Last Friday, Virginia City residents were treated to a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception at the historic St. Mary’s Art & Retreat Center. The Center was celebrating a selection of artists to display and sell their art for the next two months when another event will be hosted to welcome other artists.
The beautiful historic building located off the main streets of the well-known mining town, famous for the Comstock Lode, was originally the St. Mary Louise Hospital. Built in 1875, the Center is now a National Historical Landmark.
Thanks to the dedication of Father Meinecke in 1964, the hospital became an art center. After a proposal to the County Commissioners, Father Meinecke was successful in bringing the idea of offering art instruction and lodging at the center.
Beginning in 2005, the Center widened their service to serve a diverse range of groups beyond art; the facility became a unique retreat center in a town celebrated for its rich history, desert landscapes, historic buildings, and exciting characters.
The halls of the remarkable Center are beautifully adorned with paintings, the rooms filled with sculptures, and on Friday, the kitchen was bursting with food and drink while the many guests perused the galleries.
Along with the fabulous wine, homemade crostini, fruit, and cheese, The Core, a new Virginia City restaurant, provided minted mussels and other hors d’oeuvres with a bold American eclectic vibe.
The Core co-owner, Alexia Sober, says of the food, “We are trying to bring cosmopolitan back to The Comstock, it is European style cuisine,” she goes on to explain, “We want people to slow down and dine.”
However, the food and drink were not the focus of the evening; the galleries were ornamented with incredible pieces; guests were thrilled with the artwork and the artists.
One guest stated, “This is by far the best art show I have been to in ages,” she went on to say, “It has elevated the work and the historical architecture to a new level.”
Others were overheard to say, “It is just wonderful,” and “The prices are really reasonable.”
The Comstock Residents Association (CRA) donated $500 towards the Center’s general fund. CRA is a group of private citizens interested in preserving the integrity of the Virginia City National Historic District and the quality of life in the Comstock.
The reception on Friday featured several incredible artists:
Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Gabriel Aguayo now calls Carson City home. Aguayo was distracted from the arts by life in the United States until he was drawn back to them in his early 20s.
Aguayo is a self-taught artist and enjoys breaking the rules and concepts of what traditional art is supposed to be. He uses playful techniques by nature, but defined in structure.
Aguayo’s work is energetic, passionate, whimsical, and often provocative. The majority of the time, he uses brilliant colors that dance on his canvases; while his black and whites are both thought provoking and captivating.
He is inspired by the beautiful surroundings of Northern Nevada, and it shows in his work; mines and landscapes are easily recognizable in his paintings. Aguayo has shown in a number of galleries around Northern Nevada including the River Gallery, Reno, and Artsy Fartsy Gallery, Carson City. He has also shown in private collections around the world.
Reno resident, Erik Holland, is a full-time fine artist and art teacher. Holland has been a resident of the downtown Artist’s Lofts since moving to Nevada from Alaska in 2000.
Holland shows his paintings at Ryrie’s Art and Home, Co-Op Gallery in Reno, Artsy Fartsy gallery in Carson City, Cabin Fever in Tahoe City, CA, Markleeville Art Gallery in Markleeville, CA, Vigil’s Collection in Nevada City, CA and the Briggs and Company Gallery in Winters, CA.
Additionally, Holland has three paintings in the independent movie The Motel Life, release date – to be announced. He has published hundreds of political cartoons in various publications, and just received a grant from the Nevada Arts Council to create a book of his best cartoons. The book will be called Outback Cartoonist, and is due out by late 2012.
Edw Martinez is a Virginia City artist and resident since 1965, who is primarily known for his print/monotype and site-situated sculpted installations. After a thirty-year hiatus, he returned to work eight years ago.
Currently, Martinez is working with the Raku firing process, a centuries old Oriental technique in which the object is heated in an open kiln; when it reaches optimum temperatures, the ware is taken from the fire and quickly immersed into wet sawdust, straw or water to achieve a distinctive glazing effect and a dark black color.
Martinez has been using a local clay mixture from the Comstock Lode, dug up from deposits west of the Gold Hill Cemetery, mixed with other material to make a material strong enough to withstand the rigors of the raku firing.
