If you’re driving down Pomfret Street in Carlisle, Pat Craig’s business is hard to miss.
The striking blue building, with the black shutters, bay window, purple door and orange sign identifying it as “Pat Craig Studios,” stands out among the neighborhood shops, beckoning visitors to take notice.
And there’s always a quirky, sometimes seasonal, street tableau to seal the deal. This Halloween, Craig featured a jumble of jack-o’-lanterns scattered around a purple mannequin sporting a mirrored mosaic dress and a sky-high headpiece crafted of flowers and greenery. Inside her shop are additional items carefully chosen to elicit a smile or an “aha.”
Her latest creative project is located right next door. That endeavor, called “The Penny Gallery at The Pond,” is an homage to her former neighbor who lived there previously.
“We asked her for first consideration should she age out of the house,” said Craig.
As to the name—a pond supports a vast collection of organisms, Craig explained, a perfect moniker for a place meant to nourish and encourage an array of artists and their work.
The area comprising West Pomfret and South Hanover streets has been dubbed the “So-Hi Arts District” for its collection of boutique shops, galleries, dining and entertainment. The fact that the Carlisle Arts Learning Center is within steps of the Penny Gallery at the Pond was icing on the cake for Craig when she made the decision to create a business that would integrate seamlessly into the neighborhood.
The project started in 2017 with an extensive renovation to transform the former residence into a gallery for artists to show their work.
Craig wanted to create something unusual and memorable in the space, so she hired an artist who painstakingly laid out 140,000 pennies to create the one-of-a-kind floor. The project took some 900 hours to complete.
“I wanted something to draw people—something they would share with others to create an interest all its own, without upstaging the artists who show here,” Craig said.
For some, the structure itself, dating to the 1790s, might be enough of a draw. Craig has preserved an area of the wall showing the original logs so that people can appreciate the history of the building.
“When they did the renovations, they realized that there was a log home beneath the plaster house,” Craig said.
Craig is collaborating with Dickinson College to get the word out to artists looking to satisfy their program requirements by displaying their work at a gallery.
“When students are working towards their master’s degree in art, they are required to have a solo show in an established gallery,” she said. “It’s often difficult for them to secure walls in a bigger gallery when walls are booked up two and three years in advance.”
Over the years, Craig has learned that, in order for a business like hers to be sustainable, she had to create “layers of income.” So, besides renting out the first floor out for events and allowing students to show in the gallery, she also created a hub for artists to rent studios.
Visitors who stop by may see Kirsten Olson at work on the first floor, creating utilitarian ceramic pieces, or climb the steps to see Shannon Hemauer’s photography hanging on the walls. Hemauer, who specializes in boudoir photography, said that she enjoys the space and its connection to the community.
Sherri Blum is an artist and interior designer who began renting from Craig this fall. Blum is known as a high-end baby nursery designer who has worked for celebrities and incorporates her artwork into nursery design. What Blum enjoys now is being a part of the community.
“I love the camaraderie of being among other artists and thrive in that atmosphere,” Blum said. “Having other creatives around just feeds me.”
Fran Piper works on the third floor and has known Craig for 30 years. Piper is a painter of landscapes, people, animals and more, using colored pencil and watercolors.
“It’s the best street to be on, and we all help one another,” she said.
Craig’s immediate plans for the future include finishing an outside space as the weather warms.
“It will serve as an open-air pavilion for event rentals,” she said.
She also is hoping to host more events for area nonprofits. In September, an “Out of the Darkness” show was organized for suicide awareness and, earlier in the year, the Penny Gallery was the site for a Red Tomato Farm event to help support adults with intellectual disabilities.
“We’d like to do six shows in 2020 based on that kind of partnership,” she said.
Craig added that the relocation of the Carlisle Arts Learning Center to Pomfret was a catalyst that has helped the area to grow as an arts hub.
“The hope in all of this is that more people will come,” she said. “It really did give us a bigger foothold for our neighborhood to embrace our art culture and continue on that path.”
The Penny Gallery at the Pond is located at 32 W. Pomfret St., Carlisle. To learn more, call 717-805-3519 or visit the Penny Gallery at the Pond on Facebook.