LOOSE ENDS 5/15: Cranbury Station Gallery virtual classes ‘help keep it together’

Kathy Morolda, center, with Tony Parisi and Joan Williams, who both passed away from COVID-19 a few weeks ago.PHOTO COURTESY OF PAM HERSH
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Kathy Morolda, center, with Tony Parisi and Joan Williams, who both passed away from COVID-19 a few weeks ago.PHOTO COURTESY OF PAM HERSH

by Pam Hersh

The good news is that artist and business entrepreneur Kathy Morolda, the owner of Cranbury Station Gallery (CSG) in Princeton and Monroe, is working full-time virtually to save her business. The really good news is that by doing so, Kathy Morolda is saving the lives of her customers, not just figuratively, but perhaps literally. And I may be living proof of that.

At a CSG virtual paint party on the evening of May 8, I was one of 26 people who had registered for Kathy’s online class about how to paint a beautiful landscape called “Morning Serenity.” My head was stress-pounding, when I sat down for the virtual class. I had endured a particularly aggravating day that concluded with my stepping in dog poo during my supposedly meditative walk and then overflowing my sink when cleaning my shoes.

I Zoomed into Kathy’s cheerful but not too chirpy presentation. She was discussing how legitimate health studies have shown that the process of painting or drawing can greatly reduce stress and lower blood pressure by lowering the cortisol levels (the body’s main stress hormone) in the artist’s blood. By the end of the 90-minute session, I had a decent picture that could be mistaken for a Monet. But more impressive, I no longer gave a you-know-what about the you-know-what on my sneakers.

Kathy has operated her gallery business – comprehensive framing services and sales of some original art – for nearly four decades. Six years ago, she started doing in person paint parties for individuals, groups of people celebrating special occasions (including kids’ birthdays), corporate employees, non-profit donors, and residents of senior living facilities. Participants can bring food and wine to the in person or virtual event, but the main attraction is Kathy’s amazing talent as an artist and teacher.

Kathy has built up an army of Paint Party groupies who were devastated when COVID-19 brought an end to these painting sessions. These same people have followed her into the virtual world that has attracted several new fans. “I have been blessed over the years with extremely loyal customers,” Kathy said.

Acknowledging that she is much better with a paintbrush than she is with a computer keyboard, Kathy is enormously grateful for her son-in-law Garrett Shea and her son Nicholas Morolda who are tech experts. “They have done an amazing job figuring out the best way to do these virtual classes. Putting this together is an art form, as creative as painting a picture,” she said. For the in-person parties, Kathy used to supply all the materials – paints, brushes, canvas, the cost was covered by the registration fee. For the virtual parties, she has partnered with Lawrence-based art supply retailer Jerry’s Artarama that sells CSG paint party kits for pickup or delivery.

The painting and virtual classes have helped Kathy “keep it together” during this time of stress and sadness. She feels particularly sad in being forced to abandon her joyful volunteer activity of doing in-person paint parties for the residents of the Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park.

“The residents really loved and appreciated these sessions. Five members of my veterans home classes have died of COVID – two of them, Tony Parisi and Joan Williams, were the teacher’s pets. It broke my heart when I found out they died. They have been with me from the beginning (of the paint party enterprise). I don’t know if I will ever be allowed to host another party at the veterans home ever again,” she said.

Kathy also stresses over the fate of her employees. “I am hoping that everyone can come back, it makes me sick to think people don’t have jobs, they so depend on the income. I am anxious to open the stores, but will not do so, until Gov. [Phil] Murphy says it is OK. Once we have opened, I anticipate that our business will look very different. I may have to put even more effort into personalized services, do more pick up and delivery, more telephone conferences, maintain a vibrant website, and restrict people in the store(s). But I am committed and determined to make it work,” said Kathy.

She is equally committed to and passionate about sustaining and strengthening small local businesses. She rattled off the statistics supporting the buy-local rationale. For every 100 dollars spent in independently owned businesses, $68 goes back into the local economy (taxes, payroll and local expenditures). For every $100 spent at a big national chain, $43 local. If you buy online, zero comes home.

In addition to working to re-invent her own business, Kathy is working to promote a special Princeton buy-local initiative that could help save local businesses in town. Hamilton Jewelers has created a special COVID-safe fundraising event, known as the Princeton Community Auction, an online auction benefitting local businesses facing financial hardship because of COVID-19. Kathy talked as passionately about the auction as she talked about her paint parties. “Anyone can participate both by bidding and donating. The items collected so far are a fabulous array of artwork, jewelry, gift cards for meals and professional services. Everyone should check it out,” Kathy said. For more information, visit https://prince.cbo.io/

So the really, really good news is that Kathy is working to save not only her business, not only the lives of her paint party participants, but also all of her small business neighbors. Now, that’s a picture worth reproducing.

Cranbury Station Gallery’s next virtual paint parties are at 6 p.m. Friday, May 29, and Monday, June 1. To register, visit https://bit.ly/csg-paint-party  

CSG is located at 15 Hulfish St., Princeton; call 609-921-0434;
and at 93 Halsey Reed Road, Monroe; call 609-655-1193.