Portland neighborhood gets local arts, at least for the holidays

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PORTLAND — Cindy Conrad took up jewelry making, and only made jewelry for herself and her close friends, while she was recovering from surgery.

“I was just going crazy,” she said of her recovery period. “I’ve always been a jewelry junkie.”

But in November, Conrad began offering her creations, which use a variety of organic materials such as lava rocks and locally purchased beads, to the general public.

Conrad is one of several local artists who have taken over a vacant retail space in the Rosemont neighborhood in an effort to expand the arts beyond the city’s peninsula.

The place, called Christmas on Woodford, was offered to them for free by the building’s landlord, Jean Russo.

“I just wanted to do a good thing for some of the artists,” said Russo, who has recently taken up watercolor painting. “It’s hard to showcase your talent if someone doesn’t give you a break.”

The space at 500B Woodford St. is small – only about 400 square feet – but is decorated festively with Christmas wreaths and lights. It is near JP’s Bistro, which provides some traffic.

Conrad said she was first nervous and shy about publicly offering her jewelry, with prices ranging from $7 to $50. She said she feels as if each piece is one of her children.

“This is the first time I have put (the jewelry) on display,” she said. “I become attached (to each piece). The first piece I sold, my heart dropped.”

Tim Wilson, of Windham, is using the storefront to sell his folk art, which is made from repurposed wooden material, including hand-painted vintage-looking signs, furniture and Santa Claus faces made from wooden fence tops.

Wilson said most of his work by commission, but he looking to build his retail base. He doesn’t “get along” with the Internet, he said, so the storefront gives him the opportunity to get his work in front of people.

“It’s a big thing to have to open your own space,” he said. “It’s a huge investment of time and money, which if you’re just starting out is hard to do.”

Other items for sale at the store include locally made fleece clothing, as well as jams, pies, cookies and fudge.

The store is open from 2-7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and from 1-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The artists are using the storefront for free until the end of the year.

Both Wilson and Conrad would like to continue operating out of the space, but they are skeptical they’ll be able to afford the rent.

“It would be nice if this little co-op could continue and grow,” Wilson said. “It’s kind of in the experimental stage now.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings

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Cindy Conrad, of South Portland, shows off some her handmade jewelry, along with works from other local artists, at 500 B Woodford St. in Portland.

A group of local artists have taken over a storefront at 500 B Woodford St. in Portland for the holidays.