BluSeed celebrates 20 years
SARANAC LAKE — BluSeed Studios is celebrating its 20-year anniversary this month with a series of events.
BluSeed’s origins came about in March 2001 when artist Carol Marie Vossler leased a former train warehouse at 24 Cedar St. and revamped it with the help of friends and family, opening the nonprofit artist work space in 2002. In April 2016, she purchased the building for $250,000, according to Franklin County real property tax office records.
Vossler graduated with a degree in forestry from Paul Smith’s College, but a pottery class with Mary Lou Reid from the Adirondack Artists Guild changed her life.
“I put my chain saw away and picked up my hammer and chisel and became a sculptor,” Vossler said. “I went to NCCC one year to take some introductory art classes and then I went to Plattsburgh State, where I met my mentor, Don Osbourne. He was the professor of sculpting there and he just brought me to another level.”
Vossler eventually earned a master’s of fine arts degree at Syracuse University, where she met other artists with various backgrounds. This, and the ability to have a studio in New York City from 1996 to 2001, expanded her perspective on the arts.
“I realized that there was a lot going on outside of the Adirondacks, but my love for the Adirondacks and growing up here made me want to bring or join the best of both worlds, so I founded BluSeed studio with the intent of bringing people from other areas to expand and open people’s minds on art and aesthetics that are more contemporary than the local aesthetic that you see in the galleries and bakeries and restaurants,” Vossler said.
In this mission, Vossler and the BluSeed board of directors were successful. In May 2013, the project “Paper Migration: A Cross-Border Exploration of Art, Culture and Community” launched as an international collaborative exchange between BluSeed Studios and a group of artists in Mazatlan, Mexico. Some were Glen Rogers Studio, Luna: Arte Contemporaneo and the Municipal Institute of Culture, Tourism and Art of Mazatlan
Music, especially jazz, was brought to BluSeed as well.
“I have good friends who are embedded in the music scene on a very high level, and they would bring Linda Fay of Folk Alley and Laura Carbone of PB&J — Plattsburgh Blues and Jazz — and they would bring in very high-end musicians who would generally skip over Saranac Lake,” Vossler said.
As of 2019, Vossler stepped down as the executive director of BluSeed and started her own business called Lunar Horizons. There, she predominantly teaches paper making in “kind of off-beat art classes,” traveling in between.
“I’m enjoying my time after facilitating hundreds of exhibitions and curating hundreds of exhibitions over the last 20 years or so to step aside and let BluSeed do what it wants to do and be happy doing what I want to do,” she said.
Vossler remembers fondly the founding board of BluSeed, especially those who were there in the first decade who may not have been remembered easily.
“They are still my inspiration,” she said. “They are the ones who still motivate me, even those who have passed on, moved away or live nearby.”
As of May 2020, Marissa Hernandez became the executive director of BluSeed Studios. She moved to northern New York in 2019 and has since run Little Big Farm in Sugar Bush with her husband and two children. She has a background in various styles of dance and founded her own troupe called Bow-tie Beauties Burlesque Troupe. She also teaches dance at the Dance Sanctuary in Saranac Lake.
Since Hernandez’s arrival, the studio and workshop spaces have been upgraded to adhere to the needs of the local artist community.
“We’ve spent a lot of time cleaning and reorganizing and getting all of our studios open,” Hernandez said. “We’re 99.9% there. … We’re trying to come back to being the open community arts center that we’ve been striving for for 20 years.”
Studios at BluSeed are a combination of private and open to the public. For example, if someone were to stop by to work on textile-based projects (fabrics, yarn, sewing, etc.), they could use the textile studio when textile instructor Martha Jackson is there.
“We have four private studios, and then we have a ceramics studio that’s open to anybody who wants to come in and a printmaking studio,” Hernandez said.
There is also a new arts thrift store.
“Lots of artists have stuff that they are not using anymore, so it’s full of arts supplies and makers’ things and crafting materials and, much like a thrift store, at bargain prices,” Jackson said.
