At the Torpedo Factory Art Center, there’s much to celebrate this summer. It’s been 40 years since a group of visionary and plucky artists saw an opportunity to transform an eyesore into an Alexandria cultural landmark.
For the “Ruby Anniversary,” one of the Torpedo Factory’s own resident artists Rachel Kerwin has created a 436 square foot mural featuring visuals of the waterfront and the interior of the Factory. It suggests a large scale paint-by-numbers image that progresses from detailed black outlines to dynamic colors that break from the lines and form their own unique aesthetic.
For a more hands-on experience, the Target Gallery–the Torpedo Factory’s own exhibition space–is currently showing The Alexandria Community Art Library, which delves into the early history of the Torpedo Factory. Visitors can discover old documents, read through artists’ anecdotes and play an active role in shaping the next generation of the arts in Alexandria. This exhibition is on view through Sunday, July 13.
But the Torpedo Factory’s history, the same one currently explored in the Target Gallery, is a curious and windy one. Walking along King Street, its vibrant avenues make it easy to forget that Old Town Alexandria looked different in 1974. In fact, it wasn’t a part of town where people wanted to spend an evening.
After World War II, the mothballed U.S. Naval Torpedo Station sitting on Alexandria’s waterfront was converted into government storage. It housed Smithsonian artifacts and Nazi war trial records along with a flock of pigeons and other less desirable things. In 1969, about 20 years after the last torpedo was made under its supervision, the City of Alexandria bought the complex.
Five years later, Marian Van Landingham, then president of The Art League (which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year), proposed to renovate part of the neglected factory into studio spaces for the Alexandria Bicentennial. As this was the first project of its kind in the country, it was slated to be a three-year experiment.
Four decades later, and now a nonprofit, the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s mission is to foster connections between artists and the public that ignite the creative spirit, and is home to the largest number of publicly accessible working artist studios in the United States. There are 82 studios and six galleries for visitors to meet artists, watch them work, ask questions and even purchase original pieces. It truly is a place to experience art in person and in progress.
2014 is a year when the past meets the future at the Torpedo Factory. It’s a great time to visit.
Find more information about the Torpedo Factory Art Center here.
This post was written by Alyssa Ross, of the Torpedo Factory Art Center.
Target Gallery images by Roman Petruniak and mural images by Kane Clevenger and Christine Marsh.