Through the efforts of many volunteers and grant money, Gray's Photography Studio is gradually coming back to life.
It stands as a silent reminder of a long-gone era in St. John. Gray’s Photography Studio is going through a long rebirth but Board Chair Carol Long is determined to see this restoration project completed and the building become an arts center for the community.
The goal for the building is for it to be a teaching space with an artist in residence to teach classes. The artist will live, work and teach there. Space will be dedicated to an museum to show artifacts from the studio. A retail area is planned where artists could sell their works of art.
The artist in residence would have a lot of responsibilities including being a guide and teaching classes.
“The main reason for the project is to enhance the lives of the people in the county and the area,” Long said. “And one of the best ways to do that is through the arts.”
The Board wants the Studio to serve all demographics and to provide activities to stimulate minds to be creative.
Right now, the Board is offering a position through Americorps. They are seeking a person who is willing to do a lot of hard work. They need someone who is good with strategic planning and grant writing. If this person is an artist, it might require more administrative work than an artist would want to tackle and they might not apply. But for someone who is willing to work, it would be a great opportunity to improve peoples lives through arts.
Americorps would provide a stipend to live on, insurance and it would be a place to live. A filing deadline for Dec. 1 has come and gone but there is still an opportunity to apply before another deadline. This position is a critical part of the restoration project.
“We definitely need to fill that position. Once people know what the position is, it would be a sought after position,” Long said.
The next portion of the restoration project is getting the bathroom finished. When the bathroom is complete, the Board can start programming for the future.
The studio is on the state and national historical building list and that dictates what can and can’t be done to a building during a restoration.
“We can’t do just whatever we want. We have to follow the state preservation society guidelines,” Long said.
The Board has to check with the Society and send them photos before they can do anything to the building and that has slowed down the renovation progress.
This is going to be a functional space where people will be living and working so it needs modern plumbing and insulation so it will be safe.
The time line for the building has gotten much longer than the Board wanted. When the Board formed in 2012, they wanted the facility up and running by now but the money got in the way.
“Old buildings have lots of twists and turns and all kinds of problems pop up,” Long said. “It’s a great building and I wish I could give you a deadline for completion.”
Much work has already been done to the building. The lath and plaster has been removed, the exterior has been painted, the foundation was lifted to straighten the floors, there is now electricity, heating and air conditioning. The plumbing has been roughed in but needs to be completed. Sheet rock, an historically acceptable product, needs to be installed. Wood trim was salvaged but with the sheet rock, the wood won’t fit so it will have to be adjusted.
Several groups have taken part in community service projects to help get the building ready for the next step. Both high school and middle school students along with a group of young adults from “Bike and Build” that bike across America and stop and help people, have helped clean out the building and remove lath and plaster. The Bike and Build group carried out a lot of things that needed to be removed, Long said.
“The junior high students were fabulous. They jumped right in and weren’t afraid to get dirty. They were really into it,” Long said. “We had a blast with them.”
The work has been very dirty. There was 120 years of dirt the needed to be re- moved and the students worked hard to get it cleared out. The outside of the building has been painted but the wood is very old and needs to be painted again.
During the clean out, there were many artifacts that were saved and found. Some glass plates used to make photos were discovered in the walls. A couple were blank but some had images of people. Efforts to identify the people have been unsuccessful, Long said.
Other items recovered include two children’s left shoes that button but the buttons are missing. That was found on a student community service day. The children were excited and they were all carefully looking for treasure after the items were found.
“It turned from demolition to and archeological find,” Long said.
Other items have also been found including a collapsible metal travel cup. A lot of furniture from the original studio was also removed and once the restoration is complete, The furniture will go back into the building for display as museum pieces.
William Gray built some of the lighting equipment himself. Those items are too hazardous to plug in but will become part of the museum. Some of the items are unfamiliar and will need to be identified. Also found was Gray’s recipe for developing photos.
Restoring the building is expensive. The bulk of the funding so far came from a Kansas Department of Commerce Creative Arts Industry Commission Grant for $75,000. The Board had to match that grant and spent a lot of time knocking on doors to get the matching funding. Local business and the city were a tremendous help. Without support from the city, the board couldn’t have gotten the grant.
“We spent a lot of time looking for money,” Long said.
It was critical to get the work started because the building was in very bad condition. If something wasn’t done, the building would be lost.
“It (building) was on its way out. But we got the money and secured the shell,” Long said.
Another way of helping with the project is joining the Board of Directors. Board member Randall Tucker has resigned and his place on the board is vacant so another Board member is needed to join Long, Bill Clausing, Lisa Milton and Amy Collins.
Gray’s Photography Studio Inc. is a 501c3 so any donations to the restoration project are tax deductible. For donation in- formation, contact long by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send donations to Gray Photography Studio Inc., 991 Northeast 10th Avenue, St. John, Kansas 67576