Petaluma artists create community at Magic Shop
Creating art can be a lonely practice. Whether it’s a full-time career, an after-hours side hustle or a therapeutic pastime, art requires hours and hours spent in isolation. In a west side warehouse overlooking the Petaluma River, a small community of local artists is taking an alternative approach, proving that working alone while also working near (and sometimes with) other creatives is not only good for their minds and souls, it’s good for their art.
“Functioning as a collective, we have more than just our individual studio walls,” said Jennifer Tatum, founder of Magic Shop Studios. “It’s the community experience we are stepping into every day when we come together to make our art separately. It’s a collective, a support system, as well as a great place to work. We really do care about each other, and look out for each other. It really does feel magical.”
Founded in early 2020 and significantly shaped by the pandemic, the three-year-old Magic Shop Studios is housed in a multi-story, semi-labyrinthine corner of The Watershed, a 100-year-old former grain storage warehouse on First Street, on the waterfront in Petaluma’s historic Warehouse District. The Magic Shop portion of the sprawling building comprises 11 studio spaces currently being used by 16 artists. On the ground floor is a communal art gallery featuring ever-changing displays of all the artists’ work, and a solo gallery where one select artist from the collective presents their own show every three months. Those exhibitions routinely open concurrently with the group’s quarterly Open Studios events, when the public is allowed to wander through the studios, visit the members, getting a peek at how different artists work, and the environments they have built to create in.
The next Magic Shop Open House is scheduled for Saturday evening, Feb. 11, 5 - 8 p.m. But that’s not the only time the public is invited inside. On weekends, visitors are welcome to join Tatum and company for what she has named “Coffee X Art,” an opportunity to view the exhibition spaces and enjoy a fresh-brewed cup of high-end coffee courtesy of roaster-brewer Kjeld Clark.
“We started that in September,” Tatum says of the “Coffee X Art” experiences, held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. “Except for the Open Studios days, no one really gets much of a chance to come in and see what goes on here. So we do these pour-over coffee tastings, and the galleries are open. We’ve had so many people wander in by accident, and they are just blown away that all of this exists here.”
Tatum first started working in the Watershed building several years ago, when she began renting a space from Cemil Hope, of HOPEBUILT, a maker of high end cabinetry, whose idea it was to develop the smaller spaces, one of which Tatum was renting.
“Cemil planted the seed for me to then take forward into all I was dreaming,” said Tatum.
It was Hope’s son, also an artist, who inspired the studios’ eventual name when he’d stop by to inquire of Tatum, “What’s going on in your magic shop?” When Josh Peterson bought the building four years ago, and began remodeling it, Tatum proposed the establishment of an artists’ collective.
“All of these spaces are small enough that artists can afford them,” she pointed out, giving the average rent for a 9-foot x 12-foot studio as about $500. “But the big attraction is that it’s bringing people out of their garages or home studios, places where they really aren’t connecting with the larger community. I’d been creating in my own garage studio, and I was like, ‘I need interaction with other people, other artists, to be able to talk about what we’re creating.’”
When COVID-19 hit, and people were suddenly sheltering at home with their families, Tatum quickly filled up studios’ upstairs spaces with artists needing a relatively quiet place to work.
“People were looking for a place to be outside of their house, and we were really good about being strict with COVID protocols,” she said. “No one ever got sick here, during that whole time. We couldn’t hang out together, but people would come in and go to their studios, and we could hear each other – which was actually very comforting at that time.”
After a year, Peterson expanded, putting up temporary walls and sliding doors in the inner warehouse to create additional studios, and almost immediately filled those up as well.
“Every space is a little bit different, and they all have something special,” said Tatum, a printmaker specializing in lithographic reproductions using wooden carvings. “My studio has this amazing wonderful light that comes through the window when it’s sunny. When the rain comes down, the sound it makes on the metal roof is just very comforting and cool.“
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