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Gorse Mill hosts open studios 

By Lauren Schiavone
Hometown Weekly Staff

Gorse Mill Studios, a Needham artist co-op — and one of town’s hidden gems — opened its doors over the weekend of December 17 and 18 for its holiday open studios event. The event brought dozens of artists together to share their work and inspire the public.  

Artists and visitors celebrated art of all types, from drawings and encaustics to ceramics. Artists mingled with like-minded folks and put their work up for sale. Those in search of last-minute holiday gifts with sentimental value and personal flair were pleased to find a vast selection of unique pieces. Artists welcomed visitors into their individual studios and disseminated details of their work.

Sarah Whitlock, potter and staff member of the Gorse Mill Studios, joined artists at the lower-level space. Amidst colorful mugs and etched vases, she exclaimed, “I cannot tell you how many times people say ‘I’ve lived in Needham for years and didn’t know you were here!’ If you weren’t looking, you wouldn’t see us! We’re here and we bring people out to experience art and the variety of art that is made in this town. There are plenty of artists in the building who have their studios open.” Attendees browsed to their hearts’ content and found treasures beyond typical department stores. 

Downstairs in the pottery studio, Steve Branfman encouraged a young potter who had her first experience on the wheel. Greeting guests, Branfman is regarded as the master of pottery in town. Founder of the Gorse Mill Studios, he has a clear passion for clay art and pottery. “My work is all about surface — shape and surface.” Known for raku, a centuries-old Japanese technique of pottery that involves firing at a low temperature and rapid cooling, resulting in crackled effects and contrasting black unglazed clay, Branfman fondly remembered: “I did almost physically stumble into it. I was a graduate student at RISD and my studio was right next to the kiln room. I was working one day and all of a sudden, this commotion burst out of the kiln room — these students were followed by a cloud of smoke, and I asked ‘What is that?’ They said, ‘raku.’” Since that day, Branfman has written four books on raku and is constantly inspiring others to try new things — as are the other fifty artists at Gorse Mill Studios. 

Every individual studio at Gorse Mill has something different to present. At the open studios event, the fun lied in exploring them all.

Encaustic painter Hilary Hanson Bruel works with a mixture of beeswax, damar resin, and layered pigment to create eye-catching work once heat infuses the layers. Bruel’s latest paintings are based on binary palettes, the numbers and the codes behind color. Enjoying exploration, she elaborated: “You have to be open to the possibility. Be open to go in a direction you weren’t intending. I go with what the painting wants to be.”

Acrylic paintings, such as Barbara Johansen Newman’s “A Visit to the Delta Club Might Cheer You Up,” command the space with intense detail and curious expression. Each wiry hair is meticulously painted to reinforce the narrative of the subject. 

In contrast, Dina Troen-Krasnow’s vibrant mosaics express joy through color and reformation — she even has a community mosaic in progress to which visitors were prompted to make contributions. 

Illustrator, puppeteer, and children’s author John Lechner displayed a fun and wacky array of cartoons, puppets, and work-in-progress sketches, focusing mostly on frogs and nature.

The weekend event gave Needhamites a chance to explore the diverse art in progress in town — and gave the artists a very pleasant taste of the community around them.

Gorse Mill Studios offers studio space, classes, exhibits and more. For membership inquiries and more, visit online at

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