The Foundry gathers independent and generous souls in West Stockbridge

On Tuesday nights, the bar will be open, with a food truck from SOMA by the door.  On Thursday nights, Tom Truss, a choreographer with Berkshire Pulse, MCs a regular open mic.

Even in January, locals can gather at the Foundry after dark for board games or live music. The central room that has held flexible gallery space in the summer and fall has opened into a lounge with comfortable chairs and art on the walls. A tapestry of cross-stitched linen squares give 21st-century messages — part of an exhibit of fiber art from around the world.

In its first year, the Foundry has become the kind of place where musicians from Pittsfield High School may play informally on the patio, or a cast of New York and local actors may share a potluck and talk late.

On a late fall weekend, comedians and actors The Fremonts (Justin Badger and Staphanie Dodd), a couple who recently moved to the Berkshires from Boulder Colo., revealed the depths and heights in a lasting relationship, in their darkly comic show, the Failure Cabaret. 

And the Del Sol Quartet came from San Fransisco to perform new compositions from their Angel Island Project, telling the stories of Chinese newcomers to America who were held, sometimes for years, at the immigration station in the San Francisco Bay, and inscribed poetry into the walls there.

Amy Brentano of Richmond has launched the Foundry in West Stockbridge as a new venue for art, music and theater.

Drawing on more than 20 years’ experience in theater and entrepreneurship, she opened the doors quietly in the spring and broadened her space and programming in the summer, and as winter comes she is keeping the doors open year-round. 

“I want to sit on this couch and look out at snow falling,” she said, “and have a drink, and look at interactive art by a 20-year-old in the city who can’t yet get a show there.”

The Foundry bar opens for quiet drinks and relaxation on Tuesday and Thursday nights year-round.
Photo courtesy of The Foundry

The Foundry bar opens for quiet drinks and relaxation on Tuesday and Thursday nights year-round.

Following the thread

In December and January, though, she will bring in artwork by an artist known around the world, who is already showing her work in New York.

On Dec. 7, the Foundry will open a part of the Tiny Pricks Project, which gathers fiber art from around the world.

It is based on a contrast — embroidery and politics. Diana Weymar, its artist and curator, has worked in film and fiber art in New York City and joined in projects with Build Peace, the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at UMass Amherst, and Open Arts Space in Damascus, Syria, and many others. 

She has paired thread and political awareness before. In 2016, she created an art exhibit with Syrian journalist and activist Mansour Omari — he had disappeared in 2012 into an underground Syrian prison, “and when released, he promised his fellow inmates to let their families know they were still alive and smuggled out pieces of textile on which their names had been written,” according to the library at McGill University, where the exhibit is now on display. When Weymar heard his story, she proposed to stitch those names and make them visible.

The Tiny Pricks Project also began four years ago. As the current U.S. president began his term, Weymar found a piece of her grandmother’s needlepoint, unfinished since the 1960s. She stitched a quote, a presidential tweet, into the fabric — “I am a very stable genius” — and posted on Instagram. 

The Foundry will present the Tiny Pricks Project and a weekly sewing circle.
Diana Weymar / The Foundry

The Foundry will present the Tiny Pricks Project and a weekly sewing circle.

For her it was a way to respond to a president speaking in “unpresidential text,” she explains in her artist statement. And her embroidered message got a global response. 

“It exploded (online),” Brentano said.

Weymar got responses and contributions from around the world, Brentano said. She started collecting and curating similar stitched records of the presidents words — without comment, without any change or embellishment. These pieces record the president’s tweets and direct quotes in a form that will not disappear off a screen in a few seconds. They can give a way to address frustrations and make connections.

“She says … there’s a contrast between the vintage linens and fabrics, the permanence of them, and the impermanence of social media,” Brentano said. “For the first time, we have a president and a White House communicating mostly through social media.”

Weymar already has more than 2020 pieces of fiber art to exhibit in 2020, Brentano said, and the exhibit is touring internationally. This section of it has come to the Berkshires from Lingua Franca, an upscale upcycling clothing shop on Bleecker Street in New York.

Weymar will come to the Foundry Dec. 7 for the opening, Brentano said. She will lead a workshop in the gallery before an evening of music and spoken word.

And this winter the Foundry will invite the Berkshires to join the project. 

On Tuesday nights, the Foundry will join in, holding its own stitch and bitch — a sewing circle common up through World War II — to face a new election year.

They will have needles and thread, cloth and embroidery hoops on hand, and local artists to teach simple stitches.

“I’ve never embroidered before, and I’ve started to create a piece,” Brentano said.

She will exhibit Berkshire work as a companion show this winter, she said. Both shows will run through Martin Luther King weekend, and the Foundry is organizing a voter registration event in January.

