Rachael Warden and Jolysa Anthony. Lucy Gellman Photos.
Jolysa Anthony waved her hand over a fresh batch of soy candles, and began to tell the story of how they came to be. Rachael Warden made the pitch for eucalyptus, orange and lavender essential oils that could transform a home into an impromptu day spa. Danny Bress looked over for a pint-sized cricket loom, studying a toffee-colored textile still in progress.
All of them are makers at UARTS, an initiative of the Chapel Haven Schleifer Center that trains adults with developmental disabilities to make and sell art. Born seven years ago as a pilot, the program is now thriving on Chapel Haven’s Whalley Avenue campus. Thursday evening, artists held their first open house in over two years.
Soy candles, hand-printed aprons, Chapel Haven swag, wooden ornaments and dyed silk scarves all filled the room. A concurrent fair for Chapel Haven’s Art Guild unfolded one room over; more on that below.
Top: Laurel Marietta.
“It makes you feel good,” said Warden, who lives at Chapel Haven and has a particular affinity for candle making. “It keeps you in a good mood, and you can learn how to do it on your own.”
In the seven years since it first launched, UARTS has held multiple homes, from North Haven to Fountain Street in nearby Westville Village. When its most recent space in Westville became a casualty of the pandemic, it moved back to Chapel Haven’s Whalley Avenue campus. Monday through Thursday, artists meet and make together, working on different types of crafts. They sell out of the space’s new Schleifer Adult Independent Living (SAIL) building, where a shop is located in the cafe.
Each artisan has found their niche. For Anthony, who learned about UARTS from her program director when she graduated from Chapel Haven’s REACH program several years ago, it often comes back to the candles, poured neatly into glass jars and printed with the words “Peace” and “Joy.” Laurel Marietta, who arrived in antlers, red and green layered shirts, and matching Claus-colored red boots, hand-sews toys that contain dried organic catnip from her family’s farm in Ohio.
Top: Laurel Marietta with UARTS Studio Manager Heather McDonald and Program Manager Stephanie Berberich. Botom: Danny Bress, who has been with UARTS since it was a pilot.
Bress, who has been with UARTS since its inception, said he gravitates toward the cricket loom, on which he’s been able to weave scarves, table runners and decorative textiles with several colors of glowing, silky yarn. When he weaves, “I think about my life,” he said Thursday. The rhythm of the loom helps him relax. Around the room, scarves in purple, butter-yellow, and black and white all waited for potential owners to scoop them up.
For some artists, the program has also become a lifeline. Kimberly Marchesi, who lives independently just across Whalley Avenue, said she loves the program for its emphasis on skill building. Six years ago, she joined UARTS when it was still in its nascent stages. As she stuck with it, the program grew, expanding its roster of artisans as it moved from one location to the next. This year, she’s not taking a single moment of it for granted.
“Last year, it was weird and strange,” she said, posing beside a table with wooden snowflake ornaments and hand-printed greeting cards that read Peace and Joy. “It was weird not being able to be here and just being home all day … just being kind of isolated. It’s nice to be back.”
Top: Kimberly Marchesi. Bottom: David Hogan. "I enjoy it," he said of his artwork.
Across the lobby, adults in Chapel Haven’s Art Guild joined the open house with bracelets, keychains, still-life photographs and paintings in acrylic and watercolor. Beside the window, artist David Hogan showed off detailed geometric designs in watercolor that he draws freehand. The works glowed brightly against the dark, cold night and dusting of snow outside.
It marks the first time guild members have gathered in person in two years. Since March 2020, art programs have remained online for Chapel Haven community members who live independently. On campus arts programming for Chapel Haven residents has remained in person.
“It’s a form of expression and a form of validation,” Art Program Director Tina Menchetti said of the open house. “They get a lot of feedback. It’s very rewarding for them.”
John Murphy and Ashley Studioso.
On one side of the room, John Murphy and Ashley Studioso showed off their cartoon designs, inspired by the Powerpuff Girls, Sailor Moon, Pokémon and other anime characters. Murphy, who grew up in North Haven and lives independently, said that he’s “always just had a big fascination with that graphic style.” On his table, acrylic paintings of sunsets and landscapes found their way next to compositions in marker and pen.
Studioso, who lives in Bridgeport and is dating Murphy, came to the show as an invited guest artist. After studying the cartoon style of Sailor Moon for years, she began designing her own anime character, named “Mighty Tiger.” Her digital artwork now occupies much of her days. She said she was excited to show her work for the first time on Thursday, with card-sized prints of Mighty Tiger for sale.
Partners Kim and Rich LaManna, who met at Chapel Haven over two decades ago, sat side by side as they waited for customers and caught up with a few friends who came through the show. They chatted quietly, Kim working on a rainbow loom as Rich lifted up the image of a sunset. On the glossy print, the darkening sky was streaked with wispy pink clouds. Rich recalled standing beside a lake, watching the colors roll in. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t leave until I get this,’” he remembered.
Kim and Rich LaManna, who met in Chapel Haven's REACH program and were married in 2004.
Beside him, Kim fitted the loom with five neat plastic bands and began another one of her braided friendship bracelets. After meeting in the REACH program, the two fell in love and were married in 2004. Both of them now work one floor from each other at Chapel Haven—Kim is an administrative assistant and Rich is the cafe manager—and make art on the side.
While they’ve sold at a few pop-ups and art fairs during the pandemic, both said that Thursday marked the best day in sales in a long time.
“I just enjoy it! It’s relaxing,” Kim said as she threaded the bands into each other with a crochet needle. In front of her, a rack of beaded keychains and braided bracelets made the space vibrate with color.
“I never did this well before!” Rich added as he tidied up his station at the end of the night. “I was like, ‘Wow.’ I was impressed.”