The air is still and cool inside the halls of the 19th century brick factory building and the muffled chatter from a small gallery downstairs carries up the stairwell. Paintings hang along the length of the corridor. Warm afternoon sunlight pours in through two studio windows illuminating the scene: a cup, some fruit and a posed bear – a still life. Tubes of oil paint, brushes, easels, canvases, palette spatulas and plenty of colorful artwork begin to fill this industrial space with new life as the sounds of traffic and machinery echo distantly; this room feels like a haven from the bustling streets of Boston.
This is Carol Schweigert’s creative domain, her studio inside the StoveFactory Gallery in Charlestown. A proud mother, BFA graduate of Syracuse University and former illustrator and designer in era before digital became the dominant form, she is friendly and passionate about her artwork. On any given day you may find her here working away at one of her paintings. That is, when she’s not out chasing the sunlight.
Carol practices a form of outdoor painting known as plein air. On a bright, warm New England Spring day such as this, she may very well take her well-worn, 19th century wooden box easel and head out into the landscape to, “try to figure out what makes a 21st century painting”. She carefully studies a scene to determine what angle and time of day will produce the best light, and the impressive number of landscapes visible in her gallery serve as a testament to her careful attention to light and color. Some of her images depict Charlestown, such as that of the Navy Yard which was done as part of a special event, and Crossing, which depicts the Boston Autoport. She prefers her wooden easel because it gives her the ability to paint in the water, a favored subject matter, though she admits that once the colder weather rolls around again in Autumn, she’s content to take her work back indoors.
“I paint from observation, I don’t paint directly from my imagination. I like to be specific, so there’s a specificity to each one.” Carol primarily uses oil paints and gouache on canvas, and describes her artwork as perceptual painting, a form of contemporary realism.
She draws inspiration from the likes of contemporary artists such as Catherine Kehoe, Stanley Bielen and Eric Aho, and the late Fauve, Henri Matisse. To varying degrees, all of these artists exhibit modern, impressionist influence. And like these artists, while Carol incorporates elements of a traditional realism, she brings contemporary sensibilities to her work. Particularly distinctive is her use of a painterly and vibrant texture with simultaneous elements of flatness.
Carol spends part of the year painting in Boston while working at the library at MIT, and part of the year painting in Vermont. Currently she’s gearing up for the summer season and has plans to paint in the town of Belmont, as well as for an exhibit in the Landau Gallery at the Belmont Hill School sometime in the near future.
However, she has strong ties to Charlestown where her gallery is located. Her and her husband moved to the neighborhood in 1993 to raise their son at a time when rent was cheaper and space was more plentiful. She’s since moved to the South End, and today she expresses concern over the effects of gentrification on the local artist community.
She says there’s been a lot of change over the years as developers have re-purposed former studio space in Charlestown. “It’s so expensive to get studio space because there’s so little of it available”. Yet she says that some of that change has also been good, as it has brought new businesses and restaurants into the area. Nonetheless, she said she feels very lucky to have a gallery at StoveFactory.
Carol is also involved with the Artists Group of Charlestown, an affiliate group of StoveFactory, as a member of the board. She has served in that position for more than six years, helping to represent the organization through their social media as well as through organizing events for artists to exhibit and sell their work. She says the mission of the organization is to bring local art to the community and to create a creative space for local artists to collaborate and support one another.
Because painting can often be an isolating endeavor, she says this community support was a major reason she wanted to get involved with the group. “When you’re in school it’s wonderful because you’ve got your community there, you’ve got all these shared interests. You get out of art school and then you really miss that kind of community that you get when you’re with a bunch of creative people”. Because the AGC presents an accessible space for local artists to collaborate and exhibit their work, it is able to facilitate this kind of peer-to-peer interaction that would likely otherwise be sorely missing from the community.
For Carol, this was an opportunity to not only meet, show and work with other artists, but to use her passion for the arts to give back to the community. She says that she’s long been averted by some of the elitist culture of the art world, and has instead set her sights on helping to create an inclusive community through the Artists Group of Charlestown. This community, she says, is something that is “universally important”.
An upcoming project that Carol is helping to organize with the AGC is Art in the Park, which is an event that’s taking place September 10th at the City Square Park in Charlestown that promotes community engagement by bringing local art and artists outside into the public. Her work will be on display. Currently, the AGC is working on campaigns to make their work more visible and inclusive by partnering with the Charlestown Working Theater and Gardens for Charlestown, both of which have similar missions to cultivate and connect with the community. It is the empowering of individuals and organizations like these that is making the city of Boston a better community for the arts, and ultimately a more engaging place for everyone.