Daily Picture Show

Peek Inside The Copy Cat Building: Where Baltimore Artists Work — And Live

When inventor William Painter set up the Crown Cork and Seal Co. in a Baltimore building at the end of the 19th century, he might not have known that his little creative idea — the Crown Cork bottle cap — would became a worldwide standard for the beer and soda industries.

And doubtful he could have predicted what would become of the building. Stroll by it today and the people walking in and out of the massive establishment are keeping that spark of creativity alive — but in a very different way.

  • Dan Bradford, 53, apt. A 503: Bradford's space is filled with more than a dozen large paintings as the floor and walls are covered in paint splatters.
    Hide caption
    Dan Bradford, 53, apt. A 503: Bradford's space is filled with more than a dozen large paintings as the floor and walls are covered in paint splatters.
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski

  • Marija Drobnjak, 29 (left), Demanja Misic, 26 (center), Dusan Vuksanovic, 30 (right), apt. A 205: The three are immigrants from Europe — the newest tenants to the building.
    Hide caption
    Marija Drobnjak, 29 (left), Demanja Misic, 26 (center), Dusan Vuksanovic, 30 (right), apt. A 205: The three are immigrants from Europe — the newest tenants to the building.
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski

  • Alison Worman, 21, apt. B 203: Posing with her many arms, Worman is an interdisciplinary artist working in fibers and printmaking.
    Hide caption
    Alison Worman, 21, apt. B 203: Posing with her many arms, Worman is an interdisciplinary artist working in fibers and printmaking.
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski

  • Alice Dan-Ding, 20, apt. F 601: Sitting on the bed of her chaotic room, Dan-Ding is a student at the Maryland Institute College of Arts (MICA) studying sculpture.
    Hide caption
    Alice Dan-Ding, 20, apt. F 601: Sitting on the bed of her chaotic room, Dan-Ding is a student at the Maryland Institute College of Arts (MICA) studying sculpture.
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski

  • Ebbie Bonczek, 23, apt. B 302: Bonczek looks through vinyl records in his room, previously a recording studio. The B 302 loft frequently hosts loud experimental music shows and is commonly known as Str8 Cavin'.
    Hide caption
    Ebbie Bonczek, 23, apt. B 302: Bonczek looks through vinyl records in his room, previously a recording studio. The B 302 loft frequently hosts loud experimental music shows and is commonly known as Str8 Cavin'.
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski

  • David Conroy, 51, apt. C 201: One of the longest tenets of the Copy Cat building, Conroy creates unique jewelry pieces made from hardware. The C 201 room is a workspace with four full-time employees.
    Hide caption
    David Conroy, 51, apt. C 201: One of the longest tenets of the Copy Cat building, Conroy creates unique jewelry pieces made from hardware. The C 201 room is a workspace with four full-time employees.
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski

  • Warren Wolf, 62, apt. B 101: A retired social studies teacher, multi-instrumentalist, and founder of the Wolf Pack Jazz Ensemble. Live musical performances can be frequently heard from outside his door.
    Hide caption
    Warren Wolf, 62, apt. B 101: A retired social studies teacher, multi-instrumentalist, and founder of the Wolf Pack Jazz Ensemble. Live musical performances can be frequently heard from outside his door.
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski

  • Sigrid Lauren, 25, apt. B 302: Sitting in the brightly painted kitchen, Lauren is a performance artist and actor of theatre plays held within the Copy Cat building
    Hide caption
    Sigrid Lauren, 25, apt. B 302: Sitting in the brightly painted kitchen, Lauren is a performance artist and actor of theatre plays held within the Copy Cat building
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski

  • Jarred Fischer, 30, apt. B 301: Fischer is poet, journalist  and grant writer. Most of his furniture is found at the loading dock or left by the previous tenets; the painted triceratops canvas has now become decorative wallpaper
    Hide caption
    Jarred Fischer, 30, apt. B 301: Fischer is poet, journalist and grant writer. Most of his furniture is found at the loading dock or left by the previous tenets; the painted triceratops canvas has now become decorative wallpaper
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski

  • Wynnie Crews, 31, B 503: The flowers in the photo were collected from trash bins of a nearby city graveyard. Crews is a print designer and illustrator of large and colorful prints
    Hide caption
    Wynnie Crews, 31, B 503: The flowers in the photo were collected from trash bins of a nearby city graveyard. Crews is a print designer and illustrator of large and colorful prints
    Courtesy of Alex Wein and Rob Brulinski


1 of 10

View slideshow i

These days, it's known as the Copy Cat building. The name is a lingering legacy of Copy Cat printing, which also once operated there. And it is something of a landmark in the Baltimore arts community. The former factory is now rented as studio lofts and affordable living space for artists — "a centerpiece of the Charles North Arts and Entertainment district" (now the Station North Arts and Entertainment District), writes the Baltimore City Paper.

Residents are free to design their loft spaces as they choose. In any given room you might find a skate ramp, a band rehearsing, a photo studio, a sculpture in progress. But also beds and couches and fridges. For the past few decades, artists have hosted gallery openings and parties, played music and performed plays there, among other happenings.

"An amazing amount of bands that are very, very popular and are significant to cultural history have been through this building," says current resident Alex Wein. Dan Deacon, for example, is one musician who has come and gone through the halls and walls of metal, mismatched materials and shaky, old pipes.

But when Wein, a photographer, and Rob Brulinski set up their Wild Horses Studios in the Copy Cat last year, they felt as if the residents didn't know the full story of their living quarters.

"They understand that it's an industrial space, but I'm hesitant to say that they know why this building was built in the first place," Brulinski says.

(Actually, its existence as a commercial and residential building is a complicated story of urban renewal that involves the creation of arts districts, tax breaks and debates about gentrification. The Baltimore City Paper has that history.)

According to Wein, it also seems that residents don't know much about each other, either. "No one really knows how many people are living here at once," he says. The building is divided into sections, with only a few of the rooms occupied at once — and some of the residents, Wein says, are very reclusive.

He can say that there are at least 100 tenants. That's about how many he and Brulinski have photographed for an ongoing portrait project of Copy Cat residents in their quarters. They hope to compile the resulting photos in a book.

"We wanted the subjects to play a role," Wein says. "We wanted them to be themselves, but wanted them to be proud ... in their space."

Though only six months into the project, they say they have received numerous emails from artists who want to move into the Copy Cat — and even former residents who want to tell their stories.

"The art community that is here is amazing," Wein says. And he hopes readers of the eventual book will agree.

To get a better idea of the space, check out this virtual tour produced by Wein and Brulinski.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.