WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Linda O’Brien reports, “Windows for Women, a Women’s History Month celebration, is intended to create partnerships between women business owners and women artists. The initiative is also meant to offer visitors to the downtown district opportunity to support women-owned businesses and women artists simultaneously.”
When Manman Huang saw the USS Hope dock in New York Harbor in March 2020, she was moved.
In fact, she was so moved by the sight of the medical ship that came to help ease the strain of the pandemic on city hospitals that she felt the need to express it, so she picked up a paint brush.
“In the beginning of COVID, we didn’t know where we were going … people were depressed. When I saw that ship, I felt hope and a sense that we’re all in this together. I needed a brush to express it,” the Maplewood resident said.
The mother of three who has a master’s degree in 19th century Chinese American trade and teaches Mandarin said, “I found out that, for me, there is no better way to express feelings than by painting them.”
Huang said that as the pandemic lingered, she was inspired to paint her immediate surroundings.
“During quarantine we couldn’t go anywhere, so I started to paint what I saw in Maplewood when walking with my children.” Huang painted hometown places like the pizza shop, park and bakery.
Works by Huang and some 31 other female area artists are on display at 31 Maplewood businesses this month. The shops, all owned by women, have been transformed into exhibit spaces to showcase original works.
Windows for Women, a Women’s History Month celebration, is intended to create partnerships between women business owners and women artists. The initiative is also meant to offer visitors to the downtown district opportunity to support women-owned businesses and women artists simultaneously.
The project, which is a joint effort by the Maplewood Village Alliance and Springfield Avenue Partnership in collaboration with SOMA Celebrates Women, will run through March 31.
“Last year, the program was very well-received by business owners, artists and residents,” said Maplewood Village Alliance manager Cat Delett, “and we are thrilled to be bringing it back again this year. Windows for Women lives at that distinctly SOMa crossroads where local shopping and dining meets supporting the arts.”
Women-owned businesses across three of Maplewood’s business districts participated: Maplewood Village, Springfield Avenue, and Ridgewood Row.
Visitors are able to view or download a map at the event webpage, which lists the participating businesses and links to the artists.
“Windows for Women is a fun opportunity to take a tour of Maplewood’s women-owned businesses and view – and maybe purchase – art created by local artists,” said Nicole Dooskin Wallace of the Springfield Avenue Partnership.
The exhibit features art by Dr. Antoinette Ellis-Williams. Dr. Ellis-Williams is an artist, poet, scholar, minister, and activist. Works by the chairwoman and professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at New Jersey City University are on display at Astah’s Fine Art Gallery on Springfield Avenue.
With all of her work — whether as artist, poet, scholar, minister, activist — Ellis-Williams hopes to “give voice to where we don’t have voice and to bring joy.”
Ellis-Williams — who wrote, directed and produced “The Scarf Diaries,” a one-woman play composed of multiethnic, intergenerational vignettes and monologues that tell stories about women, life, resistance and social justice — said, for her, art is about “building bridges, conveying messages, creating opportunity to have conversations.”
She noted that she hopes to lift other women with her art.
“I hope they see themselves in it. I hope they see that what they thought was unimportant is meaningful and essential.”
She elaborated, “things that have been ignored … clothes pins for babies’ diapers, jump ropes …they are powerful, they tell stories. Things that may have been overlooked may be the gem we needed to see.”
“I hope I inspire women to think anything is within their realm of possibility,” she said.
Danielle Masters is a self-taught artist from South Orange whose work is on display at the Maplewood Merchantile. She combines soft sculpture with painting, what she described as “a security blanket that you need to hug … you see color and dimension and want to touch it,” she said.”
“I mainly make it for myself for therapy; this is my way of releasing creativity, but I would be honored to influence other young women who want to create art,” said Masters.
Masters said projects like Windows for Women are important for artists like her.
“Being a stay-at-home parent outside of New York City, it’s very difficult to get recognized in the art world and to get into shows. It’s so hard as a woman to get your work out there; the art world is still a man’s world.”
She added, “To have your work seen locally – to have neighbors and friends be able to see your work — is wonderful. It’s great to walk by shops and see art hanging.”
Astah’s Fine Art Gallery CEO and owner Sheila Turner-Cartlidge said the exposure for artists at events such as Windows for Women is “extremely significant.”
“For women artists, particularly African American artists, it’s always a struggle; they don’t get same recognition and acclaim for the same work,” said Turner-Cartlidge, whose gallery features “100+” artists from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.
Turner-Cartlidge, who together with her husband, Alonzo Cartlidge, also owns Our Gang Travel in the township, said the initiative “helps artists and creates traffic for businesses.”
“It will create interest for someone to stop by … look in your window and maybe come in to purchase something from your store,” the gallery owner said.
Amy Hughes, owner of Maplewood Merchantile, said she believes this initiative “spotlights the fiercely independent spirit of our community.” She said, “it’s why I chose to live in this community.”
Hughes’ Maplewood Mercantile is a six-member co-op of women-owned businesses. The 3,000-square-foot design studio features vintage clothing and vintage furniture, as well as reimagined antique jewelry. There is also an interior designer and photo studio on site. “We all do something a little different,” Hughes said.
Hughes, who explained she started in a 300-square-foot space nine years ago, said she grew her business because “I didn’t want to work alone anymore; I wanted to take inspiration from other entrepreneurial women … I wanted to surround myself with them and their art.”
“There are so many artists here and a lot of them create just to create,” Hughes said. If not for an initiative to bring them out into the storefront, the general public might not know about the incredibly creative people in their town.”
She added, “It also introduces new people to my store and what I do here. Windows for Women offers a different way for people to engage with their downtown …. It’s so wonderful to experience retail in this way. ”
Hughes qualifies the event as an unequivocal success. “My measure of that is the joy I see when people experience the art at my place.”
Huang, whose work is at BK Lobster, said shows such as Windows for Women are critical for female artists such as herself. “It’s so important to me; I’m self-taught … learning; I never thought I’d have this opportunity for someone to see (my work) on streets for whole month. I feel so honored to have this opportunity.”
“I am so grateful that Sheila invited me to be featured,” Ellis-Williams said. “I grew up in Maplewood to have this opportunity is incredible. To see 30 something windows with women’s art … is to resist against patriarchy.”
“My hope is that people will be interested in what women have to say in July and November not only in March,” she said. “That will mean we’re part of the totality of America.”
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