Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, July 28, 2014

Transforming an Art Center in Historic Petersburg, Virginia

"Old Towne Petersburg" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Last week, my husband and I visited the construction site of the Ward Center for Contemporary Art in Petersburg VA. We were there the same day the filming of "Ithaca" began nearby in Old Towne. False store fronts were installed to create the set of the movie that is based on the novel, The Human Comedy, published in 1943 by William Saroyan. Meg Ryan is directing the film, scheduled for release in 2015. It was Ryan's performance in the movie "Sleepless in Seattle" that inspired me to write my novel Daddy's Christmas Angel.

Old Towne Petersburg is now a popular setting for movies. During the filming of "Lincoln," Steven Spielberg, the director, was often seen in the downtown just as Ryan is now.

Mary Montague Sikes' Basement Studio at PRAC
All the production activity in the historic district of the old city, reminds me of why I liked Petersburg so much when the Petersburg Regional Art Center first opened 11 years ago. I had a studio gallery in the basement of PRAC for all of the 10 years it was open. That space in the renovation is now the center of a new configuration of studios. The day we visited, dust was flying as dry walls were hammered in place. The same old pressed metal ceilings remained overhead, and I wondered if the new paint would flake from them as it did when my studio was there. I loved the space that we painted white with black walls in the back. I chose a glass door that gave a more open look to the display.

Over the years, I discovered that visitors seldom made their way down to the basement. Perhaps new signage and offices in the front of the big open main gallery will encourage traffic flow to the lower level in the Ward Center.

For many years, the Butterworth building, constructed in 1848, was home to a large furniture business. Furniture store remnants remained long after it opened as PRAC in 2003. The old wooden floor will be refinished as part of the renovation of the large gallery space. New lights will hang from the ceiling and more studio spaces will flank the back of the first floor. In all, there will be 57 artist studios. Above it all, the Butterworth Flats will provide one and two-bedroom modern living spaces.

Jessie Boyland is the director of  the Ward Center for Contemporary Art that is set to open in Fall 2014. She is now
Jessie Boyland ©Mary Montague Sikes
accepting reservations for the new artist studios and wall spaces. Her temporary office is located at 133 B North Sycamore St. across from the Butterworth building.

The opening of a new Art Center in Petersburg with improved studio and gallery facilities is an exciting time for artists. In 2003, PRAC offered promise and hope for a village of artists. Perhaps in 2014, those hopes and dreams will be fulfilled.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Bet it will look awesome when finished.
Cool that they are filming a movie there. Although getting anywhere near Ryan is probably impossible.

Mary Montague Sikes said...

The movie is being filmed a couple of blocks away. It's quite an interesting location. Thanks, Alex!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I hope when they reopen, they do direct traffic downstairs to the studios. Nothing worse than a display no one sees.

Mary Montague Sikes said...

I don't know, Diane, if it will work. Signage didn't work before.

Denise Covey said...

What a shame people don't find their way downstairs. It sounds wonderful. I was a huge fan of Meg Ryan once. Didn't know she was behind the camera now.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Monti - I hope that decent signage will encourage visitors to visit downstairs ... sounds an interesting project.

I'm sure Meg Ryan will make a great director .. she seems to come with the right credentials ..

Interesting to hear about the area being used for many films ..

Cheers Hilary

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Denise, they are hoping traffic not getting downstairs will change. I think this is Meg Ryan's first film behind camera. She may be starring as well. I haven't checked.

Hilary, Old Towne Petersburg is a place you would love!