The Art of the COVID-19 Pivot


Raychel Wengenroth
Hudson Valley Silverworks

Hudson Valley Silverworks

Raychel Wengenroth

Richard Wengenroth

Maybe the pandemic came at a good time for me. I needed some time off and it was really therapeutic to create my own work.

Raychel Wengenroth Creates “corona therapy” Body of Work

“Maybe the pandemic came at a good time for me,” says Raychel Wengenroth, owner of Hudson Valley Silverworks. “I needed some time off and it was really therapeutic to [create my own work].” Like many in March 2020, Wengenroth thought business shutdowns would last a couple of weeks, but soon she got a (frustrating) new full-time job: Applying for funding to keep herself afloat and figuring out how to safely re-open her studio to returning students.

Support from Kingston Local Development, Community Capital of New York and some Unemployment Compensation helped her survive for six months without income and once re-opening her teaching studio became possible, to institute policies and procedures for students’ safety. “I feel very fortunate,” she says, “and now people are starting to come back to classes.”

“When COVID-19 hit, I was really rolling and it was so disappointing. I had a new enameling teacher and we had really expanded [our offerings] with new topics. I wasn’t interested in online teaching. Now that students are returning, it’s easier to stay as a one-person operation for now to teach weekly classes and weekend workshops. I’m so proud of every one: We’re taking all the precautions and everyone wears masks at all times.”

Her newly arranged studio includes the following important changes:

– Hepa/UV Air Filtration Units
– Plastic Surrounds on all Benches
– Camcorder/Big screen TV for demos
– Wall-mounted Touch-less Hand Sanitizers
– PPE (masks, wipes, gloves)
– 99.9% Disinfectant Spray
– UV Sanitizing Oven for small hand tools
– UV Sanitizing Wand for large equipment
– Wipes at all stations
– Contactless Temperature Check before entering
– Contact Tracing Log

Registration is open for five-week classes and weekend workshops in April, May and June and, as has been true since Hudson Valley Silverworks’ inception in 2016, three-tiers of offerings start at the basic level. Classes build upon each other as pre-requisites and cover a variety of skills and techniques. Wengenroth also offers Independent Study for advanced students.

For the past six years, Wengenroth’s bench time has been devoted to teaching, creating works on commission, making pieces to sell, and other work that wasn’t “purely expressive. When COVID shut the world down, part of me was glad. What a gift to work on my own and do my own work,” she admits. “I am so driven about the school and teaching, I thought, ‘maybe I can’t do my own work anymore’ and unfinished pieces were piling up. At first, I tried to finish those old pieces but found I didn’t have interest in them anymore.”

During the pandemic, Wengenroth began a new series and created nine pieces of work suspended inside shadow boxes. Each piece moves 360 degrees, vertically and horizontally, and all offer heartfelt tribute to her mother, Lou, who died in November 2019. “Each piece is 5×7, and they can be arranged in any way, one straight row, a square, and so on. Sometimes they even can look like a Zoom meeting, but they’re all moving, representing our constantly changing environment and need to adapt. Normally my work is more refined but these express a part of me trying to bust out.”

Lou Wengenroth was a talented dancer and dance instructor who studied with such renowned dancers as Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and others, and along with her husband, Richard, created an arts apprenticeship program. Together, they were immersed in arts education and the New York art world for decades. “Mom and Dad had been married for 68 years and his grief was over the top. I had also been his sole caretaker after Mom died and the stress on me was off the charts. Dad is an amazing artist and he has created a beautiful memorial book about my mother. Like me, he doesn’t mind spending time at home, working, and the pandemic allowed me to be there for him. It was a blessing in disguise.”

Raychel Wengenroth was among the first artists MAD interviewed. What she had to say then about opening Hudson Valley Silverworks in 2016 and the roots of her creative approach to making jewelry add perspective to her most recent “corona therapy” body of work inspired by her mother’s love of dance: “Making jewelry is so sedentary and intense, and I’m trying to emulate dance and movement, the fluidity of it, the gestural qualities of movement when making pieces.” Read her April 2017 interview here.