. It was so nice to see people out and walking in the city,” says Orlosk. “You know, I could have moved my studio anywhere. I didn’t have to stay in Manchester, but I love it here.”
Ditto that, says Burr.
“I’ve sold two paintings since moving around the corner,” says Burr who paints everything from pet portraiture to tiny seascapes. “People want to show their art,” says Burr. Maybe things are changing.”