StuStuStudio: That Little Collective Art Gallery with the Name that Makes You Sing
Written by: Nicole Curcio
If you’ve walked down Alberta Street in the past 10 years, you may have noticed a tiny storefront tucked into the Alberta Arts Building. StuStuStudio, a name that inspires passers by to break into song (Phil Collins’ “Sussudio”) and it’s owner, Allie Syes, are a testament to the tenacity of the Portland creative scene.
Allie B, as she’s known for her collections of non-traditional jewelry, grew up in Boston but relocated to Portland in 2005 to study metalsmithing at Oregon College of Art and Craft (OCAC). After graduating in 2009, she needed a studio space to work her metalsmithing magic and StuStuStudio was born. It’s evolved quite a bit over the years and today Allie has her own home studio and the shop has become a full retail space, representing the work of more than 20 local artists.
I caught up with Allie to chat about her creative inspiration, and her experience keeping StuStuStudio relevant in an ever-changing Portland.
How did you become interested in metalsmithing?
In high school I worked at a gift shop in Andover, MA, that featured a wide variety of American craft artists. It was their collection of funky, non-traditional jewelry that really caught my eye; I’d never seen anything like it before. I found myself thinking, “could I do this someday”?
Of course, it took a few years for me to find my way into making my own jewelry. I had already registered to study Textile Design and Fashion Merchandising at Eastern Carolina University in North Carolina. The program was so embedded in the fashion industry, that after one semester, I was confident that this was not for me. I was still interested in textiles, so I went back to New England and tried designing fabric, but it just never clicked for me.
I took time off from school and moved to Philadelphia, where both of my parents were taking art classes at the local community center. They encouraged me to do the same and I finally signed up for a jewelry making class; I was hooked! The process truly resonated with me, and I began to see a way forward to a career in the arts. I stayed in Pennsylvania to get my Associates degree in business before moving to Portland to pursue my degree in metalsmithing at OCAC.
When you finished school, did you know you wanted to open a shop right away?
I certainly never set out to own a store or represent other artists. That happened more organically. Unlike other art forms, metal work isn’t really conducive to apartment living, so what I was looking for was a studio I could work in. That’s when I found the Alberta Arts Building. Initially, I shared the space with two other jewelers and it was predominantly a working studio space. Gradually, we began to display a few pieces in the window and soon people were popping in to see what we were doing. We started leaving the door open to share the process and unique items we were creating. The evolution from metal shop to retail space was slow, but as my studio mates moved on, I displayed groupings of their work in the front, while I continued to work in the back.
Was there a specific artist that was the catalyst for your love of hand-craft?
Yes! In college I discovered William Morris. It was his concept of creating designs that bring the outside in. He valued handcrafting his textiles and wallpapers, despite the industrial revolution. I believe that using products created with intention, enriches our daily experience; it puts more consciousness into our daily rituals.
When I think about my values and what really excites me as an artist, I have always been fascinated by the skill and talent it takes to create items by hand, especially in an era that mass produces disposable goods. I think it’s more important than ever to appreciate and honor the time and dedication of those who have committed themselves to creating everyday items by hand.
2019 has been a challenging year for you. Can you tell us a little about this last year, and what keeps you coming back to StuStuStudio?
In November 2018, I welcomed my second baby boy, Eli, to the family. Being a new mom of two, while running a business and making jewelry is a tough juggling act! My husband was also sick with what we later learned was a terminal illness. He passed in July, so as you can imagine, my priority was being with my family last summer. I’m slowly settling into this new routine.
Knowing that there are 25 local artists counting on me to share their work with faithful neighborhood patrons and the tourists that frequent the Alberta Arts District; that I still have a place to promote locally made goods (not just locally owned), is what keeps me coming back. I’ve got a great community of friends and artists volunteering to help with the transition, and keep the doors to StuStuStudio open. That community keeps me going and looking for ways I can best serve our creative community.
You’re closing out 2019 by celebrating your ten year anniversary at Stu, do you have changes planned as you embark on year number eleven?
I think the future of Stu will be dependant upon our connection with Portland’s creative community. I want this to be a place to acquire and appreciate our local makers. I’m dedicated to educating others about the time, and skill that goes into handcrafting items with intention. I’m hoping to take that to the next level in 2020 by offering workshops that will not only teach new skills, but also bring people together. I want to help deepen a sense of community for makers, regardless of whether they’re just starting out, or very established.
I feel so lucky to live someplace where those values are more widely accepted. It’s helping people see that “art” can go beyond a painting on the wall, or a piece of pottery, but art is anything made by hand, with purpose. I hope to keep working to spread that message for another ten years . . . or more.
Featured Artists at Stustustudio!
- Ray Massini @ray_massini
- James Violette @jamesviolette
- Wil Labelle @wlabellepottery
- Nicole M Curcio @nicole_m_curcio
- Allie Bentley-Syes @alliebstudios
- Shelly Durica-Laiche IG @indio.metal.arts
- Olander Earthworks/Andrew Lonnquist @olanderearthworks