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    Sunday, July 21, 2024

    What’s Going On: Art House of Norwich faces long road back after bridge closure

    Carrie-Anne Palazzo poses with some hydrangeas at the Art House of Norwich on Sherman Street. Photo by Lee Howard
    Carrie-Anne Palazzo, right, poses with her friend, Annie Scott Cooper, left and mom Debra Palazzo at the Art House of Norwich. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Hardly a square inch at the Art House of Norwich is spared paint, as seen in the bathroom. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Signs invite people into the Art House of Norwich on Sherman Street, but a two-year bridge project has slowed business as traffic, once busy, dried up. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Statues, some intact and some artfully broken, can be found in the back garden of the Art House of Norwich. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Carrie-Anne Palazzo could use a break.

    Just when she had her Art House of Norwich business thriving after COVID hit, the Sherman Street neighborhood where she taught children and adults alike to appreciate painting became a war zone. A new $10.3 million bridge over the Yantic River was being erected near Uncas Leap, closing the road to through traffic.

    The two-year bridge closure has had a big impact on Palazzo, a University of Connecticut-trained artist who has brought her big personality and fun-loving spirit to the hundreds of students who have taken classes from her at the over-the-top arty home and business she started 12 years ago.

    People who had noticed the Art House on their way to and from nearby Backus Hospital and stopped to inquire about lessons suddenly stopped showing up at her door. “Paint and sip” classes that once numbered nearly 40 adults dried up as well due to the difficulty of getting to her house.

    Still Palazzo, who counts herself a spiritual person, doesn’t begrudge the work; she’s just looking forward to the day in August when the bridge is expected to reopen.

    “They're doing a good job,” Palazzo said. “They are. It's gonna be absolutely beautiful.”

    Part of the project involves erecting an amphitheater nearby, an addition that she expects will mix well with art classes she conducts both inside and outside her house.

    Over the years, Palazzo has brought her enchanting world of art to classrooms, libraries and even campgrounds around the region. And she believes as much as art is a great release for children, adults can benefit from being able to express themselves freely, too.

    “It's a form of play, and for most adults, once they can let go, it's very relaxing, which you don't really get permission to do that too much,” Palazzo said when I interviewed her Tuesday.

    Palazzo, aided by her parents, bought the 19th century home where she lives and works out of foreclosure, and has turned it into a work of art where nearly every inch is brought to life like a fresco or canvas. And the outside is replete with concrete sculptures and hand-carved signs that purport to direct visitors to Whoville, Sleepy Hollow, Hogwarts and Narnia, among other magical places.

    This month, Palazzo is planning an art camp for kids that will be conducted largely outside if it’s not too hot.

    “I have a huge lineup coming in July for all ages and adults,” Palazzo said.

    And when the bridge reopens, she expects classes to begin filling up quickly (call (860) 772-8032 or email thearthouse88@gmail.com).

    “Kids, adults. They do paint parties, birthday parties,” said Palazzo’s mom Debra. “They have fundraisers here. ... You get the adults that say ‘I can't paint. I can't do this.’ Sure, and somehow she gets them to do wonders.”

    After college, Palazzo started teaching art initially at a recreation center in Omaha, Nebraska, where she had settled with a boyfriend.

    “I got to have classes with kids of all ages, from the little ones to the seniors, and so that was awesome,” she said.

    When she broke up with her boyfriend, it was back to Norwich, where her parents urged her to look for a place where she could continue teaching on her own terms.

    “I'm very blessed that they've worked really hard their entire lives,” Palazzo said. “Still do, and they could help me get the building.... And it pretty much took off.”

    Palazzo said she likes to teach initially with acrylics because the paint dries fast so people can take their work home without worrying about leaving a mess in the car.

    But the main point of painting is to leave practicality aside and dream of possibilities.

    “Everyone is an artist,” Palazzo said. “They have the possibility to create something which is just the coolest thing in the world because that's the most powerful thing. There it is, right? ... Just a little bit on the paper, and guess what? You just put it out into the world.”

    Palazzo isn’t short on ideas, planning soon to open a splatter room upstairs where kids and adults can conjure their inner Jackson Pollack. And to one side of the house, she’s currently building a stage for musical performances and other events. Out back, she plans a community garden and prayer garden with butterfly bushes “where people can really get in touch with nature.”

    Everywhere in Palazzo’s world, the operative words are joy and spirituality.

    “It's really really, really super rewarding whether it's adult or child to have them leave happy,” she said.

    And that means they need to express themselves in their own way and not worry about perfection or imitating the teacher.

    “I tell them right up front, ‘Yours is not supposed to look like mine.’ How boring would that be if all of our things looked exactly the same, right? It's not supposed to be, and so that puts them at ease.”

    Palazzo hesitates to call it therapeutic art, not having a degree in psychology, but for many that’s what it turns out to be. It’s a heart connection, this art compulsion, she says.

    And for kids, the possibilities are endless, as lyrics to a Shel Silverstein song that is reproduced on the side of the Art House tells perfectly:

    “Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

    Lee Howard is The Day’s business editor. To reach him, email l.howard@theday.com.

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