Olga Geyyer with some of her works/ Credit: Needham Observer

In Olga Geyyer’s studio, vibrant, colorful paintings reflect her feelings about the beauty and magic of the natural world. If people are curious when they visit her home during Needham Open Studios this weekend, she happily will talk about her process and inspirations.

Conversations with artists are central to Needham Open Studios, which celebrates its 24th year this Saturday and Sunday with 50 artists exhibiting in 14 locations.

“As opposed to visiting a gallery or museum, the artist is right there and you can talk to them,” said Anne Nydem, president of Needham Open Studios. “To find the story behind the art makes it special.”

Throughout the entire first floor of Geyyer’s home, dozens of abstract and representational paintings cover the walls, creating galleries teeming with color and imagination. Geyyer, who is Ukrainian, said for a while after the invasion, she couldn’t paint. Having grown up in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, she came to the United States in 1999 with her young son and her husband, who had family here. Since Russia attacked her city in 2014 and again in 2022, many of her family and friends have evacuated to other cities and even left the country. Her paintings, reminiscent of Marc Chagall in their color, joy and sometimes whimsicality, belie her horror and fear. 

“In the Garden”/ Credit: Olga Geyyer

“It’s a very painful situation, but I don’t have paintings that express this,” said Geyyer, who will donate 40 percent of sales to Ukraine. “When I paint, I start with different gestures and strokes and see what color is talking to me. One painting can have many transformations as I have a conversation with it and watch the story unfold. I have a candle inside me, and in my art, I express love and the energy and magic of life.”

Geyyer  talked about her work “Love Jar,” which evokes both a curving vessel and the torso of a seated naked woman embraced by hands in sapphire blue.  “When I began this painting, it started to look like a vessel, and I wanted to fill it with petals so I could be transported to that moment of the simple joy of being.”

While many cities, including neighboring Newton, have open studios, Needham’s stands out because it’s in a suburb and one of the longest running in the area. Often, people are surprised that so many artists live in Needham, Nydem said.

“People may not know that their neighborhood has incredible artists because the artists are in their studios doing solitary work,” said Nydem. “When they come to the open studios, they’re like ‘Wow, I had no idea what really cool and amazing art there is here.’”

Credit: The Potters Shop and School

The public will get a chance to watch artists as they work. Inside Sunita Williams Elementary, Nydem – one of 11 artists exhibiting there – will demonstrate how she carves her woodblock prints. She also will provide tools for visitors to create their own carving. Throughout the weekend, there will be a variety of demonstrations, as well as exhibits of painting, pottery, jewelry making, mixed media, photography, furniture, fabric art, drawing and mosaics. Visitors can help create a community mosaic and, of course, purchase art — some pieces for as little as $30.  

Like Gyyer, Nydem also used the word magic to describe what happens in block printing. After drawing on a rubber mat, she carves the image, inks it and prints it on paper, where the image appears in black and white.

“It’s like a puzzle to figure out how the black and white shows up,” she said. “When you put it through the magic of a block print, it has a certain drama.”

As potters demonstrate wheel throwing at the studio inside Gorse Mills, visitors also may see magic in the transformation of a lump of clay. A shop displays the creations of about 25 members of the pottery studio, and a gallery in the mill hosts a NOS group show. In addition, a number of artists who have studios inside the mill will have open houses this weekend.

Wooden Bowls/ Credit: Alan Blair

Kay Cahill, a potter who over the years has mastered a variety of techniques, glazes and forms, will display two raku candlesticks shaped like tall goblets and a matching spice jar. Two-toned with a glossy brown and cracked beige finish, they are a striking example of the Japanese firing technique.

“We have a lot of potters at the studio and they’re a really fascinating group,” said Cahill, who is a member of The Potters Shop and School. “People really bond and we constantly discuss what we do. There’s only a handful of pottery studios around, and we are lucky to have this wonderful place.”

While NOS charges nothing to visit the studios, it has costs to organize the event. This year, a $2,500 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council paid for space at the elementary school, brochures, banners and lawn signs and to help keep participation fees affordable for the artists. Through its locations at the elementary school and Gorse Mill, NOS makes it possible for artists who live or work in Needham to exhibit when they don’t have a suitable space in their homes. 

“This is a community event, and we want it to be accessible,” Nydem said. 

To celebrate this community event, Sen. Becca Rausch will visit Sunita Williams Elementary School Saturday and state Rep. Denise Garlick will visit the home of painter Naomi Wilsey and North Hill Retirement Community, where Needham High School students and North Hill residents will exhibit. Some artists will offer refreshments, and musicians in the Plugged in Band will perform throughout the day at the program’s home on Freeman Place.

“Dance for Joy”/ Credit: Amy Cicala

While Nydem would love people to visit every location, she knows many will choose artists whose medium most interests them. Through brochures and the NOS website, people can see details about each artist and location, as well as a sample of art. Brochures are available at town hall, the library, Center at the Heights, and local businesses.

Needham Open Studios runs from  11 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. In addition to cash, many artists accept credit cards or Venmo.

For information, visit www.needhamopenstudios.com

*Olga Geyyer joined NOS after the brochure was printed; her studio is 263 Nehoiden St.

Jody Feinberg is a retired reporter who has lived in Needham for 40 years.

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