Otto’s Abode seeks to encourage, examine, and celebrate collaboration and exchange with, within, and without a public home for art.
Otto’s Abode is?
Housed within a former grocery store in the hamlet of Wanakena, NY, nestled in the knobby north-west foothills of the Adirondacks, Otto’s Abode is a store/visitors center/performance + exhibition space its four creators view as a collaborative public art project. The aim of the project is to cultivate an environment that showcases positive and enlightening experiences; where the professional and the amateur, the performer and the spectator, can entertain, puzzle and inform, grab a snack, a map, and a bag of ice, and be informed, entertained, and puzzled.
The perpetual stew of formal, subtle, informal, and obvious intervention intends to facilitate an active sense of wandering, discovery and necessity while passing through and with this ever-changing venue; a digestion. Otto's Abode seeks to understand wellness through an examined life. Otto’s Abode seeks ideas. Otto’s Abode seeks sounds. Otto’s Abode seeks obsessions. Otto’s Abode seeks what it might not realize it will uncover through this search.
What others have to say:
"It's like an old train station - or, something." anonymous
photo by Mike Lynch
A Welcoming Wildland Outpost: Otto’s Abode Is Wanakena’s Artsy, Woodsy Gathering Spot
By W.T. Eckert - March 17, 2020
Traversing the densely forested and winding portions of Route 3 in the northwestern Adirondacks can be beautiful and isolating in the winter months.
Seasonal stores and resorts are closed for business, miles pass without human contact. Cellphone service is nonexistent.
You are off the grid.
But between Cranberry Lake and Star Lake, just off St. Lawrence County Route 61, in the hamlet of Wanakena, Otto’s Abode aims to be not just a beacon of light during the desolate months, but one in a series of “Stations without a Signal,” according to owner Nolan Fedorow.
Rustic and modern, historic and contemporary, Otto’s Abode is both a gallery and a general store where you will find abstract and functional art while happening upon an in-house concerts while buying things like soap, snacks, maps, eclectic music or handmade walking sticks.
The place is named after J. Otto Hamele, who came to Wanakena in 1901 to work as a millwright for the Rich Lumber Company and later helped to secure the land used to establish the state’s Ranger School nearby.
To compartmentalize Otto’s Abode under one category is impossible, Federow said, after describing the complex makeup of what the store started as, what it has become, and where it may be headed. “Stations Without a Signal,” his new project, is what he said Otto’s Abode is all about.
“We aspire to be a radio station, but the way I like to think of it is, we’re just live, now, here,” Fedorow said. “Instead of turning on the radio, you’re here, now. So we’re a station without a signal.”
He said the project fits with the longstanding tradition of people coming into the former Wanakena General Store, whether that be locals getting coffee and the latest news in the community after picking up mail at the post office next door, or hikers heading out, pit-stopping or completing the 50-mile hike around Cranberry Lake.
Fedorow said he wants to travel the Adirondacks to create a database of similarly situated local shops and stops.
“It’s much more than just a public bathroom and a store,” Fedorow said of Otto’s Abode. “People come in and need directions. We’re a lost and found. You got people just popping in to see what is going on.
“I have people from all over the world that come back 50 years later,” he said. “I have people that sit here and tell me amazing stories of the woods from their childhood and just blow my mind for two hours and then I never see them again."
Fedorow and his wife Hanna, both 33, took over the old Wanakena General Store space four years ago in February, when the previous owners were giving it up. He said his goal was to put his Master of Fine Arts degree to work turning the space—a general store since Wanakena was established the early 1900s—into a white-wall gallery and concession stand.
He said his in-laws, David R. and Susan J. Ziemba, who both previously operated the store and own the building that houses it and a neighboring post office, encouraged the idea.
“Actually he is doing the same thing I was doing but with a different spin,” David Ziemba said. “He’s keeping the space open and alive. It’s handy with the post office being right there in the same building.
“And the reason we started doing music is the same thing, basically I wanted people to come in and look. They wouldn’t come in and buy a lot of stuff, but they would come in and we would have shindigs . . . whenever we could, it was just to get people together and that is what we wanted to do.”
Ziemba is a regular fixture in the store, like year-round Wanakena residents Wayne Allen and 85-year-old Robert T. “Red” Northrup.
