Jenn Malone's "Drinks with Friends."

20th Annual SOMA Artists Studio Tour

Saturday, November 4th and Sunday November 5th, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Unveiled: Preview Exhibit & Reception 

Thursday November 2nd, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m

November 4th and November 5th, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

1978 Maplewood Art Center

1978 Springfield Avenue, Maplewood

A creative force field is pulsing through South Orange and Maplewood as the village and township prepare for the 20th Annual SOMA Artists Studio Tour.

The website and banners are up, local businesses are trumpeting pick up your printed tour map here (some will also be hosting artists and or art), tents are being erected, displays of paintings, prints, collages, multimedia works, sculptures, jewelry, ceramics and more are being readied.

And it’s all done by teams of volunteers.

“It’s not only a major art event, it’s a major community event,” said award-winning painter and Planning Committee Chair Jenn Malone. “Both South Orange Village and Maplewood Township embrace the creative community.” 

Malone pointed to two of the many volunteers: artist and graphic designer Leslie Goldman, chair of promotion and graphics, and artist Wendy Bellerman, chair of fundraising. Works by Malone, Goldman and Bellerman will be both on the tour and on view at Unveiled, the exhibit gallery show, curated by Jeremy Moss at the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center. The gallery show is a first for the 20-year-old event.

Each municipality has offered spaces as stops on the tour. In addition to the 1978 Maplewood Arts Center Gallery, there are the Woodland, the Maplewood and DeHart Community Centers and the charming South Orange Skate House adjacent to the Duck Pond. (While in South Orange, don’t miss TAU, the monumental Tony Smith outdoor sculpture on the west side of the pond off Ridgewood Road and Mead Street.)

Creating community through art has been a pillar of the SOMA Artists Studio Tour since its inception. Its deep beginning tells the story of the vitality of the arts in SOMA: In the early 1990s, artist, musician and professor Lennie Pierro was part of a 1994 discussion at South Orange’s Baird Recreation Center. (The Baird is currently undergoing renovations.)  The topic was creating a jazz series to help fund the Village’s free outdoor summer concerts.

During a building tour, Pierro walked through a neglected upstairs space. Arriving home, he asked his wife, metal artist Judy Wukitsch, “Do you want to start an art gallery?”

Dream big, work hard was sort of the family motto. So, start a gallery they did. The Gallery of South Orange, renamed the Pierro Gallery in 2002 after Pierro’s death, opened two months later as part of the newly minted South Orange Cultural Affairs Department with Wukitsch as gallery and department director.

Under Wukitsch’s strong leadership and the efforts of scores of volunteers, a sports-centered facility was transformed to include destination art shows and talks, concerts and theater. “Area residents with no children in sports connected through the arts,” Wukitsch said.

In 2003, Wukitsch joined forces with Ellen Greenfield, her counterpart at Maplewood Township’s 1978, to establish the first SOMA Artists Studio Tour. Again, Dream Big, it was a big undertaking with big results. The tour has been a fall fixture ever since, now attracting about 1,000 viewers annually.

“The tour was especially valuable during the lockdown, Malone said. “We created safe, outdoor spaces. Everyone had a need for contact.” Today, many artists continue to greet the public in outdoor tents, some setting up kid-friendly art activities.

This year, there will be about 100 artists. The majority are from the village and the township, but many artists generously offer space to artists from surrounding communities, especially all of the Oranges. 

Malone will host five other artists in her gallery space, some from SOMA, others from nearby towns. “I have another oil painter, a collage artist, a multimedia artist, a jewelry artist and ceramicist Petra Pankow, who recently did a demonstration at Maplewood’s historic Durand-Hedden House, Malone said. (Durand-Hedden is also a stop on the tour.) Malone will be featuring new oils from her sharply observed “Re-emergence” series, including “Drinks with Friends,” a sly commemoration of her first post-pandemic museum excursion with a fellow painter. 

Artists include those just starting to show their work to those whose works are part of museum collections. South Orange’s Sybil Archibold —another dedicated event chair —was first encouraged to show her haunting monotypes at a past SOMA tour. Now, her work is in the collection at the Montclair Art Museum. A major book, The Inner Life of The Artist, 900 Monotypes in 900 Days, comes out shortly. She, too, is hosting multiple artists at her home.

Acclaimed West Orange-based painter, illustrator and visual/verbal punster Adam Gustavson is returning to Maplewood’s Woodland Center. Adam will be showing oils from his masterful Swimmer series. A skilled draftsman, he is also bringing in his wickedly clever Feral Town etchings as wells as books of his illustrated puns and his award-winning children’s books. When not in conversations with visitors, Gustavson, who performs professionally, will be playing guitar.

(Note, Gustavson’s mural of underground critters hangs out in the Maplewood NJ Transit Station underpass. It’s well worth a detour. Visit his West Orange outdoor mural as well, featured in The Four Oranges this past summer.)

Denise Gustavson’s jewelry.

Wife and fellow artist Denise Gustavson’s recent trajectory is another example of the tour boosting artists. “During last year’s tour I was keeping Adam company while working on one of my handcrafted jewelry pieces,” Gustavson said. “People kept coming up to me asking if it was for sale.  At the time I had just opened my Nymphaia Etsy store, but it was the first time a stranger was interested in person,” Denise continued. 

This year, Denise Gustavson will be showing alongside her husband. Visitors can watch her working on one of her beautiful, intricately woven wire and semi-precious, uncut stone pieces. 

If the number of sites and artists have visitors asking, where to start there are ways to preview the art and plan your itinerary. The SOMA Artists Studio Tour website has the online copy of the tour map and a profile of each participating artist with illustrations of their work. The 1978 Gallery reception and Unveiled show offer an opportunity to meet some of the exhibiting artists and see many examples from their studios. Unveiled will also be open an hour before and during the tour. Pick up a printed map there.

With prices ranging from under $20 to thousands of dollars with all price points in between, think about both holiday shopping or a major acquisition for yourself, your home or business. Many person-to-person friendships start or deepen through the SOMA tour. If you have never bought art before, you may be pleasantly surprised how a work might become a lifelong friend.

See the SOMA Artists Studio Tour website for full details, artist profiles and a comprehensive guide to planning your tour. There are no charges. Handicap accessibility varies by site with reliable accessibility at the community centers, businesses and some outdoor exhibits.

Adam Gustavson's "Swimmer (Sermon)."

Sign up for our newsletter here.