Monday, September 28, 2015

"Old Towne Petersburg" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Last summer, 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 directed the film, scheduled for release in 2016. 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 was last summer. The film-making is bringing a revival to the area.
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 12 years ago in 2003. I had a studio gallery in the basement of PRAC for all of the 10 years it was open. That space in The Ward Center for Contemporary Art is now the center of the beautiful new configuration of studios. 
The day we first 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 almost daily 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. The new studios located in the area now have glass doors and a look that makes them special.
Mary Montague Sikes' Basement Studio at PRAC

Performance at PRAC during a Friday for the Arts Open House in about 2010

Grand Gallery at The Ward Center for Contemporary Art on Opening Night 2015
Over the years, I discovered that visitors seldom made their way down to the basement. Now new signage and offices in the front of the big open main gallery should encourage traffic flow to the lower level in the Ward Center.

For many years, the Butterworth building, constructed in 1848 or possibly a little later in the 1800s, was home to a large furniture business. Furniture and other remnants from the former store remained long after the building reopened as PRAC in 2003. 

The original wooden floor now has been beautifully refinished as part of the renovation of the large Grand Gallery space. New lights hang from the ceiling and more studio spaces flank the back of the first floor. In all, there will be 57 artist studios. Above it all, the Butterworth Flats provide one and two-bedroom modern living spaces. 

It's an exciting time for Old Towne Petersburg. Although I sometimes still hear the sounds of soldiers marching in the streets and still sense the sadness that long loomed over the town, I believe there is hope with the fulfillment of creativity in the air. I believe that art can bring new joy to the city.