A grant application could provide funds that will be used to restore Gray Photographic Studio to an art studio and residence for visiting artists.

The next step in creating an art space in St. John is step closer to reality. Application for state tax credits was made Aug. 1 to provide funds to restore the Gray's Photography Studio for an arts center in St. John. Results of the application will be known the start of September.

Stafford County Economic Development has been tremendously helpful in the tax credit process, said Carol Long, chair person for Gray's Photography Studio Inc. that is a non-profit 501(c)(3) with a governing board of five.

Long can be reached at her e-mail clongpottery@gmail.com.

Getting the tax credits would be a tremendous boost, both economical and emotional, because the group has been dragging along with no money. It would be easy to get discouraged but the tax credits will help.

"If we keep our mind on our goal, it's much easier to go forward," Long said.

The object of the project is to enhance, through the arts, the lives of people who live in the area. Gray's Studio has been sitting empty since 1989. It's on the state and national historic registry.

If the tax credits are approved, the group has a year to use them so the governing board and volunteers will have to get busy, Long said.

When the project is complete, the space will be divided into two areas, one for a public studio and a two-story private space for a living area for a live-in artist.

The studio space can be used for painting, ceramics, sowing, collage, fiber craft or any art style. There would be an emphasis on the artist in residence interest who would also teach, Long said.

The artist in residence could be on-site for any length of time whether it was six months or a year or a summer. It all depends on the artist's transition. Some artists fresh out of college could move in for a time while they figured out the next step in their transition. It would provide an area to work and teach before they move on to the next step in their career. There is an application process for artist in residence.

"There are a lot of people coming out of college that need a place to transition," Long said.

Gray Photography Studio Inc. wants to have a studio open to people of all ages in the area. They have been able to only do a few projects because of lack of space so getting the studio finished will help them reach their goal of reaching people who want to do things in the arts.

The building was in danger of falling down when the organization purchased the building but they have sealed up the shell and are now working to get the interior restored. Volunteers have been working hard already and have torn out much of the lathe and plaster.

When the project is done, the goal is to have space for a workshop and a living space for an artist in residence who would live and teach there, Long said.

There would also be a small retail space and museum space. There are artifacts in the building that have accumulated over the past century. The best records the group could find indicate the building was built in 1889. It is located at 116 North Main in St. John and has had minimal changes through the years.

It was a photography studio owned by William Gray. His family lived in the building most of the last century. Gray took some 30,000 glass photography plates that are now housed in the Stafford County Historical Museum in Stafford. The museum used to be a bank building. Museum Director Michael Hathaway has worked to create a digital record of the glass plates and put them on his website. The collection will feature information who paid to have the photographs taken.

The museum also has a collection of artifacts from the Gary Studio building on display.

Gray took many photos just outside the building that shows the growth and changes to St. John.

During renovation to the inside of the building, a couple of glass photo plates were discovered inside the walls. Long said she suspects it was someone making a time capsule.

The glass plates will remain at the historical museum because the proposed workshop will get messy and dirty.

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