A Look Inside Fenway Studios

By Hallie Selinger

In a polygonal block, surrounded by Boylston and Ispwich Street, there stands a grand brick building with vast windows and simple but beautiful architectural details. Although at first glance the Fenway Studios might be mistaken for an exceptionally beautiful warehouse, in truth, this structure carries a vast artistic history within its brick and glass façade. Fenway Studios has served, and still serves, as a home and workspace for thirty-six accomplished artists from all over the world. Fenway Studios was built over one hundred years ago and is an example of the international Arts and Crafts style, a movement that was centered around traditional craftsmanship as well as medieval or romantic decorative elements. Like other historic buildings in Boston, Fenway Studios has earned its stamp as a National Historic Landmark. The structure, built in 1905, was conceived as a living and working space for artists and is the oldest continuous artist residency in the United States. Each of the thirty-six studios has tall ceilings and large, north-facing windows that provide the most ideal light for visual artists. Today, the building is owned and operated by the artists who live there, just as was originally intended.

This Saturday, November 15, through Sunday, November 16, Fenway Studios will host its annual Open Studios. Visitors will have the chance to explore the interiors of the historic building, as well as view an amazing range of artwork, and engage with some of the artists who currently reside in, and, or, work at Fenway Studios. One of the artists who will be welcoming art lovers is Berio Gizzi, who has been working at Fenway Studios since 1994 and moved there full time in 2009. Hailing from Abruzzo in Tuscany, Berio moved to Boston at the age of four and went on to pursue his artistic training at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. He later earned his MFA after studying in Gloucester with sculptor George Demetrios. Upon entering Berio’s studio, the visitor is surrounded by the artist’s intricate still life paintings. There are several different subject matters: food (bread, in particular), dolls, and images obscured by bubble wrap, all painted in oil. Berio describes his work as realistic and representational, but not photorealistic. All subjects were painted from life, which is an incredible testament to Berio’s skill and knowledge. Some of the details in his paintings are so minuscule yet so well executed, it’s difficult to believe they could have been painted with a brush. With such patience for minutia and a wealth knowledge about painting, it’s no surprise that Berio works as a cleaner and restorer of oil paintings when he is not creating his own works.

Up on the third floor of Fenway Studios, one can find Alexander (Sasha) Gassel, a Russian-born painter. After graduating from the Moscow Institute of Arts and Graphics in 1970, Alexander worked in Moscow restoring medieval paintings. He left Russia when he was thirty-four and moved to the United States. Alexander’s own original paintings are very much inspired by his experience restoring Russia’s medieval icons. His iconographic works range from realistic to very surreal and abstract. A few works break away from the four-sided bounds of a canvas or panel and take on a unique form, driven by the composition. Some of his paintings, particularly the newer ones, feature complex compositions and vivid colors. A viewer cannot identify specific people or locations. Alexander, who has lived and worked at Fenway Studios for about four years, also works at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, where he restores objects and paintings. In keeping with the historic and iconographic inspiration for his work, Alexander uses egg tempera, a mixture of egg yolk and mineral pigments, to create his pieces.

You can find Nan Hass Feldman on the first floor of Fenway Studios (but not for long, as she’s making a big move up to the third floor in about a week!). Nan works in a variety of mediums: oils, acrylics, silk screens, and encaustic. Her works depict vivid interiors and landscapes, all conceived from Nan’s sketches, memories, and imagination. She creates from intuition, resulting in very stylized yet recognizable scenes. Nan, a resident of Fenway Studios for nine years, says that living around other serious artists allows her to really focus. This is especially important for Nan, who not only produces a wide variety of artwork, but simultaneously teaches at various institutions in the Boston area (Worcester Art Museum and Danforth/Art, to name a few). She also leads painting retreats in Europe as well has instructs adult art classes aboard Oceania Cruises. It is her belief that artmaking and teaching go hand-in-hand. Her passion for art has taken her all over the world with her next adventures to be in Tahiti, Australia, and New Zealand.

Berio, Alexander, and Nan are three of the 36 established and diverse artists who call Fenway Studios their home and workplace. The artists name the building’s history, location, artist community, and artist-centered architectural elements (high ceilings, windows, etc) as the main reasons why Fenway Studios is so ideal. This Saturday and Sunday, from 11am to 5pm, the studios will be available to the public, providing a rare opportunity to see the inside of this National Historic Landmark. Stop by Fenway Studios this weekend, meet Berio, Alexander, and Nan, and experience the diverse creativity and rich artistic history that the Studios have to offer!