People visiting our business are very interested in how we went from a historic lumber and hardware business to a thriving art gallery with artist studios as well as an espresso bar and bake shop. The seed was planted a very long time ago when my husband Tom and I took a trip back East to visit relatives. I had not travelled much so it was an opportunity for us to be tourists. Because I was a recent college graduate in art many folks we saw said we just HAD to visit the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia. And so we did. And THAT is what started it all.
The Torpedo Factory was a naval munitions factory built in 1918 on the banks of the Potomac River in Alexandria. In 1974, the president of the local Art League, Marian Van Landingham, proposed a project to renovate the factory into art studio spaces. (Eventually becoming the Torpedo Factory Art Center it is now home to the largest number of publicly accessible working artist studios in the U.S. with over 82 artists’ studios, seven galleries and two workshop spaces. It has become home to 165 professional artists. As I walked through the Torpedo Factory all I could think about was how perfect our family’s historic lumber and hardware store would be if converted into a giant art space. That dream would have to be put on hold for twenty years.
We returned from our trip back East to start a family and to continue running the family business in our great old building. With the arrival of self-serve businesses it wasn’t long before that concept invaded our lumber and hardware business. People wanted quick access to hundreds, thousands of products that our small business could not possibly carry. Sadly, it was time to let the historic business go. With its closing, my dream of creating a unique art space in the heart of our downtown began to become a reality. I started visiting with my artist friends asking if they might be interested in having a studio space in our old building. It only took two weeks before I had all of our rental spaces filled. That was in September 1995. I finally had my very own ART studio and felt like I could now call myself a “real artist”.
In the beginning our studios were private work spaces. But after much pressure from the public to let them see what we were doing in that historic old building I decided it was time to go public.
My daughter, Tara, was working as a teller in a local downtown bank. When she learned she was expecting her first child she lamented that she would have to put her child in daycare if she wanted to continue working at the bank. I proposed a better solution.
I asked her to be my partner in my art adventure of turning the old building into an art gallery with open studio spaces where visitors could interact with the artists are they worked on their creations. Lucky for me, she said yes.
On November 19, 1999 we cut the ribbon for our new business, Artifacts Gallery. Our art gallery and studios have been a cornerstone of the historic downtown district. It has become a welcoming gathering place of various groups and individuals who seek a unique space to conduct business, meet a friend, visit with colleagues, of just have an enjoyable private moment with an espresso and a muffin. The public continues to thank us for creating such a space. The building has been given a new life for the next generations, all because of a visit to an old torpedo factory in Virginia.