Artist Lofts:  Where talent has room to bloom
Written by Maura Judkis

High ceilings, light-filled rooms, bargain prices and like-minded neighbors would be attractive listing details for any apartment. But when it comes to special residences reserved for artists, these aren’t just lines in a Realtor’s advertisement — they’re critical elements of the creative process. There are four buildings in the Washington area with apartments or condos set aside for artists to work and live. Artists who score units in these subsidized, sought-after buildings consider themselves lucky, and some credit the spaces for fostering their success. “I really like to make big paintings,” said artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer, who lives in the 52 O Street Studios. “And if you’re going to make big paintings, you’re going to need a big space.”

WashPost_LMhammock.jpg

Painter Lisa Marie ThalhammerIn 2005, when Lisa Marie Thalhammer moved into this long-established residence for artists, “a third of the block was vacant. There were corner boys on the street at night. My partner once was held up by an 8-year-old at gunpoint,” she said. “I’d tell taxis where I [was] going. They’d say, ‘Are you sure?’ ”

Nearly 10 years later, the block is full of neighbors, and the building has a waiting list. The change inspired 33-year-old Thalhammer and her partner, DJ and interim Fringe Festival general manager Ebony Dumas, to upgrade their apartment. Youmans, who has an unusually liberal policy of allowing his renters to remodel, approved the work, which included demolishing a bedroom wall that had been covering a window. Now “when the sun rises, it just shines right into my bedroom at 8 a.m.” Thalhammer said. “I don’t even need an alarm. It’s really lovely.”

The neighborhood isn’t the only thing that’s different.

“The vibe of the building has changed a bit,” Thalhammer said. When she moved in there were more painters; now the tenants include textile designer Virginia Arrisueño of DeNada Design and the graphic designers of Typecase Industries.

“It’s wonderful that I can have an appointment with my printer, and I can just walk up one flight of stairs,” said Thalhammer, referring to designer/printers Furthermore.

Thalhammer’s 2,000-square-foot live-work space with 12-foot-high ceilings on the first floor is decorated in the main living space with art by her and friend Thom Flynn, and in the kitchen with prints from travels and artist friends.

She redecorates constantly. “It’s very rare for someone to visit me twice and have the space be the same,” she said.

A mannequin of former first lady Betty Ford given to her by a friend who works at the Smithsonian presides over Thalhammer’s bed, and an oversize crystal-shaped plaster sculpture, built for an exhibition at the Artisphere, where Thalhammer used to work, protrudes from a corner. A hammock is slung in her studio.

Maintaining a work-life balance can be difficult for some artists who combine their studio and living space, but not for Thalhammer. Her portraiture subjects include Dumas, Thalhammer’s mother, who lives in her home town of St. Louis, and, in a recent “Rainbow Warrior” series, herself.

“My work is … so integrated into my life, and vice versa, that it works for me,” Thalhammer said.

Read the entire Washington Post feature here.