Wander into Arts Abound on Lexington Street in Magnolia, and you’ll find a quiet world of local art. Fine art photography, watercolors and paintings, hand painted silk clothing, gifts, jewelry, and even home accessories. There are two common threads running through the shop—local creative talent and Susan Wheeler.
First, Susan Wheeler. An artist herself and a former pastry chef, the idea of opening a retail store with a cooperative bent and filled with unique, hand-crafted things just felt right. Wheeler had been coming to Cape Ann regularly from Vermont to visit her mother, Vivian, 93, who had moved to Magnolia in 1980. Eighteen months ago, she moved here permanently, and as she got to know Lexington Avenue and its retail community, Wheeler first thought there might be room for a creative meeting place to run art workshops, offer graphic design and maybe some retail items for purchase.
There was an open retail space, so in November 2019 with eight artists, she went for it. Wheeler said she found it “thrilling and interesting” to find artists, curate the items and “keep it interesting.” The shop, she said, got off to a good start with holiday shopping.
“I started with an open mind,” said Wheeler. “But there’s so much artistry here on Cape Ann. It hasn’t been a problem finding talented people who make beautiful things.”
Nearly two years in, Arts Abound has established itself and evolved. The store in the spirit of other Cape Ann retailers focused on local artists, like Local Colors, the artists’ cooperative retailer on Main Street in Gloucester or Gallery 53, the juried art gallery run by members of the Rocky Neck Art Colony, also in Gloucester. Today, Arts Abound has 23 artists on her roster, nearly all from Cape Ann. They help Wheeler by offering their pieces on consignment, and Wheeler promotes and sells their work. And she is an enthusiastic promoter of their work, their talent, and their artwork.
The journey It hasn’t been without challenges. Less than six months into her new venture, the pandemic hit and like most businesses, Wheeler adapted. She offered hand-sewn masks (selling hundreds), offered appointment-only shopping, personal shopping and home delivery. She also put plans for workshops and education on the back burner and took on freelance graphic design projects.
“The pandemic hit businesses hard, and we were lucky to have supporters and get through,” Wheeler said. “I think about how great everyone was. Even with selling masks, which we made and left outside for people to pick up and pay on the honor system, every single person paid.”
Wheeler has also really gotten to know her retail neighbors along Lexington Avenue, where by chance nearly all are women-owned and the community is tight. There’s Shakteau Interiors, All Purpose Flowers, Jennifer’s Hair Salon, among many others. This summer, the neighborhood brought back its popular Sunday Magnolia Farmer’s Market, which closes down Lexington Avenue, brings in music, and most retailers set up displays on the sidewalks outside. It’s a real community feel.
Wheeler packs the space with all manner of artists, spanning painting, photography, pottery, glasswork, silk-screen, collage, and more. Besides Wheeler’s own work, there is Stephanie Mason, Brenda Malloy, Melissa Cox (the photographer, who is the artist behind Local Colors in Gloucester), Karen Keough, Lisa Knebel, Tin Can Sally, Donna Ardizzoni, Dave Fernandes, Erik Hahr, Alissa Cohen, John Abisamra, Alan Bourgault, Kaitlyn Manley, Christine Gauthier-Kelley, Derek, Miriabilio, Hermit Hill, and Larry Parsons.
“We’re not just a local independent store,” she said. “Of all the artists featured here, and just about all of them are local.”
Looking ahead, Wheeler is excited about continuing to celebrate the work of local artists. She’s also excited to reconnect with some of her original ideas about making a space for people to mix and learn with artists’ workshops and reception that boost a bigger sense of community.