cloud ship

cloud ship
a raft of sun tipped clouds sailed by

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Bringing the Mills Back to Life

The Artists At Salmon Falls Mills Usher in a Collective Cultural Economy

It’s often impossible to trace just how the momentum for a movement started, but in the case of the Salmon Falls Mills in Rollinsford, New Hampshire – just across the river from South Berwick, Maine – the spark for what would become a central arts hub began with a simple request.

“ We never started the renovations with the intention of renting to artists,” remembers Leanne Cutter Pellerin, general manager of Cutter Family Properties that bought the nearly deserted pair of brick mill buildings in 2000. “We had no idea there was such a local demand for studio space.  We actually had an artist approach us with the request that we create an artist studio for her.  Once we started and word got around, the Upper Mill quickly filled with various artisans.”

The Mills at Salmon Falls,, these many years later remain a hive of cultural activity, with more than 100 artists and artisans, both full-time and hobbyist, established and emerging, working out of 110 studios. A dizzying array of artists that includes painters, performers, jewelers, furniture makers, photographers, fabric artists, woodworkers and craftsmen of every stripe populate the Upper Mill, as do two martial arts studios, a troupe of African drummers and a gregarious group of belly dancers. The Lower Mill houses commercial and light industrial tenants as well as artists, plus the Elysium Arts Folk Club, a café, dance studio and Rollinsford Public Library.

In early May and again in November, Mills artists fling open their doors for Open House events that attract throngs of visitors out to shop, watch a performance, observe a demonstration or talk to a variety of artists.  On just one floor, visitors may watch a glass artist create a one-of-a-kind window pane, admire a wall of paintings created by two artists sharing the studio, marvel at futuristic comic book illustrations peppering a wall in the lobby, take in a photography exhibit or gawk over hand-made clothes.

“For us, the Open House provides positive exposure that allows us to educate the public,” says Ron Tuveson, a gilder (who specializes in a 3,000-year-old technique called water gilding), frame-maker and restorer from Kittery who works out of the Lower Mill with his son, Jared.

At one time, Tuveson operated four separate studios on the fourth floor of the Upper Mill. “The artists were calling me Ronald Trump because of that but what it really meant was that I was walking six to eight miles a day between studio spaces.” A recent move to a spacious, 2,000-square-foot studio in the Lower Mill has meant “more working and less walking” and continued involvement in “a wonderful, creative atmosphere that allows us to get input from other artists.”

Noted painter and teacher, Stan Moeller, of York, ( sings the praises of the Mills; with the natural light pouring into the studio spaces and the mellifluous sound of the river lead the list. “The whole place has a buzz of creative energy,” he states emphatically, detailing his work routine:  I love my 600-square-foot studio where I can paint large, stretch canvases, frame my paintings, store my frames and paintings. I have my large art book collection at my disposal. I can get in there in the morning, put on some coffee, turn on my music, an iPod full with 3,000 songs hooked up to my stereo, and paint for hours and hours and just get lost in the process.”

On occasion, he hires the Tuvesons to build custom frames for his paintings, and like them, embraces the experience of being surrounded by other hard-working artists. “I have made good friends with other creative folks. Brad Auger and Dale Vigent at Vigent Custom Finishes make the panels I paint on and Allan Breed made my heirloom quality paint box I use when I paint on location. All have become friends, especially Allan, and his son, Sam.”

The name Allan Breed ( is synonymous with the finest in reproduction period furniture and cabinet making – anywhere. This South Berwick resident, restoration prodigy and famed Furniture Master operates studios and The Breed School at the Mills where students learn the particulars of making American 18th century furniture  by hand using traditional tools and techniques.

Like most at the Mills, longtime fabric artist Wen Redmond, communicates her regard for the Mills fervently: “There are a variety of people that use the Mills for studios, business and even storage. For me, it can be a gallery, a place to hold workshops, to make art in an atmosphere of a creative community.”

Adds Pellerin: “I think bringing the mills back to life positively impacts the surrounding communities in many ways.  Of course it brings revenue to this area just from having all the extra people eating lunch and whatnot, but I also think it adds character to this area.” 

The Mills at Salmon Falls are owned by Cutter Family Properties (603-749-8879), located on the 4th floor in the Lower Mill. To find out more about the mills or to make an inquiry about renting, contact or (603) 749-8879.