“My training is as a theater artist,” she said, “and I’m interested in new and emerging work that changes perspectives and leads people to question.”

Making space for emerging work

Brentano studied at the experiential theater wing of New York University, and she has worked in theater for more than 40 years as a director, producer, actor and playwright. She lived in New York for 25 years, she said, and she moved to the Berkshires in 2002; since then she has worked locally with Berkshire Theatre Group and Barrington Stage, and she has worked for four years with WAM Theatre as a teaching artist.

At the Foundry, she is transforming a place and building a community.

She bought the building in January 2019, she said. It was built in 1994 as a glass-blowing studio, and she has renovated it into a center for visual art, theater and music with a flexible art gallery, a black box theater with lighting, stage and sound system, and a patio bar along the river.

In the summer and fall, the West Stockbridge farmers market meets just outside on her land.

She wants to invite generous souls into this place, she said. She has kept The Foundry for profit venue, because it is centrally important to her to have independence and flexibility, and to bring work that aligns with her mission, to serve the local community and all local communities.

Brentano wants to create a place where unheard voices can lift. She wants them to feel more than welcome — she wants them to feel they feel belong, and they have a say.

She has coordinated programming with WordxWord poets and Multicultural Bridge and announced a partnership with Bazaar Productions, the theater group who created the Berkshire Fringe Festival. Sara Katzoff, her husband, Peter Wise, and Timothy Ryan Olson co-founded Bazaar Productions in 2005.

“I’ve worked in New York and Los Angeles and everywhere,” Brentano said, “and Sarah’s one of the most brilliant artists I’ve worked with, and really kind. She cares about people first. It’s great to watch her teach.”

In their 12 years with the Berkshire Fringe Festival, Katzoff, Wise and Olson brought more than 600 artists to the Berkshires from across the country and the world. For most of its span the Fringe centered at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, Brentano said, where the founders are alumni. They brought in theater artists from many countries, and the college could house them. 

The Fringe Festival lost that space some years ago, Brentano said, and she has welcomed Bazaar Productions to the Foundry. They are exploring the form of their collaboration at the Foundry, in a new space. It has already led to a performance in the summer — In the Heartland, a play they describe as about losing sight of America and trying to fall back in love with it — and to a residency around a Fringe Festival performance from 2015, a rock opera by May Oskan, inspired by Julia Pastrana.

Bazaar Productions hosts a performance of In the Heartland.
Courtesy of Bazaar Productions

Bazaar Productions hosts a performance of In the Heartland.

Pastrana was a Mexican musician and performer who toured the United States and Europe in the late 1800s, Brentano explained. She was well educated and spoke many languages, but she was effectively enslaved, and made to perform in side shows, because she had a rare condition that led to hair all over her body.

Katzoff wanted to take a new look at the work and  invite the Latinx community in the Berkshires to be a part of it, Brentano said. She reached out to local organizations including Manos Unidas and the Tyler Street Lab, and people from the community worked together with actors and dancers, a choreographer and director from New York.

Planning for the new year

The community has come to the Foundry casually and familiarly. They have brought picnics to the patio and danced to 1970s music in the theater. And they have been asking for more.

“People in the community are saying ‘there’s nothing open on Tuesday and Wednesday, and we loved your patio bar — can you move it inside?’” Brentano said. “We’re getting a following. People feel it’s their secret place.”

She is bringing varied performances in December and January.

Berkshire drag queen Boxxa Vine (Aaron Posner of Monterey) will perform her own original show, Dragged through the Holidays, on Dec. 13.

Boxxa Vine has been making a name for herself, Brentano said, and right now she is costuming in New York City for Sasha Velour, the winner in season 9 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race, who has been touring in Australia and New Zealand this year and has won national acclaim for her regular performances in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

On Dec. 28, on a classical note, the Foundry will welcome the Harlow Chamber Players

Hannah Lynn Cohen and Noah Krauss, young musicians who are dreaming and working to create a network of musicians with a passion for chamber music, large enough to form versatile small groups or a chamber orchestra.

Local musicians will perform on Saturdays in early January — Brentano has already lined up the Pittsfield band the Riverside Brothers and longtime Berkshire jazz musicians Blue Light 5. 

And on Jan. 13, state Senator Adam Hinds will hold a public conversation

empower people who feel they have not been heard.

“The political climate we’re now living in is set up to divide people,” Brentano said.

She hopes in her programming to bring people together and make them think. It feels crucial to her now.

“This is not ‘sit back and enjoy the show,” she said — “it’s ‘sit on the edge of your seat and have your breath taken away. Walk out into the world and see things differently. Meet the person next to you … and maybe buy them a drink.”

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