If you’re walking along the Charlotte Rail Trail, you really can’t miss Dilworth Artisan Station at 118 E. Kingston Ave. You’ll spot the window art panels installed by Ron Boozer overlooking a parking lot, fronted by building signage that says: Dilworth Artisan Station (see photo above). Or you’ll spot the water tower over the parking lot, with signage that says: Dilworth Artisan Station (see photo below). (Ironically, you’re in South End looking at all of this. But Dilworth is nearby.)
Either way, go into that parking lot and note the back glass door with signage that says: Dilworth Artisan Station. Go inside that door – it should be unlocked during “regular” business hours, which are a bit ambiguous because each studio inside functions as its own business. You may notice a stack of hand-drawn maps on a lectern on your left, or stuffed into a slot on the wall on your right. You’ll definitely notice a few paintings worth thousands of dollars on the walls before you.
They were created by some of the dozens of artists who maintain studio space at Dilworth Artisan Station, a building built in the early 1900s that now acts as a portal from the sidewalk to the art realm. Visitors can walk in and check out art, plus talk with the artists.
And at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, I noticed a door flung open at the end of the hall to reveal a conglomeration of knobs, gates, stained-glass windows and wooden fixtures. Music was emanating from that door – which belongs to the entryway to Crossland Studio, whose owners Dick and Bob Fuller specialize in the restoration of architectural antiques.
I wandered in and found myself in the company of “Da Mayor” of Dilworth Artisan Station, Paul Hastings. Hastings, who functions as a liaison between the artists and the Fullers, who are the Station owners as well, said the tenants in this building include a photographer, painters, Hodges Taylor Art Consultancy, Sandvi Studio: Pilates and More and other creative types.
“These people who are in here who are not artists, like to be with artists,” he said. “You know, you want to be around creative people.”
Hastings has been in his studio for six years and was previously in NoDa before galleries started leaving that neighborhood.
“NoDa was a little bit more edgy,” he said, adding that South End is not succeeding with that edge because of the influx of apartments and condos.
“We’re losing the edge,” Hastings said.
But it doesn’t affect the tenants here as artists and creators really, he clarified, beyond the rising prices of leasing in this building, which has housed artists for 27 years. And while they stick around the place, they’ll keep up their habits of knocking on the doors of each other’s studios, discussing work and gallery opportunities, and gathering around a bottle of wine in the afternoon.
“We have the most fabulous artist community here because we critique each other’s work, we spend time with each other, we share ideas,” said Hastings, who mostly paints commissioned pieces and whose business brochure reads, “Escape Artist.” (“You can escape into my paintings,” he told me.)
You can also escape into Dilworth Artisan Station — there’s always an artist in here, Hastings said. And all of the walls along the three floors of studios are lined with art to look into, get lost into.
Artists in the space include Dottie Leatherwood, Ada Shapiro (“She’s over 80 and she’s the most enthusiastic one here,” Hastings said) and Sharon Hockfield. You can explore their work and that of other studio holders here.
Leonor Demori Neisler, who does a combination of painting, photography and printmaking, works in her third-floor studio with her two dogs and has been in this space for more than six years. She said what keeps her here is “the community, the other artists here.” She finds inspiration in this environment and loves how convenient it is for clients to come and view her work.
As for me? I just love how convenient it is to be able to wander through that back, unlocked door on a whim, to climb the stairs, to escape.
Photos: Katie Toussaint