Monday, January 26, 2015

Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, A Fusion of Art and Architecture

The Seaport Center by the marina on the Potomac River

Old Town and Historic Architecture

A couple of weeks ago I was in the DC area for business and spent time in one of my favorite places, exploring and having funWhen traveling, for whatever purpose, certain parts of a city call to me and I soon find myself in the historic district. Old Town Alexandria, a charming historic port town, is one such place. 

Le Pain Quotidien
Situated on the Potomac River, walking through Old Town is a feast for the eyes, as it takes you on an architectural journey through time, without sacrificing any of the modern conveniences. The warmth, the heritage, craftsmanship, and attention to detail all draw me in like a bee to honey. When visiting the local shops and restaurants it's easy to experience Alexandria's distinctive flavor.

Frank Lloyd Wright said, "The mother of all art is architecture.  Without an architecture of our own, we have no soul of our own civilization."

Art and architecture share a special relationship or bond. Historical builders and architects were often artists, and integrated craftsmanship, skilled artisanship, and sculpture with the idea of building something that would stand the test of time. Their techniques and processes were often passed down through the centuries.

Prince Street looking towards the Potomac
Alexandria, founded around 1749, is a melting pot of architectural styles including Colonial, Federal, and Georgian just to name a few. Row homes were built or knitted into one another using what was called a brick party wall. Building homes in rows was a more economical use of space and the party wall created a more stable manner of construction and helped to control fires. We don't have to know all of this, to appreciate their beauty. Somehow wknow they are they are endowed with something special.

In our time, Architectural buildings are all too often swept away by "progress".  Each time we lose one we lose a part of our heritage. Fortunately, Alexandria was saved from complete modernization around the 1960's. Approximately 200 historical structures remain and are protected by the city's architectural board. 

Today, Old Town is a much desired area to shop, dine, and live.  You can enjoy the outdoors on foot, by bike, or relaxing in a waterfront park.

The Torpedo Factory Art Center and The Art League

Galleries at the Art Center
My first trip to the Washington DC area was courtesy of the Army. I was on temporary assignment and working at a now decommissioned Army Base outside of the DC area. While there, a few of my colleagues familiar with the area suggested exploring the local sites. This past week I had the opportunity to retrace some of my steps including Old Town and the Torpedo Factory

The Torpedo Factory Art Center, one of our stops -  a unique place with an interesting history -  sits on the Potomac riverfront.  The Art Center, centrally located in Old Town, was originally constructed in 1918 by the Navy. The building served as a torpedo manufacturer, munitions storage, and general storage until the City of Alexandria bought the building from the federal government.

Robert Liberace Class at the Art League School
In 1974 the building was transformed into The Torpedo Factory Art Center and has become one of the most visited sites in Alexandria. The center houses a community of 82 artists studios, the Art League Gallery, The Art League School and store. In the studios which also serve as shops, you can talk with the artist, and browse the wide array of work from ceramics, paintings, sculpture and much more. It's always fun to bring something new home.

"By nurturing the artist, we enrich the community.  The Art League develops the artist through education, exhibition, and a stimulating, supportive environment, while sharing the experience of the visual arts with the community." - The Art League's mission statement.

Robert Liberace painting a demo
The Art League School offers classes for all levels of artist of every age and open to everyone. Many  years after my first visit, I returned to the art center to take lessons at the Art League School. It was here that I took my first portrait painting class a little over a year ago with Robert Liberace. I had followed Rob's work for quite a while. Upon learning that he was one of the many teacher/artist offering classes at the Art League I signed up. It was a great experience.

Current Exhibition at the Gallery
The School offers on going classes and workshops such as the one I attended. The classes range from fine art to a wide variety of crafts. 

The Art League Gallery is a non profit membership organization and offers monthly shows featuring member artists.  Membership again is open to everyone.  Shows are on going and exhibitions vary from solo artist shows to faculty shows and more.

Whether in Old Town or in your home town, see if you can find a way to immerse yourself in the architecture, art and soul of the area.

Thanks for joining me and please send me your comments.  I'd love hear your ideas, questions or input. Please leave responses in the comments section below or on Facebook. If you like this article please feel free to share this post with your friends or on Facebook. 

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Artfully Yours,

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