Fellows Gear Shaper building transformed into arts space, opening July 20
For years, the Fellows Gear Shaper Building has loomed rundown and derelict along the Black River, a symbol of former Springfield’s glory as the machine tool capital of the world. The factory’s hidden creative possibilities were just waiting to be discovered.
Now, nearly 40 years after the old factory closed its doors, those possibilities are about to be revealed. The 160,000-square-foot sprawling complex has a new name, a new look and a new purpose.
The building, now known as One Hundred River Street, has been transformed into Vermont’s newest venue for the arts. Inside, the Great Hall, a splendid, soaring space is about to be inaugurated as a great new venue for the arts, capable of showcasing large artwork and sculpture, performance art, dance, music and lectures.
With the building’s multi-million-dollar renovation nearly completed, the public is invited to the unveiling of the Great Hall at a reception slated for Friday, July 20, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at One Hundred River Street.
The first group art show, Emergence, features works by artists from around Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine and includes sculpture, stoneware, tapestries, mobiles and more. The work on exhibit was chosen to symbolize the adaptive-reuse of the building, and, as boosters suggest, the re-emergence of Springfield.
The Great Hall is the vision of Rick Genderson and John Meekin, the project developers, to create a public art space for Springfield with the idea that art creates energy. “It will become a town center and gathering space and help draw attention to Springfield as a destination,” said Genderson. “It's an area that's gotten kicked from everybody, and here you have this beautiful old building on a beautiful river with an exceptional space. It needed some help, the area needed some help, and you had some good people there who were willing to work on it, and we were willing to take a chance on it,” he said.
The Fellows Gear Shaper Company’s legacy helps tell the story of Springfield. “The first time I toured the huge, light filled space that was to become the Great Hall, the 14-foot walls, the huge overhead timbers and the soaring ceiling, it inspired contrasting images of a Gothic church with clerestory windows and one of the sprawling, gritty workrooms of the industrial factory, Fellows Gear Shaper,” said Nina Jamison, founder of Gallery at the VAULT and coordinator of the Great Hall. “Springfield’s boom time echoed in our footfalls.“
Jamison wanted to honor the history of the building and the machinists by using the word great in its modern connotations of excellence in the title of Great Hall. A great hall in the middle ages was the main room of a royal palace or large manor house. At that time the word great simply meant big.
With a soaring 25-foot ceiling and clerestory windows, the 150-foot-long by 45-foot-wide world-class public art space is unique in the region and will accommodate and compliment very large artwork and sculpture. When word got out about the Great Hall, via the Vermont Art Council’s website and other ways, the response was immediate from artists who had a difficult time finding display places for their extra-large work. “Within one month, a two-year lineup of shows was complete with both locally known artists and those who are more widely recognized, such as Fran Bull and Sabra Field,” Jamison said.
Even before completion, the space spiked the creative juices in every artist who toured the Great Hall. Sculptor Carolyn Enz Hack decided to use her grant from the Vermont Community Foundation to create a sculpture in the Great Hall rather than at the more established Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. She is among the artists who are featured in the first exhibit, Emergence. Others include Patty Sgrecci of Brandon, mobiles; Rich Hearn of Chester, oil on canvas; Scot Borofsky of Brattleboro, enamel on linen; Robert Carsten of Springfield, pastel; Robert O’Brien of Perkinsville, watercolor; Oliver Schemm of Saxtons River, sculpture; Carolyn Enz Hack of Thetford Center, sculpture; Stephen Procter of Brattleboro, stoneware, and Tapestry Weavers in New England (TWiNE): Suzanne Pretty of Farmington, NH; Betsy Wing of Hartland; Sarah Robbins Warren of Jefferson, NH; Priscilla May Alden of East Boothbay Maine and Eve S. Pearce of Bennington, VT.
The entire project is a model of redevelopment—the Great Hall is icing on the cake, said Bob Flint, Executive Director of the Springfield Regional Development Corp. “It’s leveraging this vital part of Springfield's heritage to once again become a center of activity for the future." Flint has been a prime mover in the effort to assemble the private investments and public grants that made the project possible. He said this far-reaching economic development project for the region and the state “will impact our economy in so many ways. It’s a home run.”
In addition to the Great Hall, the mixed-use facility will include a medical center and space for retail and restaurants. Located on the Black River upriver from the impressive Comtu Falls, which cascade 110 feet down over a series of drops, One Hundred River Street stands at the entrance to the Designated Downtown of Springfield. A new 16’x32’ historic mural by artist Jamie Townsend covers part of a long neglected building, an artistic “stepping stone” between the Great Hall and the heart of downtown. Historical information on the 1800’s Springfield to Charlestown NH Stagecoach is mounted next to the mural.
Renovations under way July 2011.