I have a confession that I’m not embarrassed to share for once: I’m addicted to art. Gazing upon it. Longing for it. And frequently, lugging it home. Lucky for my creditors, Providence is replete with shops offering opportunities to invest in art that I can actually afford.
First stop: Frog and Toad (795 Hope St.). The charming brick façade looks innocent enough. But stepping inside confirms that I’m in the company of enablers. For since 2001, owners Erin and Asher Shofield have packed their store from floor to ceiling with hard-to-resist finds, handmade crafts, and the works of local artists.
Katie Dickson comes out from behind the counter to show me around — a good idea as my raven eye can’t decide on which shiny, new object to settle first. On the far-flung, handcrafted Fair Trade Federation textiles (Fair Trade’s not just for coffee)? Or on the closer to home, hand-screened wearables, amazingly intricate wire wall art or gorgeous prints by a local artist? The latter are all well within my slacker budget, something with which my enablers sympathize.
“Affordability is a mission,” Asher explains. “We never liked going shopping and feeling priced out. It’s nice to be able to sell artwork that anybody can pick up.”
Hallelujah to that. Frog and Toad is unpacking boxes for the holidays almost daily now. I’ll be back.
Next stop: risd|works in the Rhode Island School of Design’s Chace Center, a gleaming beacon of modern architecture on South Main St. Their website proclaims, “behind every item featured — from mass-produced objects to fine art — is the mind and hand of a RISD artist.” As anticipated, droolworthy items by famous alums are plentiful and the prices wide-ranging. Dale Chihuly’s brilliant art-glass creations are a bit aspirational for my budget, but a Shepard Fairey offset poster wouldn’t set me back much.
Of course, buying something that catches your eye before the artist goes celeb is easy to do here, too. There’s plenty of work by names you don’t know — textiles and ceramics and lighting, oh my. To me, all these beautiful objects are “art.” But risd|works manager Matthew Johnson thinks it’s important to clarify the difference between fine art and craft for discerning collectors.
“We’re not a gallery,” he explains. “Although we can act as a liaison between alums and buyers of fine art, what you’ll find here are not paintings but things like fine, contemporary handmade jewelry, furniture design and mass-produced design.”
As the holidays approach, Matthew buys with gift-givers in mind. “We’ll always have the higher-end items, but I like to bring in more $6 to $20 items for the holidays… because it’s nice just to get something little for someone else.”
That is nice. Because for me, a holiday shopping expedition more often than not goes like this: something for mom, something for me; something for dad, something for me.
My last visit is Craftland at 235 Westminster St. But wait — Craftland launched as a holidays-only venue, right? Indeed. However, as of August, it’s open year-round. I can already hear my wallet trying to calm itself with a “find your happy place” mantra.
A boon to holiday shoppers since 2002, the store is now a mecca for arts and crafts collectors all year. Kristin Amico, Craftland organizer, says that 80-85% of the store’s items are the work of artists from Providence or Southern New England. If you’re looking for something offbeat, fresh from the hands of the artist, stop in.
“Everything at Craftland is completely handmade,” explains Kristin. “The work is all on consignment, so the bulk of the money goes straight to the artist, with no middleman markup.”
For the holidays, the store doubles from 75 to 150 artists, closing down its gallery area and filling in the space with more crafts - just one more reason to make room for my growing art collection. Some say you can never “own” art. I say that an artful life is one filled with, and especially lived with, art.
Forg and Toad’s Ashe Shofield agrees: “There are just so many talented people and the culture of our city is so positively impacted by being a thriving place for the arts, that I really feel blessed to be able to advance Providence’s art scene in whatever small way I can.”
Hear, hear! I’m doing my part, now do yours. Buy Art. It’s good for the soul.