Hardware Store Owner Promotes Plan for Collective Art Studio in Downtown Bethesda

Hardware Store Owner Promotes Plan for Collective Art Studio in Downtown Bethesda

Space for up to 30 artists could be opened by summer

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Union Hardware Owner David Goldberg speaks at the store Tuesday afternoon.

Caitlynn Peetz

The owner of Bethesda’s century-old Union Hardware is eyeing the possibility of transforming the location into an art studio – at least temporarily.

After more than 100 years at its Wisconsin Avenue location, Union Hardware plans to merge this summer with nearby KONST SieMatic, a European kitchen design business, and owner David Goldberg said he intends to use the current space as a studio for up to 30 artists.

“All systems look good,” Goldberg said. “I’m having a real fun time with this.”

Modeled after the Torpedo Factory Art Center, in Alexandria, Virginia, the open-concept studios could be used by painters, sculptors, potters and other artists who would be charged a monthly fee of “a couple hundred bucks,” Goldberg said.

The idea will get a test-run over the next two weeks as Goldberg and artist Judy Gilbert Levey paint an image of the Empire State Building for an education center in New York.

Goldberg was commissioned for the painting after his last major work, he said, a recreation of Vincent van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” painting. Goldberg used 1,250 door knobs, levers, plates and odd materials from around his shop for his take on Dutch post-impressionist’s famous painting. The work garnered national attention about six years ago.

He and Gilbert Levey will paint on an 8-foot-by-7-foot canvas in the middle of Goldberg’s store, visible from the street through floor-to-ceiling windows. Studio users would have the same visibility.

Goldberg looks at easel
Goldberg looks at a large easel he constructed to paint a rendering of the Empire State Building.

“It just makes sense because it’s such a little commitment for artists to move in and out of, there’s visibility and nobody’s going to rent this whole, big space for just two years,” Goldberg said.

There’s about 6,000 square feet of space available in Goldberg’s shop at 7800 Wisconsin Ave., and the space would be available for about two years, until the two-story building is torn down to make way for a 22-story, mixed-use building. Then, Goldberg hopes the art studio could move to a different, permanent location.

If there’s enough interest, there’s additional space on the second floor that could be used, but Goldberg said the goal is to ensure the art is visible to people outside.

In 2002, downtown Bethesda was designated by the state of Maryland as an Arts & Entertainment District, allowing for the creation of the Bethesda Arts & Entertainment District Board, of which Goldberg is a member. The board “creates and implements arts and entertainment projects that contribute to the artistic, cultural and economic growth of downtown Bethesda,” according to its mission statement.

An arts-focused theme for the Union Hardware location is an idea Goldberg has been pondering for several years. In 2017, he launched a website promoting the idea, which at the time included a theater, park, dance and recording studios, dining, retail, offices and residences. The idea didn’t pan out, but Goldberg said he thinks a smaller-scale proposal, like the one he’s pitching now, could be more widely accepted.

“At least part of that idea will come together for a while,” Goldberg said.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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