The beginnings of SquarePeg by Brenda Factor, April 2021
SquarePeg was founded in 2011 and grew out of a desire to create a supportive co-working space for jewellers in Sydney. I had been thinking about setting up a place that brought together contemporary makers and was more than simply bench space and access to tools and equipment. I was influenced by a residency I had in 2006 at the JamFactory in Adelaide, and particularly by the Gray St workshop, which had been running for more than 30 years.
At the end of 2010 my partner, Sally Clarke, and I made a trip to New York and visited galleries and art space, many of which were located in fabulous old loft-style buildings, accessible by rickety old lifts.
So when on my return to Sydney, I got a call from an old friend to see if I might be interested in subletting studio space in an old warehouse in Newtown I went over immediately. Unfortunately, the space she had was too small for what I had in mind, but the building was fabulous. My friend then remembered another tenant was shortly moving out of a space on another floor and so we went down to meet George, who was in the rag trade. I was blown away by the space, 250 square metres with a double-height concrete ceiling and a bank of windows. An empty space that would be perfect for a jewellery studio, and large enough for jewellery classes as well. I was hooked and made up my mind on the spot to take the lease.
So that is how SquarePeg came about. The first step was to have a painting party one Sunday, and a wonderful group of friends worked really hard to get it looking a lot cleaner and whiter. Next, I organised a carpenter to make some jewellery benches and a soldering area. Soon other people heard what was happening and offered to help, including Sebastian Teracher who brought along Majella Beck who proved to be essential in setting up the technical side, and who became the first and longest-serving teacher at SquarePeg. A jewellery colleague and friend, Erin Keys was also on board and was instrumental in setting up the first iteration of the website. Many members of the Sydney jewellery community really embraced the idea of a new contemporary jewellery space, and people came along to check it out and amongst the first to take studio space included Erin, Sian Edwards, Linda Blair and Fiona Meller, and both Linda and Fiona continue to have studio spaces 10 years later.
Unfortunately, after nearly 3 years the owners of the wonderful and affordable Alice St warehouse finally got approval for the building to be demolished and apartments to be built. So the search began for new premises, so along with all the other tenants, everyone was trying to find a new space. I really didn’t want SquarePeg to come to an end after only 3 years so was determined to find a new space. After a fruitless few months, I saw a listing for a floor of a warehouse in Marrickville. I’d actually called the agents a couple of months before but I’d been told that ‘it wasn’t nice enough to be a jewellery studio’. This time however I insisted on seeing it and he was right, it was an absolute dump, however, it was a dump with a lot of potentials. It had been used to store barrels of beer imported from Eastern Europe and was filthy with exposed toilets and boarded up windows. Taking another leap of faith I once again signed a lease and SquarePeg moved to Junction St Marrickville, which was a huge undertaking, but fortunately, most of the tenants came too and helped turn the dump into a more habitable studio, and over the years lots of improvements have been made. It was such a large space that it was possible to section off a new contemporary gallery, so Sally Clarke and I set up AirSpace Projects next door to SquarePeg, and this expanded in 2014 into the basement and became a thriving Artist Run Initiative.
At the end of 2017, I sold the business to two of the resident jewellers, Kim Elliott and Emily Copp. Kim had been a tenant since 2012 and Emily had come as a recent graduate to the Graduate Residency Program 2015. Both were very committed to the continuation of SquarePeg as a place for all things jewellery, and the idea continues to grow from year to year, and I’m delighted to see how they’ve taken over SquarePeg and run with it to make it their own.