Daddy's Christmas Angel

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Mixed Emotions and the Changing of an Era

On Friday evening, when I walked between walls of art on the second floor of Petersburg Regional Art Center, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. Strange to feel it there, since none of the art was mine and I had never actually shown work on that floor.

My journey with the Art Center began in the mid-1990s in Richmond with Shockoe Bottom Art Center. For a while, I shared a space there with Wayne Chambers who moved a few years ago to Savannah, Georgia where he now shows his watercolors.

Sycamore Street Entrance
Old Buttterworth Building housed PRAC (PRAC Web Site photo)
I was inspired by the energy and enthusiasm of artist Deanna Thomas and her son Rusty Davis. They started SBAC and patterned it after the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia. In 2003, SBAC closed to be turned into condos, and my husband and I spent many hot summer days moving paintings and display items from Richmond to the new space in Petersburg. While SBAC was located in an old tobacco warehouse, PRAC was in a big brick building constructed in 1858 that had housed the Butterworth furniture store. Strange to realize that building stood when the terrible Civil War carnage struck Petersburg.

When the Center opened in July 2003, we had such hope for its future. Artists in Petersburg were excited. Those artists who moved from SBAC were excited. I almost immediately began a series of paintings called, "Very Petersburg".
While working on “Very Petersburg”, I learned about the amazing history of a small southern city torn by the ravages of the Civil War. Some of the art in this series of paintings focused on Old Blandford Church and the cemetery where 30,000 Confederate soldiers are buried. I was interviewed by the Petersburg Progress Index, the daily newspaper, and a story ran about me and my exhibition. Things looked bright, and large crowds turned out each month for the juried show and the open house.

Then the health of both Rusty and his mother began to fail. In 2006, I have a memory of Rusty hauling my 7-foot long acrylic painting of the Grand Canyon up the long flights of stairs to the third floor because the painting wouldn't fit in the elevator. I didn't realize that would be the last time I saw him. His sister Donna Jacobs and her daughter Angie Thornton Long took over the difficult job of running the Center. Neither of them is an artist, but they made up for that lack with their enthusiasm. Angie actually grew up with the artists. She was a young child of about six when her mother and grandmother began bringing her with them to SBAC.

The plan for the renovation of the old Butterworth building is to turn it into 75 upgraded studios and 45 apartments. The project is expected to take a year to complete. In the meantime, I probably will not be in Petersburg.

Friday night was sad. Then Saturday, I got up early to head to Williamsburg for a four-hour long book signing at the William and Mary Barnes and Noble. By the end of the day, I was exhausted from the two events. Emotions, changes, stress--the weekend had them all. Now, like a line in the sand, I will cross over into a new realm of art.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I know you've been dreading that day. Time for a new chapter in life though.

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Yes, Alex, crossing over the line!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

That old building looks like it has so much character. Will you get to move back in once renovations are done?

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Diane, that's supposed to be the plan. We'll see what happens. Old buildings with lots of square footage make great artist studios! Thanks for visiting.

Tara Tyler said...

emotional events! change is hard sometimes, even if its for the best...
thank you for sharing this, a way to keep it alive!

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Thank you, Tara, for your visit and your comment. Yes, change is hard, and, yes, it is often for the best.