Pinch, Northampton

You see it before opening the door. The windows offer a glimpse into what is realized upon entering: Pinch is not a store, but a marvel of curation. A display of artistry and craft.

And so one walks into Pinch curious, with a desire to give every product, every creation, ample attention and equal care. Decorative birdhouses made from hardcover editions of literary classics crowd a shelf to the right, while turning to the left positions me before a fascinating assortment of earrings and necklaces. I continue to the back of the store, where I find shadowboxes displaying miniature, vibrantly-hued clay teacups and mugs, an amalgam of colors stunning the eye.

It’s all whimsical, charming, and despite such an array, it’s cohesive. Pinch strings together a clear narrative, one representative of the values essential to the western Massachusetts mentality. Northampton puts emphasis on the support of individual crafters, taking an interest in the varied talents and skill of those in the creative fields. And Pinch has it all on display.

Jena Sujat bought Pinch in 2006, and though she has since moved to Austin, her intention remains consistent with the Northampton aesthetic; she retains a perspective conscious of the town’s history, one that is steeped in its culture.

Jena establishes context, talking me through the transition between past and present: “Pinch was founded in 1979 by three potters. I wanted to work within that history and to continue what I thought it represented to the Pioneer Valley community, while also bringing in new work that was younger and more modern and appealing to me.”

Wanting further detail into the development of the principles guiding Jena’s work, I ask about a progression, wondering how experience and time has impacted Pinch today. “I think over the last 11 years I’ve matured and begun to appreciate a more modern aesthetic, and since moving to Texas, I’ve become influenced by the Southwest, and that has influenced my buying a little. But mostly, overall, the vision hasn’t changed.”

Jena’s experience in the Pioneer Valley reaches back to university. She received her MBA from the University of Massachusetts and worked as a buyer for Cedar Chest, a store serving as a trove of curiosities one reaches in crossing the Northampton main street. Studying math as an undergraduate, Jena acknowledges a twofold focus in her professional path, an analytic mind coupled with artistic sensibility allowing for variety in her approach. “I had always wanted to find a career that I loved. I realized that owning a shop might accomplish that.”

Jena speaks to the profusion of objects the store contains, noting the attention given to the composition of display every product receives. “I like to showcase a variety of what each person makes, so our customers can get a sense of the artist’s work.” It is, of course, a design with the purpose to sell, but such consideration given to the arrangement of an artist’s work holds an aesthetic effect in itself, creating the impression that these objects hold a story both alone and in tying themselves to others.

I ask about the sourcing of these products, and Jena mentions trade and craft shows. But then she speaks to the importance of travel, reaching out from the foundation set by Northampton and extending beyond this to the offerings of other cities, the contributions of other artists, other shops a variation on her own.

I gain a sense that Pinch is built on a philosophy that is at once deliberate and accepting of happenstance. It communicates an interaction of the found and the sought-after driving at its success. Jena tells me about this selection, giving a response underlining what I already believed to be true: “Sometimes I see an object and it’s like a light goes off in my head and I know people will love it at Pinch. Sometimes I see something I love but I don’t think will sell, so I guess it’s a mix of both, my intuition and experience being guiding forces in my work.” It is this flexibility and compliance with serendipity that allows for discovery, for the uncovering of art that can be recognized, considered. Loved.

I’ve learned of the evident for expansion and progress inherent in Jena’s work, but the conversation ends in her reflecting upon the advantages more abstract in measure: “After my first year owning the store, I received a Thank You note from one of the artists I had started buying from, and she thanked me for helping support her and her business. I realized that not only am I helping myself do something I love, but I’m helping dozens of others do the same. I also like having a happy staff and a happy environment to work in. Putting good vibes out into the world is part of all of this.”

There is sustainability in Jena’s work, the idea that Pinch will proceed in reshaping and redeveloping itself as focuses shift, as new work is brought to attention, and as people continue to create. Pinch provides documentation of this change, eager to receive and exhibit expression and interpretation concentrated in the physical. In art.

Isabelle EymanComment