From cause to clothing line

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoNancy Marlowe models clothing at the Elephant’s Trunk in Newburyport based on paintings of the Pink House, on Plum Island Turnpike, by artist Ron Emmerling, right.

NEWBURY — The Pink House on Plum Island Turnpike is a landmark that has inspired many residents to try to save the aging structure. Now, the mystique of the empty house on the salt marsh has led to a line of women’s clothing.

Claudia Harris, who runs the Elephant’s Trunk on Inn Street, recently began stocking women’s dresses and blouses illustrated by artwork that represents parts of the house.

A dressmaker in Montreal is producing the apparel, and Harris was happy to be able to stock the unique items.

The inspiration comes from the work of Ron Emmerling, a local artist who has produced portraits of the house.

The story goes that when a Canadian sales representative came into the Elephant’s Truck to show Harris some sample apparel based on creations of artists in Montreal, she suggested he look at Emmerling’s Pink House as a possible theme for new dresses.

The company is Le Galeriste, “the wearable art gallery,” and it decided to launch a “Pink House line.”

“The dressmaker did a great job,” Harris said. “The clothes are very smart. The scarves have already sold out, but we’ve reordered.”

Managers at Le Galeriste say the company’s mission is to help emerging artists focus on their art by bringing in revenue and increasing visibility through the sale of environmentally responsible clothes.

Emmerling is technically not an emerging artist, but on Thursday, he said he is pleased that his work now can be worn.

Emmerling, a graduate of Pratt Institute, was a successful industrial designer and founder of Emmerling Designs in Nyack, N.J.

Upon retirement in 2003, Emmerling devoted himself to photography, sculpture, paper collage, and pen and ink drawings. But in 2010, he had a stroke that paralyzed his right side, including the use of his dominant right hand and arm.

He now paints with his left hand, and much of his work is in acrylic.

“He’s very pleased that a painting is going to be on a line of clothing,” said Karla Emmerling, Ron’s wife.  “Claudia was great to seize the idea, order the clothes and now carry them.”

The Pink House is an abandoned structure on the south side of Plum Island Turnpike that many residents would like to save from destruction.

It is part of the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, and officials there say that they are against commercial use of the building, which was constructed in the 1920s.

Still, the idea of saving a fading wood structure appeals to many residents.

“We’re making process in finding solutions to a future use,” said Rochelle Joseph on Thursday. She is a key organizer in saving the building but declined to give details.

Producers of the dresses, running from sizes small to large, say the garments are dyed in-house with environmentally friendly water-based inks.

The manufacturer said that “fabric waste is kept to a bare minimum,” and “seamstresses are paid 20 to 50 percent above minimum wage.”

Harris, in business for more than four decades, said 10 percent of receipts will be earmarked for the group trying to save the Pink House. For more on the house:

Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport. He can be reached at 978-961-3149 or at

Recommended for you