Salem’s Red House combines community, art
Salem — Compared to the art scenes of Mystic, New London and Old Lyme, Salem might seem a little out of the way for a combination art gallery, shop and studio.
But for Barry and Kim Ford, owners of The Red House Cultural Arts Center, it’s perfectly centrally located.
“I know Salem feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it’s in the ‘middle’ of nowhere, that’s the key here,” Barry said, noting its position at the end of Route 11 between central Connecticut and the shoreline. “It’s almost like the crossroads between east, west, north and south, and it just seemed like we could draw from all four directions.”
Being right next to Salem Valley Farms Ice Cream certainly doesn’t hurt, especially come summertime.
The Red House opened in September after a few months of renovation to bring the house back from five years of vacancy.
Kim is a native of Salem — she said customers have come in that she used to baby-sit — and she and Barry lived in Colchester before a family friend had asked if they wanted to purchase the house for Barry to use for his graphic design business.
He didn’t really need a full office, she said, since he can do all of his work from anywhere on his laptop. But the suggestion got them thinking about using it for an arts space.
The Fords have made connections with local artists through their work organizing community arts events, including the Colchester Land Trust’s annual auction and folk music concerts. Both also have pursued artistic endeavors on the side: Barry makes wooden frames and other wood pieces, and Kim, a full-time pharmacist, is a potter in her spare time.
“When this opportunity came up, it seemed like, rather than going to all these festivals, we could sell our work here but also look around for other local artists and support the whole local artist scene,” Barry said.
The initial vision for The Red House didn’t include a gallery, Kim said, but the gallery feel developed as they renovated the space. The main room is lined with art, jewelry, soaps and other products made by artisans throughout the state. Many of the benches and shelves showcasing the art also are made locally and are for sale, including one by Barry and another by City Bench, a Higganum company that turns trees removed from municipal properties into furniture.
The Fords said there was no shortage of local artists to feature in the store, and they’ve had fun keeping it specific to Connecticut, with a few Massachusetts artisans in the mix. While they started with artists they already knew, people quickly started reaching out to them to feature their goods; they said someone from Sankow’s Beaver Brook Farm came to the shop to offer to sell the farm's wool socks just five miles away from where the sheep that produce the wool live.
The back space of the building is a studio where artists featured in the store teach their crafts to the community, including sessions on felting, coil pots, silk dyeing and landscape painting.
“We have such a variety of artists who are willing to teach classes so far,” Kim said. “Because we are small, we can only fit about nine people in for a class, which makes it really intimate, and yet we’ve got space enough where you can really work on your project.”
For the more outdoorsy crowd, she also leads a fun run on Sunday mornings, and she hopes to bring in people to teach yoga or birdwatching classes, as well, to fully utilize the space as a community gathering spot.
“There’s a lot of cool things going on in Salem, and I think we’d like to be one of them,” she said.
For information, visit salemredhouse.com. The Red House is located at 22 Darling Road.
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