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Posted January 7, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

From fire trucks to fine art

By Linwood Outlaw III - loutlaw@nvdaily.com

BERRYVILLE - A historic brick building on Main Street that once quartered the town's first firehouse in the 1930s now serves as a public showcase for multiple forms of fine art.

Officials from the nonprofit organization Berryville Main Street are looking ahead to the grand opening of the Fire House Gallery and Shop, which will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the building at 23 E. Main St.

The gallery will feature various works from about 29 artists representing just about every medium, such as oil, metal, paper, fiber, ceramic and glass. A panel of artists, including those with commercial backgrounds, will select the works that are displayed at the building.

"The significance of the gallery is that every one of these pieces has been juried," Berryville Main Street board member Kate Petranech said. "Each artist, of course, wants to be certain that [artwork created by] he or she is being shown in a gallery where the work is of a certain caliber."

Fittingly, a vintage fire truck used by former Berryville volunteers will be on display at the grand opening to commemorate the completion of the economic revitalization project that was more than a year in the making. One of the chief reasons that Berryville Main Street wanted to open the gallery is to bring more visitors -- and revenue -- to the downtown area, Petranech said.

Initiatives such as converting a historic building into a retail destination have become a priority for Berryville, which is among 21 localities in the state that are recognized as a Virginia Main Street community. The program helps communities revitalize the economic stability of their downtown commercial districts.

Berryville Main Street collected more than $100,000 in grants, loans and donations to pay for renovations to the former firehouse. Work began in late August and was finished last month. Architectural features that were preserved include three original windows, exposed brick pilasters and the concrete floor, Petranech said. The gallery will also house Berryville Main Street's official headquarters.

For more than two decades, the East Main Street building was home to the Berryville Fire Department, which was later renamed the John H. Enders Fire Company. Before the firehouse was built, officials kept fire equipment at a funeral home. The firehouse was later used as space for the town office and police department.

Days before its official grand opening, the gallery was already decorated with various works submitted by artists, many of whom are local. The shop will also sell other merchandise, such as books, cards and soaps and scrubs. The gallery's name pays homage to the building's original roots.

"We certainly are endeavoring to honor this structure," Petranech said. "I mean, a volunteer firehouse is a pretty special place."

The plan is for the gallery to be open six days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aside from selling merchandise, officials have other ideas for the gallery as well.

"We hope to have book signings here. We hope to sort of bring very much of a community involvement endeavor," Petranech said. "Bringing people together around art is always exciting."

Officials are planning to hold the gallery's first art exhibit in February, she said.

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