Allen has been in Wanakena since 1978 after getting out of the Army and attending the Ranger School, where he continued his career as a 15-year forest properties technician and then teacher.
“It gives us all a place to come and sit and talk, which I have always done with all of the store owners,” Allen said.
Originally from Ogdensburg, Northrup said he remembers the store from its previous existence, across the road.
And while the locations have changed, the camaraderie has remained the same.
“It’s been quite a long while, the friendship here,” he said. “We don’t seem to lose that. Of course, they keep up on what is going on. When things change, you heard it here. We like it and we like the changes they made here.”
Fedorow found Otto’s Abode to be more like a work of art than a store, one that continues to evolve through many facets, including through the inspiration of the community.
“I took a white-wall gallery and put it in a general store,” he said, “and the general store slowly kicked the white-wall gallery out of here, but keeping all the important stuff, which is art, humor, technique, and keeping all that without the sterile, white-wall feel,” Fedorow said.
“So it’s through art there are opportunities to celebrate a shelf with cans on it as a masterpiece and you don’t even have to talk about it, but there are these deeper ways to examine what to do with your space and what to do with your time.”
He takes inspiration from the wilderness around him and correlates that into running Otto’s Abode, to create new ways of seeing his surroundings: turning maps of the area into art, or curating and creating installments Iike “Stations Without a Signal” and “Gateway to Wilderness,” where he invites other artists—painters, writers, performance artists—to stay in a cottage while creating Adirondack works that are displayed throughout Otto’s Abode.
He doesn’t advertise much, he said, because people find the place on their own and he enjoys their reactions.
“I like to keep it kind of under the radar,” he said. “I don’t put a lot of pictures online because I want people to come in and be like, ‘Whoa, this isn’t what I imagined.’”
Otto's Abode: Reimagining a General Store in Wanakena
By Lauren Yates - May/June 2019
OTTO'S ABODE TO REPURPOSE GENERAL STORE
BY SUSAN MENDE - WATERTOWN DAILY TIMES - OCTOBER 13th, 2015
WANAKENA — Plans are in the works to convert the Wanakena General Store into Otto’s Abode, a community gathering spot furnished with couches that will also include an art studio. After operating in this small hamlet for more than 100 years in two different locations, the general store shut down Sunday. For the past 5½ years, the store had been run by Rick Kovacs and his wife, Angie Oliver. It was previously operated by David R. and Susan J. Ziemba, who own the building and reside above the store at 6 Hamele St. This spring, the Ziembas’s daughter, Hannah R., and her boyfriend, Nolan J. Fedorow, plan to open Otto’s Abode. They will be renovating the space over the winter months. Ms. Ziemba said the name was chosen to recognize the late J. Otto Hamele, a community leader in the early 1900s who was instrumental in securing land for the Wanakena Ranger School after the Rich Lumber Co. closed in 1910. “He kept the community alive,” Ms. Ziemba said. Plans for Otto’s Abode are still being worked out, but the idea is to provide a creative space for artists, live music performances, demonstrations, yoga classes or other activities. The Adirondack community has a large influx of seasonal residents in the warmer months, but Ms. Ziemba said it’s difficult to generate enough business to keep a general store running all year. “It may not be as realistic to have a store with general goods that’s so reliant on summer population,” she said. Now that the Wanakena store is closed, the nearest place for residents to purchase groceries is about seven miles away in Star Lake, which has an IGA and a Nice N Easy. Ms. Ziemba said a small studio will be created in one section of the 1,300-square-foot space. The larger space will have couches and other furniture and books will be available to borrow. Some type of refreshments will be sold. Visitors will also be able to purchase ice, maps, hiking reference materials, T-shirts, mugs and other souvenirs. Plans for Otto’s Abode will also depend on feedback and interest from community members. “It’s a blank canvas for anything people need,” Ms. Ziemba said. “We’ll be able to adapt and evolve to what’s needed.” Ms. Ziemba is a massage therapist, but plans to offer that service at a different location. Mr. Fedorow has a degree in fine arts. Christopher L. Westbrook, president of the Clifton-Fine Economic Development Corp., said he’s encouraged that the former store won’t remain vacant. “There are people who are very sad about the store closing,” Mr. Westbrook said, “but I’m thrilled that we have young people coming in who have energy and enthusiasm to do something different.” Ms. Ziemba can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.