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Rural artists creating routes to success

For Andrea Siwiec of Buffalo,  "Routes to Art" has become a ritual.

This weekend will mark her third time touring the studios of the 45 artists scattered about Cattaraugus County and the Seneca Nation of Indians.

This year, Andrea, her husband and four friends will pile into the same vehicle, hitting the rural roads, meeting artists and reviewing their works.

"Their studios are in these beautiful settings. It must be where they get their inspiration."

Siwiec offers another key observation.

"Don't forget your GPS."

Routes to Art is organized by Anne Conroy-Baiter, executive director of the CCAC  (Cattaraugus County Arts Council).

Conroy-Baiter and her staff work in a century-old, former Main Street hardware store in the restored Village of Allegany, the space morphed into a studio, classroom, gallery, gift shop and offices.

An artist herself, Conroy-Baiter points out that "artists tend to pretty happy people."

At least six people in her region, Conroy-Baiter says, are making a living as artists and many more could follow.

"All they need are the business skills."

By organizing Routes to Art, the CCAC provides perhaps the most important skill, marketing.

 According to the agency's tracking, over 1,000 people took part in the tour last year with each person visiting between five and 15 studios.

At the shiny new Seneca Allegany Community Center this weekend, Routes to Art tourists can see "traditional basketry"  constructed by Penelope Minner.

It's an ancient, painstaking craft where splints pounded from trees are soaked, roughed, shaped and perfectly crafted into baskets.

For Minner, she says "she is taking baby steps" into the art business, offering classes and performing demonstrations at art shows.

Others are taking notice, including Cooperstown's Fennimore Museum, which tabbed Penelope Minner for its Artisan Series in July Museum officials estimate her work will be viewed by hundreds during her residence.   

That interest aside, Minner admits "trying to price it is my hardest thing."

$125 is the most she's ever charged for one of her creations. Often, she gifts some of her baskets to the young men who pound the logs for the splints she uses.

Others believe Minner's work could be priced at a considerably higher rate.

Sean Huntington earns his living, full-time, as a Cattaraugus County artist.

Twenty years in the making, Huntington has learned the business of the rural artist.

He appreciates Minner’s apprehension, but believes her work compares favorably to Nantucket Baskets, originally constructed by whalers.

 “Some of those are $40,000. ”

Finding markets for your work is key to the business, Huntington says.

The internet helps, but so does hitting the road.

Recently he spent consecutive weeks at shows in Atlanta.

After this weekend’s Routes to Art, he heads to Philadelphia, then to the Allentown Arts Festival in Buffalo.

The experience has helped him overcome modesty and price his work, which has reached $2,500, a price he has learned to be comfortable with.

But it wasn't always that way. His first sale of $1,000, was a different story.

As he tells it, the purchaser is getting "paper and pigment, when it comes down to it.”

That paper and pigment now hangs attractively on the walls of the Mill Street Gallery and Studios in Ellicottville.

It’s a joint commercial effort Huntington shares with fellow local artists Nance Jackson and Barbara Fox.

"I'd like it (the gallery) to be a destination for people who come to Ellicottville to do some shopping, have dinner and visit a gallery," Fox said. "I think it can work here."

Barbara Fox’s feelings about art have served her well.

After years of developing her skills in national contests, she also works, full-time, as an artist in Cattaraugus County.

Her watercolor paintings have sold at over $5,000.

Some of them also are on display at the Mill Street Gallery, about a quarter-mile off the main drag in Ellicottoville.  

Easy to find if you head, south instead of north.

Losing your way is one of the  happy accidents of taking in Routes to Art.

The roads of Cattaraugus County have colorful names like Pumpkin Hollow, Ashford Hollow, Johnson Hollow, Sherlock Hollow; some of the locales follow a similar pattern, Great Valley, Pleasant Valley, Union Valley, Little Valley.

Still, a warning to those planning on taking in this weekend's Routes to Art: you leave home without a map at your own risk.

Routes to Art.com offers a map and samples of the artists work.

Monday - Friday, 6 a.m. - 10 a.m.

Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.