With the pitter-patter of raindrops providing a rhythmic backdrop, Gary Destramp was lost in his work.
The Lowell artist seemed to have the fifth floor of the city’s Western Avenue Studios to himself one recent Saturday morning. No idle chatter in the hallways, no whirring pottery wheels in adjacent spaces. Just the occasional pops and creaks that are commonplace in the nearly 120-year-old former home of the Massachusetts Mohair Plush Company.
“I think there are ghosts in here,” said Destramp with a laugh in between brush strokes on his latest piece, a portrait of the former Kirk’s store in Manchester, New Hampshire.
He appeared to be only half-joking.
Destramp, who grew up in the city’s Acre section, a short walk away from his studio, is one of nearly 300 artists in the complex. It wasn’t always such a bustling hub, however.
“It was dirty and smelly, and cardboard boxes were all over the place,” developer Karl Frey said of his first look at the mill building perched between railroad tracks and the Pawtucket Canal. “It took some time to convince the artists that this would be a great place with a lot of potential.”
It became an even more appealing community when the adjoining Western Avenue Lofts, which offers artists-only housing, opened in 2012.
“It’s a great advantage having your living space right next to your studio space,” said Elizabeth Alexander, a sculptor who lives at the Lofts with her fiance, a musician who has a recording studio in the space. “I put in a lot of long hours in the studio but if I need to I can throw in a load of laundry and then get right back to work.”
Destramp, a graphic designer at the Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, has been drawn to art for as long as he can recall.
“I remember seeing painters on shows like Captain Kangaroo and being mesmerized,” said Destramp, who uses water colors in producing replicas of buildings and other landmarks, like the famous Citgo sign in Boston’s Kenmore Square, the Palace Theatre in Manchester and even his alma mater, the former St. Joseph High School.
Destramp, who attended the New England School of Art and Design in Boston, said it takes about a week to complete a project, many of which are private homes and small businesses for which he’s been commissioned.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “I started out doing mostly Lowell landmarks, including some of the great diners, but now I’m doing places in Boston and Manchester. It’s really taken on a life of it’s own.”
To view more of Destramp’s work, visit www.garydestramp.com.