June 17th, 2014 / posted by paularath
Pat Arnold at the Torpedo Factory

Pat Arnold at the Torpedo Factory

I was really fortunate that my dear friend Cheryl, who is originally from Knoxville, TN, has a dear friend, Pat Arnold, also from Knoxville, who now lives in Alexandria, VA. Cheryl put us in touch with each other and we could not believe how much we have in common!

Pat is active in the vibrant art scene of Alexandria and we were privileged to have her show us around. She is a talented glass artist but has friends who do art in every medium. While we loved visiting the National Gallery in Washington, the art highlight of our trip was the Torpedo Factory in Old Alexandria. This fabulous building actually did begin life as a torpedo factory in 1918 and was actively cranking our torpedoes as the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station through World War II.

In 1974 the Torpedo Factory changed its stripes and became the Torpedo Factory Art Center. The Center is now home to 82 working artist studios, six galleries, two workshops (fiber and printmaking) and the Art League School, which is somewhat like our Honolulu Museum of Art School.  The goal, they say, is to enable the visitor to “Experience art in person and in progress.”

One of many hallways in the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

One of many galleries in the Torpedo Factory Art Center.

I spent most of one day with Pat and Miriam Rosenthal (who used to live in Honolulu) at the Torpedo Factory and was so impressed with it that I took Jerry the next day. I know, I know, there’s so much to see in Washington, D.C., but I just loved Old Alexandria and spent most of my time there.

Many of the Torpedo Factory artists work right there in their studios. Each one has a retail space, and art for sale, but they often have their easel or materials set up in the back and you can watch them as they work.

One artist was finishing four panels of acrylic painting on wood that were on commission from a Vietnamese restaurant. The theme: lotus leaves. Another artist was working on a triptych that was commissioned by a Washington, D.C. couple. It was so gratifying to see that lots of work is being commissioned.

The open and welcoming atmosphere in the Torpedo Factory makes you feel perfectly comfortable walking into a studio and introducing yourself to an artist. I can see how it would be conducive to buying or commissioning art.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if one of our many military bases could – and would – free up an old unused building to be turned into artists studios in this manner? This would provide such amazing opportunities for local artists, especially if it were located in a place where visitors often go, such as Pearl Harbor or Fort DeRussy. Well, I can dream……

This painting was a collaboration between Cassatt and Degas.

This painting was a collaboration between Cassatt and Degas.

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. was where I spent most of my time studying art history when I was at Goucher College in Maryland. Our classes visited there often and it was an incredible place to study art!

It was really wonderful to share it with Jerry and Pat. The premier show was about the 40-year friendship and collaborations of impressionists Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas. They met in 1877 when he invited her to participate in a show of impressionist paintings. Their friendship lasted until his death in 1917. Their names are linked together because of their shared sensibility. They also came from similar family backgrounds and moved in the same social circles. They even did some collaborative painting together.

It’s a beautiful show and reminded me a little of the Matisse/Picasso exhibit I saw at the Tate Modern in London in 2001. They also influenced each others’ work.

But we were even more drawn to the Andrew Wyeth exhibit. The curator focused simply on drawings and paintings with windows in them. It was a magnificent study in light and how it plays on rooms and objects. It gave us a whole new view into Wyeth’s work. His abstractions were really exciting, as was his dramatic use of lights and darks.

Of course we also had some great food in Alexandria and environs. Pat took me to Pie Sisters in Georgetown where I bought four “cuppies.” These are mini pies that fit into a cupcake holder. Fabulous! We couldn’t decide which was best: apple, chocolate cream, key lime or bourbon pecan. We had a fabulous dinner with Pat and her husband, Dennis McCloud, at the Majestic Cafe, which is a favorite of the Obamas for their date nights. And we had the best Reuben sandwich ever at the Stage Door Deli in Old Alexandria. So much great food in the area!

Well, that ends our cross country trip. Jerry drove more than 3,000 miles and we also did some train and plane (from El Paso to Dallas- who wants to drive across West Texas) travel. We loved every minute of it. It was so great not to feel pressured, not to have to be anywhere at an exact time. Just to go when we felt like it and slow down when that felt right.  It was a perfect blend of family time and alone time, travel time and contemplative time, staying in cheap motels and beautiful B&Bs.

Tomorrow we’re off for a week on the Big Island. We’ll be at Volcano for five days at an art retreat with watercolorist Tom Hoffmann. Then to Kona for three days to visit our Reno friends Yil and Shirley.

Stay tuned……

– Paula Rath

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