It started as a bookshop. Janette needed me out of the house, and I had too many books. What better use of my time and talent than to putter around a small dusty shop putting things in categories? I had many positive role models - the man with the coral paperweight in 1984, my youngest brother's best friend's wife in Oregon, Ned Sparrow of Station North Books in Baltimore. Since the garage was on Nursery Lane, we would call it Nursery Lane Books. I even had an Advisory Board, each with a separate portfolio:
Before leaving for Finland, I wrote to five of the most likely sources of starter capital, inspired by our friends who bought an apartment in Pasadena on the strength of their early investment in The Cheesecake Factory. None of the five potential angels wrote back (not even my mother). I had an initial meeting with an architect, who burst into laughter when he realized that I was going to try to rezone my garage as a commercial establishment. Things were looking bleak.
Returning from Finland, I took the time to reconsider. There was a pandemic on, so there wasn't much else to do. My piano lessons were still done through Zoom (remember Zoom?), and I got bored of tracking how much less likely I was to die of COVID in Finland than in Ohio. The one thing I still had going for me was the address: Nursery Lane.
That wasn't the only thing the project had going for it. Realizing that I would never leave the house, Janette wanted a studio where she could escape the incessant presence of "shrimplings," her affectionate term for the daily parade of young pianists who made their way to the living room to be taught by Mr. Sebastian every day. My mother, possibly feeling guilty about never writing back to the request for angelic assistance, offered me the family piano. I checked with my brothers to see if they wanted it, and received replies ranging from "no" to "hell no." This was a 7-foot beast from Harrods, purchased in the early 1900s by my great-aunt Kitty, who needed something for her estate in Kent. Perhaps thinking it too ostentatious to buy a Bechstein, she bought a Bluthner. And it is absolutely lovely.
Of course, when it was moved from Leipzig to Kent to Cumnor to Cambridge to Columbus in October 2022, having stayed intact for two world wars and the invention of the transistor, the moving company promptly wrenched the pedals off. But that's another story.
With two pianos in the house, you inevitably start thinking about building a piano studio. And I had one already - starting with my godson Leon, I had carefully nurtured a group of children and adults through the stages of their musical growth, to the point that there were now over 40 students tromping in and out of the living room (after first taking their shoes off, as a stern notice advised at the front door). The idea of Nursery Lane Studios was born.
We had a logo and a dream - now it was time to build. Or it was time actually to spend 18 months being reviewed by the South Side Zoning Commission, the Columbus City Review Board, and the Merion Village Society. All of which had competing agendas (more garage spaces! no net loss of trees! multiple taps to city water!) and none of which was in any apparent hurry. We were well into the Omicron variant before the news came through that our design had been approved.
And then I left for Vietnam. It was 2022, and the studio was definitely going to be ready by August. In February, they demolished the old garage. When Janette joined me in Saigon in April, they dug the waterline. ("They" in this case refers to our neighbor Julie, who helpfully owns a building company.)
129 Nursery Lane: we even had an address! Things were looking up.
And all the time, we worried. About the person in the house next to us who now had a honking great garage blocking her view. About the people driving around in trucks shouting "free wood!" whenever they saw a new shipment of roof beams. Above all, about its freakish size. Neither Janette nor I have any ability to read a blueprint, and both of us have a distorted sense of space. I can measure time to the second without the use of a watch, but if you ask me how long it is to the corner store or how wide a desk is I will be wildly off. When we bought a lovely Edwardian Ladies Desk from an auction site in Alexandria, Virginia for Janette's upstairs studio we had no idea that it was about the size of a dog bed.
And now by failing to ask the architect the simple question "how high is this thing" we had built something that blocked out the sun.
There were other problems. The garage doors were on special order and wouldn't be ready until September. The electrician threatened to walk off the project if we didn't stop changing our mind about the kitchen sink. The snappy little HVAC units that I saw in Finland and Vietnam (well, everywhere except the US) were stuck in a shipping vortex. Both workers and materials were as rare as hen's teeth. But we weren't to worry: the studio would definitely be ready for Thanksgiving.
That didn't happen. Making a brilliant throw of the dice, Janette then set the tenth of December as the date for her studio opening:
Cards were sent and artists invited to present their wares. Like the prospect of hanging to Samuel Johnson, this concentrated the mind intensely, and for a week the site was a whirl of painters and carpenters and concrete pavers. On Monday we had a stair rail:
On Tuesday we admitted defeat and covered the floor in brown paper:
On Wednesday we had front doors:
On Thursday we had a bathroom:
By Friday night we had electricity:
And then it was Saturday, and we were ready. Janette had silkscreened the logo onto sweatshirts, aprons, and music bags. Janette's youngest sister Jessie brought a piece of slate with "Nursery Lane Studios" lasered onto it, which is our most prized possession.
(Jessie's husband Scott did the laser work, and all three sisters sold their work in the gallery, while grandma watched the dogs in the main house - the Jelen family is all in.) Over the four hours of the opening, we had 200-300 people come through the doors, and the seven artists sold a total of $7,500 of textiles and pottery and jewelry and garlic.
25 piano students participated in a scavenger hunt that earned them T-shirts with the Nursery Lane Studios logo on it. We saw people we hadn't seen since before the pandemic, the kind of people your eyes light up when you recognize them again. It was like a wedding. A piano parent introduced me to his wife, who happened to be the first student I had ever directed in an honors thesis ("The Image of Helen of Troy"). I told her gleefully that the other member of her thesis committee, Allan Silverman of the Philosophy Department, became my closest friend and that it was his grandson Leon who started the piano studio. So we had truly come full circle.
I've saved the best for last: we bought the domain name two years ago. So now there's a website for Janette's art studio upstairs and my piano studio downstairs. And if you look for "Nursery Lane Studios" on Google you will find this:
Click through and you will find the piano studio schedule, and a shop where all our swag can be purchased (including CD recordings of Bach, Debussy, Shostakovich, and Chopin). Currently we only take checks, but we're very much in development.
And that's exactly the point. Nursery Lane Studios is a place for the developing pianist, the developing artist, the developing mind. Not just for our students, of which I am sure there will be many, but for the two of us. We have found a place to live and work together. Only now Janette wants me out of the studio....