Martinez is the recipient of the State of Nevada’s Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts. He retired from the University of Nevada in 2005 where taught studio art; he is still the Art Department Chairman Emeritus.
The exhibit at the Center will feature Martinez’ stoneware sculptures and focuses on the raku firing.
Frances J Melhop
International award winning photographer, Frances J Melhop, voted “One of the Worlds 200 Best Advertising Photographers 2009/2013” by Luerzers Archive, and nominated again this year for Worlds Best 200 Advertising Photographers 2012/2013.
Melhop has been based in Milan, Italy, for the past 10 years and is internationally known as a creator of extraordinary and unique imagery in the fashion/advertising arena. She now lives in the United States.
Crafting her work intricately, Melhop’s photographs have appeared in European magazines such as Vogue Italia, Vogue France, British Vogue, Glamour, Face, ID, Purple, Marie Claire Italia, Elle, Vogue Pelle, Vogue Gioello, and D della Repubblica.
Beautifully and masterfully colored, Melhop conjures up an enchanted world of her own to tell the story she is working on, in studios, castles, obscure islands, jungles, hanging out of airplanes, and even underwater. She makes the impossible possible.
Newest Executive Director – Rita Wheeler
The Center’s newest Executive Director, Rita Wheeler, has only been there since August of 2012, but she has made some significant changes. She has a passion for the building that is apparent when she talks about it and gives tours of all the changes in the past nine months as well as her visions for the future.
Wheeler has strengthened the partnerships with the artists and the Center, she has created new galleries, she has redecorated the rooms in a way that makes sense without using any additional funds, she has reworked contracts to save money for the building, the list is endless.
One of the things Wheeler did was to rebrand the image of the center from almost the inside out so to speak – she tirelessly cleans out
rooms, she remade the logo, and she created The Edge Gallery on the top floor of the building for some of the artists more provocative pieces. This way, artists are not forced to have to show some of their pieces outside of the community, but visitors are forewarned in case they may be shocked.
St. Mary’s Art Center & Retreat Boiler/Pump Fund
Regardless of how much work the artists, Wheeler, or the community may put into the Center, or how much it may be a loved and necessary National Historic Landmark, the Center is in desperate need of a replacement boiler. They are trying to raise $36,000 before the pump gives out entirely. If the pump should give out, the Center would have to shut down.
The loss to the community of artists, other groups, and to Virginia City as a whole would be tremendous. The Center is completely booked for every weekend from now until Thanksgiving weekend.
The Center needs donations in order to replace the boiler as soon as possible so the town does not lose part of their rich history and a much needed retreat, art center, and meeting space. The Center offers yoga, overnight stays, wedding and convention space, family reunion space, daily rentals, there are two kitchens.
With 15 rooms and 22 beds, the facility is an incredibly unique and fun venue to hold an event.
Additional donations of plain white sheets/pillow cases, paper goods, laundry supplies, trash bags, kitchen utensils, and pots and pans are needed. The Center is also in need of a newer working laptop.
Next art show
The Center will be hosting another artist’s reception on Friday, July 12, at 5:00 p.m. It is certainly worth stopping by. St. Mary’s Art & Retreat Center supports the Capital City Arts Initiative (CCAI), an artist-centered organization committed to encouraging and supporting artists and the arts and culture of Carson City and the surrounding region.
The Center, located at 55 R Street, has gone through some changes over the decades, renovations, various directors, new board members, but the historic building remains much the same as it did in 1875. To go on a tour, or better yet, spend the night, is like taking a step back in time, immersing yourself in history.
The art is changed every two months from now through October when there will be a winter display. Tours are available at the Center Thursday – Sunday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. or by appointment; November – April, tours are available on Thursday – Friday 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. $5 adults, $3 children 6 – 12, 5 and under are free. Tours are available all year long by appointment as well.
To make a donation to the boiler/pump fund, or to take a tour or make a reservation, call 775-847-7774
By Dawn Cranfield
Senior Correspondent / Product Specialist