Portraits Of Beekman Street: Saratoga’s West Side Gem Has Much To Offer

Beekman Street, in the heart of Saratoga’s West Side, has always been a neighborhood in transition—and one that accommodates new people and new ideas.

The neighborhood acquired the name “Dublin” around 1835 as Irish immigrants flocked there seeking work at the rail yards or in city hotels. Italian immigrants started coming in 1880, and the neighborhood was a hub of family-owned Italian restaurants for nearly 100 years thereafter. African-Americans made their mark on the neighborhood as well, opening businesses on nearby Congress Street in the 1910s.

“The neighborhood is welcoming to change,” says Saratoga Springs City Historian Mary Ann Fitzgerald. “It’s a true melting pot.”

By the 1970s and ‘80s, the area had fallen on harder times, as the younger generation of family businesses moved away and many others closed, says Fitzgerald. But a revival started around 2005, as other Saratoga businesses—driven from the Broadway vicinity by rising rents— began renovating historic buildings there. Beekman was dubbed the “Arts District” after a movement to draw local galleries and artists to the street took off.

The past few years have seen no shortage of transition on the street, as some of the art galleries have closed or moved away—victims of a poor economy or seeking locations with higher foot traffic. But a resourceful crop of creative artists and entrepreneurs remain, carving out a niche and surviving in their own singular ways.

Feneex Studio & Learning Space

The mythological phoenix—a bird that rises from ashes in a cycle of rebirth—was the inspiration behind Feneex, an art studio, gallery and learning center. When artist Francelise Dawkins opened in 2010, the name had a very literal meaning for her—although she creatively adjusted the spelling. In 2008, Dawkins’ apartment building on nearby Grand Avenue caught fire and burned to the ground. She lost everything, including a lifetime’s artwork.

But the accident had a silver lining. Dawkins used insurance money to start Feneex as a learning space and studio for her brilliantly colored textile collages. She also hosts group “collage parties” and teaches French classes. Dawkins grew up in Paris, spending her childhood in an experimental orphanage/boarding school for the children of performing artists. “I grew up with art in a natural way—I lived with it,” she says.

Her artwork, featured in the New York Times when she first opened, has drawn interest from collectors all over the world. “Colors, life, joie de vivre, that’s what I stand for,” she says. “When you buy art, you don’t just buy the piece—there’s an energy that’s born. That’s why art is so vital. It’s not like bread necessarily, but it’s bread for the soul.”

The Groggery

Artists Michelle Corbett and Michael Pape first made their name on Beekman Street in 2005, when they opened Gotchya’s Trattoria in a brick building they painstakingly restored. The former DeRossi’s Restaurant had served Italian food to neighborhood residents and racetrack dignitaries there for seven decades, closing in 1981.

In 2011, Corbett, who has an MFA in ceramics, and Pape transformed their restaurant to a bar called the Groggery, with an adjoining gallery to display Corbett’s wall platters and tiles based on vintage wallpaper patterns. Art has always their first love. Several months ago they closed the bar and are using the Groggery kitchen as a clay production facility creating artisan works—both functional and decorative—including “cannonball” beer growlers with flip caps, kitchen pottery sets and tiles with vintage designs. (They sell their works online at www.thegroggery.com.)

They plan to market the growlers to brewers and aficionados of artisan beer. “Everything used to be made out of clay 100 years ago—I want to try to bring that back,” Corbett says. “I think clay will have a resurgence. It’s reasonable. It’s durable. It’s environmentally friendly. It’s so beautiful, even though it’s so simple.”

Pink Raven Tattoos

“We really want to change the image of tattoos,” says Doug Gruse, who opened Pink Raven Tattoos last September with artist Chris DiBiase. By all appearances, Pink Raven is not your average tattoo shop. The walls are painted a Disney color called “Pretty as a Princess” pink, contemporary pop art fills the shop’s gallery space, and a coffee machine dispenses complimentary cappuccino and chai.

“We wanted it to feel like a salon—you come in and get pampered. Working with a tattoo artist is a very personal experience. When you’re in the shop, it’s all about you,” says Gruse, who runs the gallery that features up-and-coming local artists. Every first Saturday of the month, Pink Raven hosts an art opening bash—with free food, drink and door prizes for the public. Last month, the work of skateboard and punk-inspired Saratoga artist Benj Gleeksman was feted.

“We really wanted to make it feel like you’re in your friend’s apartment,” says DiBiase of the space. “A lot of women, minorities and gays might not be comfortable in your average tattoo shop. We wanted to keep art the focus here.”

A lifelong artist with a fine arts degree and a love for color and comic books, DiBiase takes tattooing seriously as an art. “It’s an art form that should be respected,” he says. “You really have to be on your game. You can’t erase. That’s why you should choose your tattoo artist wisely: You’re trusting someone to permanently modify your body.”

70 Beekman Street Art Gallery

The building at 70 Beekman was the first on the street to be renovated during the last decade’s wave of revitalization. Mary Hong Yu Chen and her husband Yong Li—distinguished Chinese vocalists who met years ago when Chen was teaching voice at NYU—bought the dilapidated property and restored it into apartments and gallery spaces.

The couple opened their own 70 Beekman Street Art Gallery in 2003 to showcase local artists—including Chen’s abstract art—and an eclectic mix of world-class Art Deco sculptures, Italian marble busts, bronze statues and blown glass lamps. A Yamaha piano fills one corner of the space, used during monthly concerts they host, including recent performances by members of the Sicilian Opera Academy and Opera Saratoga.

Chen has seen some other galleries in her building come and go—including the popular Mimosa, which relocated to Broadway. But she is optimistic, if realistic, about the future of art on the street. “I’d like to keep art in the space, but it is hard for artists,” she says. “Even when the economy is not bad, art is still hard as a business.”

Sharon Crute Art Studio

Equine artist Sharon Crute is thriving in her art studio, which recently moved across the street from its former spot next to 70 Beekman Street Art Gallery. Much of her work is by commission, via the Internet and through her vendor space at Saratoga Race Course, where she sells her popular equine art as fine art digital giclée prints and on merchandise such as magnets, mugs and mouse pads.

“I know horses really well,” says Crute, a horse painter of 30 years whose husband Michael Bray is a former trainer. “I know their anatomy. I focus on recreating the powerful movement and speed that is horse racing.”

Spa City Bicycleworks

“This is a great town to ride around in,” says Anthony “Tone” Ferradino, who runs one of Beekman Street’s newest businesses with partner Stephen Aalderink. “We want to be the neighborhood bike shop, where people can come hang out and there’s no attitude. We try to cater to everybody.”

The full-service bike shop offers something new in Saratoga: bike rentals for tourists, summer residents or locals who want to take a road cycle, beach cruiser or mountain bike for a spin. They also offer guided trips, custom group rides and repairs. “With two restaurants on the street, we have a lot of customers who will drop their bike off for a repair on their way to dinner,” says Ferradino.

Textile Studio

In 2009, the neighborhood gained a working weaving studio at the corner of Beekman and Grand. Long-time textile designers Cecilia Frittelli and Richard Lockwood make handmade apparel and accessories for men and women, selling it from their studio and through high-end craft shops, boutiques and galleries around the country.

A stop by their shop—which also features other designers—typically finds the pair hard at work weaving on their looms. But they are “happily interrupted,” says Frittelli, when customers come in and ask questions about weaving—a no-carbon-footprint process fueled solely by hand and foot power. This spring, for the first time, the studio offered classes in textile weaving. “Part of our mission is giving people the experience of how the work is done,” Lockwood says.

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