YoHo Artist Community
The YoHo Artist Community works out of two of the former Alexander Smith Carpet Mills Historic District buildings, located at 540 and 578 Nepperhan Avenue in Yonkers, New York. This population of artists and crafters has grown to more than 60 working artists since 2005.
History of The Alexander Smith and Sons Carpet Company Mills
The buildings were originally developed during the turn-of-the-century and housed the Alexander Smith and Sons Carpet Company, as well as numerous ancillary plants. The entire complex consisted of 38 acres with more than 40 buildings contributing. Thousands of workers filed in each workday, some manufacturing Moquette and tapestry power looms and others using these looms to weave their share of some 50,000 yards of carpet daily. At the peak of production the facility was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world, employed more than 7,000 people, and required wool from 15,000 sheep each day. Alexander Smith and Sons was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world for much of the 83 years the company was in operation here in Yonkers. During the Great Depression, it was agreed that employees’ hours would be cut, but jobs were not. The company was constantly improving their looms and increasing output.
The carpet mill maintained a good reputation and solid success until the end of World War II, when, after a number of employee strikes, the city’s largest employer relocated to Greenville, Mississippi, where workers were not unionized. In the mid-1950s the Yonkers plant shut down entirely, leaving a massive complex vacant and an estimated 5,000 workers without jobs. Many of the carpet mill’s employees had put 40 or more years of their life into this company. The stronghold along Nepperhan Avenue and the Saw Mill River, and within the Yonkers community, was suddenly empty.
Beginning of the YoHo Artist Community
With the deindustrialization of cities like Yonkers came the abandonment and deterioration of these massive buildings as communities develop an alternative economic purpose for their vacant properties. In this case, most of the 40-building complex stood empty for nearly 20 years until developers and smaller manufacturers began securing them for various uses. The two loft buildings that house the YoHo community were purchased in 1978 by Mr. Allan Eisenkraft of Yonkers Industrial Development Corporation, who spent a total of about $4.5 million in conversion renovations. The buildings were then rented out to small businesses, mainly for manufacturing or creative industrial uses. The lower floors still operate in this manner today.
In 1986, when looking for artist loft space at the height of the real estate market boom, Debra Sherwood, a sculptor relocating from Seattle to the New York City area explored different options for artist work space. Industrial building floors for rent were advertised by Yonkers Industrial Development Corporation. After contacting the realtor to obtain rental information about the building, Ms. Sherwood agreed to lease the fifth floor of the building. She used the space for her studio and sublet other portions of the space to fellow artists. She named the space YoHo Studios, for "Yonkers above Houston". YoHo studios had four lively open studio events before 1991. At the time artists were a rarity in the area and YoHo was featured in several Westchester County journals as well as two articles in the New York Times.
As artists sought larger spaces that they could afford, they were attracted to areas like Yonkers, which are within commuting distance to the traditional arts centers in SoHo and Chelsea, Manhattan. More artists and crafters began sparsely occupying Alexander Smith and Sons Carpet Company Mills, as well as other aging buildings in Yonkers, in the early 1990s.
YoHo’s members and their work
Among the artists that rent or have rented space at YoHo include producers of murals, collages, sculptures, mixed media, and portraits. While the population is made up of primarily visual artists and specifically painters, there has also been a sculptor utilizing expired medical products, a tattoo artist, and a former member of the Orange County Choppers, a creator of custom motorcycle graphics.
During scheduled “Open Studio” events, members allow the community access to their private studios to view the creative process and environments in which the artists work. The Great Hall on the fifth floor is a gallery-like space where artwork is displayed and members gather. Common areas like this one, as well as the private studios, utilize the building’s 14–16 foot ceilings and factory-style windows.
The community has earned recognition by New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who deemed April 18, 2009 “YoHo Artist Studios Day”. The Mayor of the City of Yonkers, Phil Amicone, issued a Proclamation recognizing YoHo’s role in the growing artist community by dedicating a day to the community as well.
The YoHo community has expanded since the property’s most recent acquisition in 2005. In the beginning of 2011 the owners started incorporating 25 new spaces that would occupy a fourth floor wing. These new studios sought to add to the original 50+ studios that were already occupied at 540 and 578 Nepperhan Avenue – by this time known to be Southern Westchester’s largest artist community.
- Golden, John (April 4, 2001). “In Yonkers, More Room for the Creative.” Westchester County Business Journal, p. 30.
- Leitner, Joel (April 2005). “Nepperhan Business Center and Nepperhan Plaza, An Industrial, Office, and Retail Complex, Yonkers, New York.” Appraisal File 6038. p. 3.
- Beard, Rick and Peter Zopes. In the Mill. Yonkers, New York. The Hudson River Museum. 1983. pp. 1-8.
- “Alexander, Carpet Mills Historic District.” The National Register of Historic Places website National Park Service National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 2011-11-01.
- New York Times, August 26, 1990 "In Big Factory, Small Businesses Prosper"
- Rendon, Jim (September 12, 2004). “Moving Out, Seeking the New SoHo” The New York Times, Sec. 11, p. 1.
- Jane, Amanda (April 29, 2010). “Art Blooms in Yonkers – A Review of the 7th Annual YoHo Artist Open Studio Weekend, April 17–18.” The Westchester Guardian, p. 14.
- ”YoHo Artists to Hold Open Studio April 17+18 (April 9, 2010).” Yonkers Rising, p. 11.
- Fallon, Bill (March 3, 2008). “Industrial Arts: Carpet Mills Become Studio Central.” Westchester County Business Journal, p. 49.
- Stewart-Cousins, Andrea (August 18, 2008). “Proclamation in Recognition of YOHO Artist Studios.” The Senate of the State of New York.
- Amicone, Philip A. (August 16, 2009). “City of Yonkers Proclamation.” Office of the Mayor.