Retreat Welcomed Artists for a Record-Setting Weekend of Creativity

Fra Angelica is always filled with colorful, handmade wearable art – but the studio isn’t usually filled with the buzz of artists in action creating it. Our customers often ask about these people and their creative processes, and in fact, many of our artists have never met each other, even though their work shares shelf-space in the store. To help everyone put a face to the names in our studio, we came together recently to share our art.

Our Annual Artist Retreat brings the studio’s artists together for one weekend, giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves in their work while surrounded by like-minded creatives. This year’s retreat featured 18 artists working in a variety of media, filling the hall of the 5th Street Arcades with a whir of artful activity – literally, with an antique 1908 sock-knitting machine whirring in the background, as other artists painted gourd purses or woven bags, knitted, crocheted or crafted, while others practiced the ancient art of Viking knitting.

There’s a certain magic that happens when artists get together. Here’s how the Fra Angelica Artist Retreat has evolved over time to impact and inspire our artists.

History of Fra Angelica Artist Retreats

The roots of our Artist Retreat can be traced back to 1984, when I met Denise LeVasseur in an embroidery class at Jacobsen’s Department Store in Birmingham, Michigan. At the end of the four-week class, neither of us had finished our projects, so we decided to get together to work on them. That led to more fiber art classes together, and soon we were meeting once a week to work on art.

fran angelica studio cleveland ohio

Denise and I stayed in touch after I moved to Cleveland, and we continued getting together for a week or so every year to focus on our artwork. Over the years, we invited other friends to join us on these annual fiber vacations to locations from Northern Michigan to South Florida to the Jersey Shore. We’d share ideas and investigate new materials together, inspired by each other’s creativity.

In 2010, I opened a small gallery in the Galleria in downtown Cleveland, and those fiber trips formalized into annual retreats for the artists represented by the gallery. I hosted the first one at my home, with six artists in attendance.

We’ve grown every year since then. For the first time this year, we expanded to include artists working in other media besides fiber arts. As a result, this year’s retreat was the biggest one yet, with more participants than ever before – including six first-timers. We couldn’t even fit everyone inside the studio this year, so we set up tables outside the store, giving Arcades visitors more exposure to our art as they walked down the hall.

Of course, Denise made the trip from Michigan, along with her sister, Deanne Robinson. Together they make up Two Sisters Jewelry – weaving wire chains to make bracelets and necklaces in an ancient method known as Viking knitting. They brought their mother and aunt along to the retreat, who worked on knitting projects of their own – creating multiple generations of handiwork at one table.

As the conversations (and coffee!) began to flow, artists quickly connected over their love of color and creativity. With their hands busy creating and making, the artists at our retreat were soon sharing stories and ideas as if they’d all known each other for years. Here are some of the stories that surfaced during our annual Artist Retreat this year.

Gourd Artistry

Many artists tend to work alone, carving out their own creative space in a basement studio or extra bedroom where they can blast some music to help them focus on their latest project. Many of our artists have other full-time jobs, and just create art on the side when they have time. Whatever their personal creative process, every type of artist had something to gain by escaping to our Artist Retreat where they could socialize with other artists.

Mary Hegarty - Gourd Purses

Mary Hegarty - Gourd Purses

Mary Hegarty is a nurse at the Cleveland Clinic. On her days off, she’s often in her basement studio painting gourds. After cleaning dried gourds that she sources from farmers in California and the Carolinas, Mary paints patterns and faces to create one-of-a-kind purses, birdhouses, lamps and other works of art.

“I love gourds. They’re very fascinating. They’re the second-oldest domesticated plant in the world after the olive tree, and they last forever. The National History Museum in Cleveland has one that’s 1,000 years old,” Mary says. “I could talk about gourds for hours, but in my ‘other world’ at the hospital, people laugh about it: ‘Oh, you’re a gourd artist?’ they always ask. ‘What’s that?’”

The retreat gave Mary the opportunity to get out of her basement studio, and get around other like-minded, color-loving artists who were fascinated – not befuddled – by her art.