Jackson said that sustainable and circular uses for art like the thrift store are the “way of the future,” and hopes that the thrift store will encourage others to “reuse and recreate.”
A number of people make up BluSeed’s community-oriented arts center. Three of these people are Jess Ackerson, Katherine Levin-Lau and Martha Jackson. Both Levin-Lau and Jackson are board members while Ackerson is one of three founders of ADK ArtRise as well as the print studio ambassador at BluSeed.
After moving to the Tri-Lakes area after high school, Ackerson said she thought she would pursue science-oriented studies. That was until she started working with Vossler.
“I did an internship with her — that was welding — and that kind of blended together when I made my meandering path through college,” Ackerson said. “Finally settled into art school. I went to Maine College of Art and I majored in printmaking.”
Ackerson continued her work with Vossler via a six-month printmaking studio residency that eventually led to her own showing alongside local photographer, Shaun Ondack.
“There’s so many creative people here,” Ackerson said. “I think if you get people together, something creative is going to come out of it. This community is really supportive.”
Jackson echoes these sentiments in defining BluSeed as a place where artists can create after they’ve finished school.
“As a designer, you can sort of be working in your bubble at home, but here’s a community center that’s sort of open,” Jackson said. “To me, once you are out in the big world, it’s really hard to find creative, inspiring environments where artists get together and it’s really hard to find spaces to collectively see and view quality art other than galleries.”
According to her business website, Restored by Design, Jackson has been sewing and making her own clothes since her mother taught her when she was 11. She and her business — founded in 2010 — are driven by her desire for a more sustainable world, especially in the art of creativity.
Originally from Rhode Island, BluSeed was where Jackson said she had the opportunity to work with another designer, Cris Winters, of Saranac Lake. She was also able to have her own solo show in May in the upstairs gallery.
Levin-Lau was born in Saranac Lake but eventually moved to California. She earned a double degree in printmaking and painting then taught art at San Jose University for 15 years.
“A number of years ago when my dad passed away, I had some money and we had come here,” Levin-Lau said. “He wanted to be buried next to my mother. So we had come here to do that and I fell in love with the place again and I bought a house.”
Levin-Lau has been returning to Saranac Lake every summer for around 19 years. At BluSeed, she teaches and works in monotype where artists draw or paint on a smooth surface that doesn’t absorb the mediums on it. The piece is then transferred from its surface — whether copper, zinc, glass or acrylic — to paper using a printing-press, brayer or baren.
As a board member, she said she feels a sense of pride in the work that the staff has done over the years.
“I love my fellow board members,” Levin-Lau said. “They all have unique talents and all of us have been cracking to keep everything going during the pandemic. All of us feel a tremendous sense of pride in the direction that the facility is going into and so many good things coming out of it.”
Celebration and next moves
Last Friday, BluSeed held its 20-year celebration at the building. People brought food for all to enjoy while they browsed the gallery — which currently displays pieces created throughout its 20-year time span — and the silent auction, which will close at the end of the month.
Month-long events to celebrate 20 years include an art market held in the BluSeed entrance, workshops and the silent auction. Workshops this month include lessons in sewing, ceramics and printmaking.
On Sept. 18, BluSeed will hold a fashion show called “Let’s Do This in Denim.” On Sept. 24, they will host a Beat Authority Dance Party with David Sommerstein of NCPR. On Sept. 30, there will be a celebration underneath the recently finished pavilion with the company of Hex and Hop Brewery as well as a fire dance performance.
Jackson said that BluSeed functions “like public radio,” by servicing the community and asking for donations in return.
“The community is what we really want to kind of invigorate and get excited about,” Jackson said. “We need the support. We want to keep it open and we want to encourage lots of people to come and participate.”
Every year, BluSeed generally hosts two fundraisers, one in August and another in October. This year, all the fundraising is being held throughout September.
“Everybody’s creative in some way, shape or form, so why not have a place to share that and to experience that and to see that and to be inspired and to be inspirational,” Hernandez said. “There’s so many bad things happening in the world that don’t always have to be bad. We’re celebrating the good.”