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Betsy Lenora, July Artist of the Month

Betsy Lenora of Blue Cloud Gallery, photography by Mara Brod

Betsy Lenora, July Artist of the Month

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Interview with Betsy Lenora of Blue Cloud Gallery by Kerrie L. Kemperman; photography by Mara Brod.

What do you think of the Somerville creative scene and arts community? Any favorite events or festivals? 

Somerville is one of the most arts-positive cities in the country. Due to low rents, artists of all kinds have lived here since the 1960s and ’70s. It seems like Mayor Joe Curtatone has made it a point to promote events that favor artistic endeavors, such as PorchFest, Joe’s Jazz and Blues Fest, and Artbeat, to name just a few of the events I am particularly fond of.

How do you and/or your shop support art and artists in Somerville?

My store, Blue Cloud Gallery, is in Ball Square. I sell handcrafted gifts by over 100 local artists, many of them living in Somerville. By selling their artwork, I give artists a brick and mortar outlet where customers can access their work year-round. Part of the process of choosing a unique handcrafted gift is to peruse many options, picking them up in your hands and letting them resonate. You can’t do that on Etsy. I also let my artists know of other opportunities for selling their work, such as events. Really, it’s my mission to support artists in any way that I can.
How do you choose/find the artists whose work you sell in your shop?
I know a lot of artists in the community, from friends to artists I met when I managed the Cambridge Artists Cooperative in Harvard Square. In the past, I attended many craft fairs and introduced myself to artists to generate some curiosity on their part. More than 20 years of experience in the world of craft has taught me a lot. At this point, most new artists find me; I haven’t had to go in search of them. I try to choose new artists’ work that is unique, not cookie cutter; that is well crafted; and that I think will sell given the demographics of my customers: 20- to 40-somethings. I will add that I often give an artist who has never before sold their work in a store a chance, as long as it meets my criteria.
Is there anything you wish you saw more of in Somerville?
More affordable housing?! 
Please tell us a bit about your background. When did you come to Somerville? How has Somerville changed or stayed the same?
I was born in Western Massachusetts, but I first moved to Somerville over Labor Day weekend in 1976. Since then, I have lived on College Avenue, Highland Avenue, Putnam Street, Elm Street, Porter Street, and a side street near City Hall. I moved to Cambridge for a while. I have lived the all-too-common story of developers buying the building where I lived many times over.
I have to say, when I moved back to Somerville (after Cambridge) I liked it and was glad to be back. One thing that hasn’t changed is the vibe, the feeling of being in a neighborhood. There is a comfort level here that I didn’t feel in Cambridge. Of course, lack of affordable housing is a HUGE problem and the high rents are driving many artists away. But given that, there still is a large number of artists making their homes here, somehow. 
What creative endeavors are you involved in?
I am a photographer, first and foremost. I’ve been serious about it since my twenties. So I always have a camera with me. I have no intention, no goal, just constantly looking, seeing. My favorite things to shoot are reflections — in water, on chrome, in windows…the images look like paintings. I always felt I was a frustrated painter!
I’ve enjoyed sketching and drawing since I was a child. More recently, a friend, Somerville artist Lenni Armstrong, introduced me to Visual Journaling which has allowed me to tap into my subconscious. First I meditate on a question. Then, using my childhood crayons, I start drawing freely when an image comes to mind — drawing without judgment. It’s amazing what comes out!
Is there something new you’re working on? 
I’ve made collages using a similar technique. Take a theme — say, my ideal home — and go through magazines, allowing those images that resonate the strongest to be cut out and used in the collage. Another new creative “project” for me is writing – I’ve gotten serious about writing over the last half-year or so, and better I might add! I’ve always kept a journal, and enjoyed small writing projects. I recently got involved in the Grown Up Story Telling Group — GUST — which has readings at Aeronaut usually the last Wednesday of the month.
What excites or challenges you about your art or about running your shop?
Such a good question! I am very excited about arts and crafts, and have been since I was probably 13, when I went to my first craft fair. Art class was my favorite subject in school. My mother took painting classes and dabbled in all kinds of projects as she got older. My younger sister is amazingly talented when it comes to craft. Right now, she is making mosaic collages using buttons! My dad’s hobby was woodworking. I think my interest and love of art is in my genes.
I am a facilitator. I feel it is my mission to help other artists succeed and that is why I have my store. Blue Cloud Gallery became a dream come true, but with dreams come realities. It is getting harder and harder to keep the store’s bills and rent paid when sales have gone down so drastically. Changing demographics, changed political climate... because everyone who comes in my shop has a positive experience. Keeping my spirits up is the biggest challenge with my store. Staying excited and exploring is the biggest challenge for my art.
Is there someone or something that was important in setting you on your path?
Yes. A long time ago, in my mid-20s, I was in Rockport on Bearskin Neck. I had just gotten my first SLR camera, a Canon AE-1. That was the beginning of my desire to do photography seriously. I was influenced by Eliot Porter’s work. Anyway, there was a small shop that was filled with a single photographer’s photos. I loved this artist’s work: very real, textural, rustic scenes, nature. I wanted THAT. I wanted to have a shop of my own that would feature my photos, but also showcase different photographers. The dream died and eventually, much later, I was hired by the Cambridge Artists Cooperative. I worked for them for 15 years, 7 as manager. I truly learned the world of craft and the business side of craft. I never went to college but working there was my college education. That’s when I really knew what it was I wanted to do when I “grew up,” and here I am!
Are there any other artists, writers, musicians, etc. who inspire your creative endeavors?
All of them! I admire every artist, whatever media they work in, for being creative, for putting themselves out there, or for trying. I couldn’t pick one or two. All the early, now dead, female photographers and painters. What kind of world they lived in and yet they persisted.
What are your favorite Somerville spots?
Highland Kitchen, though too loud, is always good for the food they serve. A shout out to Sally O’Brien’s for the music and dancing. True Grounds, next to my store, makes all their pastries and they are good! 
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about? 
One more thing: I feel incredibly lucky to live in Somerville, work in Somerville, and walk or bike everywhere. As a non-car owner, I find it very easy to get from one place to another. I use the T as last resort and it’s not bad, either.