“I prefer to work by myself,” admits Mary, who likes to watch the Food Network or listen to 70s music like The Moody Blues while she paints. “But Fra Angelica is an inspiration to me. This is a completely different world than what I do. When you’re an artist, you’re doing everything alone, but I love the positive energy here. This is a great opportunity to meet the other artists from the store.”

Love of Color

Hilda Gabarron Ordorica had never been to our retreat before this year. In 2012, she moved to Shaker Heights from Mexico, where she studied graphic arts and taught art and design for almost 20 years. When she started selling her hand-painted wearables at Fra Angelica about a year ago, she couldn’t wait to meet some of the gallery’s other artists who shared her love of color.

Hilda Gabarron Ordorica - Hand-Painted Wearables

Hilda Gabarron Ordorica - Hand-Painted Wearables

“To be Mexican, we are born between colors. Everything is so brilliant and colorful, all the flowers and vegetables and everything at the market, and the piñatas – so I make everything with a lot of colors,” says Hilda, who spent her time at the retreat painting a bright yellow sunflower on a woven wicker purse. “Sometimes in this country, people tell me, ‘Oh, we are a little bit scared of the color,’ so sometimes I try, but I cannot do really soft colors. I need some orange and purple and bright colors.”

Hilda usually paints in the extra bedroom in her apartment that triples as her studio, her husband’s office, and their guest room. To inspire her bright color palettes, she likes to listen to “salsa and a lot of happy music,” she says.

But as soon as I sent the invitations for this year’s Artist Retreat, Hilda told me she couldn’t wait to get out of her small studio to participate.

“I said, ‘oh my god, this is fantastic. I want to put a face to the other artists’ work,’” Hilda says. “All the artwork here is phenomenal, so I know the artists who did it are great. I’m excited to meet all the people.”

Antique Mechanics

Artists who usually work in their basements to the tune of their personal playlists had to adjust to new sounds at our Retreat this year.  Most noticeably, drowning out the chatter in the Arcades, was the loud mechanical whir of Pat Koharik’s antique sock knitting machine.

Pat Koharik - Antique Sock Making Machine

Pat Koharik - Antique Sock Making Machine

“I always bring this machine to art shows because everybody’s interested,” says Koharik, cranking the circular sock machine while inviting curious passersby to take a closer look at its clanking needles. “It’s an antique machine from 1908. They were used during WWI to knit socks for the troops.”

Most of the people walking through the Arcade during our Artist Retreat had never seen – or heard – a machine like this before. In fact, Pat hadn’t either, until a few years ago.

“I was a lifelong knitter but about six years ago, I saw one of these machines at the State Fair and I thought, ‘I’ve got to have one of those,’” says Pat, a retired teacher. “Now I have two: this one and a reproduction. I have two of these and four other sewing machines in one room in my house, so I wheel my chair from spot to spot.”

The knitting machine helps Pat create a long “trail of socks” within hours, and then she finishes the heels and toes by hand. She even makes adorable stuffed bears and zoo animals out of leftover socks, and for every critter she sells, she plans to donate one to charity as a comfort doll for kids in need. Besides these handmade socks, Pat also makes the upcycled denim jackets that we sell at Fra Angelica.

All our artists come from very different walks of life and distinct lines of work that inspire each one’s unique creativity. Bringing all this energy together at once during our retreat allowed artists to feed off each other’s ideas and experiments.

“It’s always fun to share and see everybody doing art. I’m in awe of what you see here, from painting to quilting,” Pat says. “I don’t think I could pick up another thing to do at this point, but I just love to see what everybody’s doing – the creativity and how they put colors together, it’s just inspirational. You always learn something from other people.”

Artist Retreat: Mission Accomplished

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Pat. That’s the reason we started the Fra Angelica Artist Retreat years ago, and the reason we expanded it this year to host our biggest event yet. We wanted to give artists the opportunity to work in a welcoming environment surrounded by like-minded artists. We wanted them to immerse themselves in art, but at the same time, get out of their comfort zones to socialize with other artists, get advice and opinions, share information and ideas.


Are you looking for a one-of-a-kind Cleveland shopping experience? Fra Angelica Studio proudly carries an extensive collection stunning art-to-wear from dozens of talented designers. If you're searching for a unique gift idea for someone special or bold and beautiful designs for yourself, stop on by to try some on, or have a look.