Open Studios in the Oranges: Where the Magic Is Made 

Visitors enjoying a past Open Studios weekend at Manufacturers Village. Credit: Manufacturers Village.


Saturday, October 21, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. & Sunday, October 22, 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

356 Glenwood Avenue, East Orange, NJ

Later this October, part two of Arts Beat will preview the annual South Orange Maplewood Open Artists Studio Tour on Saturday, November 4 and Sunday, November 5.

Maybe you have held a handmade object and felt an inner shift. Maybe a painting or photograph or sculpture has changed your mood—or how you see the world.

Creation is magic. But there are years of study, training, thought, trial and error, seeking, and all-things-human behind creation. In the coming weeks, artists county-wide will be inviting you behind the curtain into the spaces where the magic is made.

This month, East Orange’s Manufacturers Village invites everyone into the studios of the more than 65 painters, sculptors, photographers, printmakers, designers, site-specific and fabric artists, quilters, woodworkers and more who have transformed a complex of privately owned 19th-century manufacturing buildings into a vibrant community of creation. Past Open Studios have attracted between 750 and 1,500 visitors from metro NYC and statewide.

“Visitors to the studios will see the working spaces of the artists, work in progress, new work, old work, sketches, drawings, paintings, sculptures, photos, prints, site specific installations, commission proposals and models,” said renowned artist Tom Nussbaum, a Manufacturers Village board member on the steering committee of the event. (Read more about sculptor, painter and site-specific artist Nussbaum in The Four Orangesinaugural Arts Beat column.)

Nussbaum — who is as devoted to his East Orange hometown as he is to his art — was among the first handful of artists who in the early 2000s rented and transformed the expansive spaces in the historic Seabury-Johnson factory buildings into working studios ranging in size from 200 to 1,500 square feet. The studios take advantage of the affordable rents, flexible space and treasured natural light that Victorian-era factories offer.

“All of us enjoy the light from the hundreds of windows in this complex of old factory buildings,” Nussbaum said. 

The first pioneers were followed by graduate students from the Masters of Fine Arts program at Montclair State University. Within a few years there was (and is) a waiting list for space. Among the other nationally and internationally known artists at Manufacturers Village are Philemona Williamson, Christine Romanell, and Kate Dodd. (Williamson enjoyed a major show at the Montclair Art Museum in 2017-18. A Tom Nussbaum retrospective opens there in September, 2025).

Another acclaimed Manufacturers Village artist is visual artist Nan Ring. Ring, a poet of light, atmosphere and psychologically charged spaces anchored by her superb draftsmanship, talked at length about Open Studios:

“The door opens and you are welcome into our inner world and its many treasures,” Ring said. “We debate whether to clean up our studios or not. I leave out a work in progress and all the materials—often surprising materials—that go into it.”

“There is a table of beautiful things and the magic of glazes that make a surface matte or shiny, have texture, make the paint go further,” Ring continued. 

Visitors — be they amateur artists, professionals, gallery owners, curators or civilian viewers — ask questions and are able to see the spectrum of an artist’s output. “If you go to a gallery exhibit, it usually focuses on a specific body of work,” Ring said. “But artist evolve, change directions, explore. Here in my studio, I lay it all out—on the walls, on tables…”

Many of the diverse artists’ works are for sale, with prices ranging from $10 to $20,000.

“We don’t keep track of sales, but there are many every year,” Nussbaum said. “It’s a great opportunity to view and purchase work directly from the artists. We also have a number of visitors who are curators, art consultants, and other people looking for artists to work with in ongoing relationships. The Open Studios event has led to many exhibition opportunities for the artists as well as commissioned projects,” Nussbaum continued.

“Tree Holding Rocks” by Yvette Lucas. Credit: Yvette Lucas.

Also on view will be photographer and now also weaver Yvette Lucas’ rich tree portraits and her recent fabric art projects. Her work transports viewers to a primeval world vibrating between primordial stillness and a modern, emotional tension. Lucas, who shares a studio with two other artists, talked about Manufacturers Village and community:

“Manufacturers Village is a supportive community, which isn’t true of every artists spaces. During the lockdown we had pot luck suppers in the parking lot,” Lucas said. She and the other artists celebrate the strong relations and interchanges among Manufacturers Village, its surrounding community and the greater East Orange arts community.

“Manufacturers Village was part of the strong East Orange response to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests,” Lucas said. She and the artists of Manufacturers Village point with pride to the 2021 Black Lives Matter mural on the grounds.

The massive mural was spearheaded by Linda Street of the Pink Dragon Artist Syndicate. Street, a visionary East Orange-based art and community advocate, has deepened the Manufacturers Village’s ties with its surrounding Doddtown neighborhood and the larger East Orange arts community. (She has been the curator of two exhibits by area artists at Manufacturers Village). 

The mural was underwritten by the City of East Orange, the East Orange Arts Council plus other not-for-profits, and EOMV management. Created under the direction of East Orange-based muralist Malcolm Rolling, the 9,000-square-feet work brought together 16 artists of color from the area. It gives witness to the power of the arts.

The magic and power of Manufacturers Village is greater than the sum of its part. Do not miss Open Studios weekend.

Manufacturers Village is accessible from public transportation. Directions and more about the Open Studios including extensive photographs and videos of past events as well as biographies and works by all the artists there are at the studio’s website. There is no admission charge. There are about 15 first-floor studios. Access to the other studios requires climbing stairs.

A look inside Nan Ring's studio at Manufacturers Village. Credit: Nan Ring.

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