DAVE & JENNIFER
New York City & Providence, RI to Hudson, New York
Contemporary sculptor and artist Dave Cole and his fine-art painter and framer wife, Jennifer Kahrs had been living and working separately, Cole working out of his studio space in Providence, Rhode Island and Kahrs running her Shadowbox Framing Shop in New York City. They did the exhausting and expensive bounce back and forth, depending on their work schedules. They both wanted to find a place with ample space for their art making, close to nature and a short trip to the city when they needed to go for work. In 2014, when a home of a taxidermist that built the dioramas for the National History Museum went on the market, up in the hills above Hudson, the couple couldn’t pass up the opportunity to finally live and work in the same place. The property had been left vacant for ten years prior and it required tremendous sweat equity to get it workable and livable again. The enormous 11,000 sqft studio still holds a multitude of fiberglass relics from the previous owner - pieces of giant dinosaur and hippopotamus molds are stacked in piles in the rafters and outbuildings. Dave and Jennifer immediately got started cleaning and organizing their new place. They shoveled heaping piles of bat guano and acorns out of the long neglected buildings, repaired flashing on the roof and replaced siding. Just moving the studios of a large-scale sculptor and a framing business was no small feat; it required many tractor trailers with heavy machines and supplies packed tight. They worked tirelessly through the hot summer months getting everything cleaned and unpacked as best they could. Jennifer sterilized and insulated her framing room and wrapped the walls in plastic to keep the dust and debris from constantly falling onto her workspace. When winter hit and they got their first bill for heating their space they were stunned - as the price to heat the studio had surpassed their mortgage payment. In 2015, the couple welcomed their son Niles, which has slowed their progress a bit but also couldn’t have come at a better time. Jennifer can work from home with Niles napping in a crib beside her in the frame shop, Dave is able to work on multiple large-scale pieces at the same time and they can steal away moments throughout the day to spend time together as a family - something that wouldn’t have been possible before moving here. Dave and Jennifer’s work spaces are attached to their modest house by a door in their hallway, a portal that allows them to leave any stresses behind at the end of a days work. Although they both know this property will forever be a work in progress, they have a shared vision of renovating unused rooms and outbuildings to create an artist residency program, a ceramics studio, and a space to host workshops. Until then, they continue to be inspired by the nature that surrounds them and feel grateful for the ample space they are able to work in. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move away from the city?
Dave grew up on a farm in New Hampshire; he knew he wanted to live in the country. Brooklyn was good to me, but I was ready for a change – we knew we wanted to be within 2-3 hours from New York City, and 15-20 minutes from a town that was supportive of artists. We found an amazing property at a price we could afford in Hudson, and we jumped on it.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
After the move itself (Dave’s studio alone required 7 full-size Uhaul trucks) the biggest challenge has been setting up our studio practices fully-formed in a new place. Both of our studios grew organically over the period of more than a decade—all of a sudden we had to set them up from scratch in a totally new place. I think both of us underestimated the impact that would have on the creative process.
Simply getting the physical space to a workable place has been a lot of work and money (remember how I said we found a property ‘at a price we could afford?')
Also, finding help. The people we’ve both worked with in the past were beyond amazing and it’s clear that we wouldn’t be here without them, except now, we are without them and their energies are very much missed.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about living in an urban environment?
The cold. Heating the shops with oil furnaces costs more than our mortgage. Dave likes the cold, but I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina so heat up here is a whole new language. I miss the free heat of New York City, the restaurants that deliver at all hours and our established community of artists. Meeting new people takes time.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
But where would we park the tractor?
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
Listening to the coyotes howl outside our house at night. Watching the deer wander across the lawn. Seeing how much happier our dogs our now. We all love living in the country.
I appreciate that there is an abundance of natural resources where we live and that we are able to properly utilize and respect them. In the city it is easy to feel disconnected and wasteful in certain ways.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Do it now. Run don’t walk – life is better just outside the city.
What are the first three things on your to-do list when you visit the city?
Deliver art, pick up art, eat Vanessa’s dumplings. Or sushi. Or oysters. With city friends. I used to be in the city twice a week, now it’s once a week, or every other week if I’m lucky.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Mine comes in my spare time – which is short and usually involves a friend randomly sitting still for me long enough to paint them.
Dave’s comes from audio books he devours, time in the woods, long talks with other artists, and all-nighters followed by copious sleep and hot showers.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
Dave says his work has gotten more personal and less academic. He spends a lot more time in the woods, and this will likely inform his next project. Dave’s gallery also closed right before we closed on this property. This has had a huge impact on Dave’s creative practice—not on the content of the work, but at the pace at which he is able to work.
I have started to slow down the number of deliveries to NYC, Hudson artists are keeping me pretty busy. Between the framing, baby Niles and our house, there’s little down time.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence?
During bow-hunting season, Dave is out in the woods before 5am and home for a late breakfast before he tackles a day of what will either be studio work, studio renovations, or one of the endless projects that come with country life. Now that it’s not hunting season, Dave has taken to working nights and often surprises us in the morning with a new wood toy or spoon or small thing that he has made for us.
Baby Niles has changed my schedule and I’m still figuring out how to juggle it all. My days are a combination of frame making and baby nurturing. Basically I’m up around 6 am. I feed and change our boy and then he does a little tummy time while I do dishes and laundry and emails – we’re usually in the studio by 10 am, I work for about 2 hours while he naps and the rest of the day is a negotiation between Niles and the frames, until it’s dinner time. For me, the biggest difference is that I rarely work nights anymore.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
I’m hoping to host a ‘big-damn-print’ day here in the summer (using a steamroller to make prints) Dave is licensed to drive one and making oversized prints is our idea of a good time.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
Columbia county generally, and Hudson specifically, has been a home to artists for so long that we never really felt like outsiders. That said, it can be hard to get to know people—especially when so much of our time goes to setting up our studios and caring for Baby Niles. We really have to force ourselves to go out and meet people—its something that doesn't happen automatically the way it does in the city.
What are your future plans/goals for the coming year?
Dave has a two-month residency in Wisconsin at the Kohler Art Center, he will be preparing new work to take with him to make full use of pouring in their facilities. He recently inherited and moved his grandfather’s blacksmith shop into one of our spare barns. He is looking to build a blacksmith shop and residency program on our property.
I am looking forward to continuing to introduce myself and my framing art making services to the galleries and artists in Hudson. I am hoping to build a ceramics studio in our milk barn and maybe finish the painting I started more than a year ago. And more obviously, we are both looking forward to watching our son grow while continuing studio renovations for the rest of our lives.