Carnegie Art Center

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Haunted, maybe. Haunting, absolutely

Here in Walla Walla, change is coming to a historic icon. What was recently living is about to become memory.

Our original Carnegie Library building has, for nearly 40 years, been the home of the Carnegie Art Center. Things have changed, however — the building has aged into an expensive proposition, volunteers are more scarce than in the center’s early days and the culture of public art is evolving in the Valley.

Here’s part of what I wrote in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin earlier this week:

What’s left of Carnegie Art Center will be on the auction block come Saturday at 10 a.m. at 109 S. Palouse St.

At least, that which doesn’t belong to the nearly 104-year-old building proper. Auction listings include a beaded skull with antlers, the collection of Storybook Dolls and an assortment of teapots from years of Christmas teas.

Even chandeliers, although those have been donated from the storage room of Falkenberg’s Jewelers, explained Carnegie’s interim director, M’Lisse Moerk.

The brick building, designed by Walla Walla architect Henry Osterman, was underwritten by Andrew Carnegie and dedicated in December 1905, according to the state Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.

In 1975, the Carnegie building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In December, the art center’s board of trustees decided to close the building’s doors, citing problems with keeping up with heating and maintenance costs. The group is regrouping to find a fresh way to provide art experiences to the community….”

This point in time means different things to different people. While some look forward to one day having an art center that embraces many more components than the Carnegie building could have ever contained, others question the decision to close. And no one is happy to see such a beautiful building sit unused.

M’Lisse Moerk, interim director, sent her thought along today:

“I’m sitting here at my desk in the bowels of Carnegie Art Center. As you know, this place used to be the public library.  I spent many hours here in my youth prowling about the stacks.

It was quiet then and it is quiet now. But it’s a different quiet from the supervised silence of my youth. Today the silence is deeper than usual. I think I hear the auction company employee upstairs doing her last sorting and labeling.  Or, maybe, I’m hearing something else…I’m starting to think this special place is haunted.

Not scary-haunted but haunted by those hardworking, forward thinking women who, back in 1971, decided our community needed an art center and went about making that center a reality.

I sense the ghost of Jean Ferguson standing behind the podium presiding over a meeting. I see Penny Andres accepting an award for Carnegie Art Center from Governor Dan Evans. Jean Jamison is at her desk typing a letter to a prospective artist as she organizes a future gallery show.

B.J. Jones sits at a cherished wooden table covered with a fine lace tablecloth.  She is serving coffee and dessert to community members at the latest gallery opening. Peggy Cummings makes sure the flower arrangement is positioned artfully in the foyer.  Erma Jo Bergevin is chatting with a young Leslie Cain, Aaron Burgess, Squire Broel or maybe it’s Stephanie Frostad – all of them, as young artists, getting their first taste of what it was like to think of themselves as “real” artists showing their work in a “real” gallery.  Teachers like Vicki Shafer, Elizabeth Harris, Dale Steindorf and Joyce Anderson helped those young artists mine the creative ability within themselves in the very classroom I now call my office.

On Saturday morning at 10 a.m. the things that once were Carnegie Art Center are going on the auction block and will be toted away by the highest bidder.

However, the spirit that is Carnegie Art Center will never disappear. That spirit surrounds me now and I believe it will manifest itself again one day soon into another creation worthy of those who came before. We may not realize it now, but those who have set this change into motion are acting courageously. Change may be painful but when we realize it is all part of the creative process we are more able to graciously allow that process to flow. Peace.

M’Lisse Moerk

Interim Director, Carnegie Art Center.

To read the full story and see what is up for auction, click here.

Pottery party pix, praise

We had a U-B night at Carnegie Art Center’s pottery painting studio recently, which came about after I wrote a story about the studio last summer. It looked like so much fun as I was watching a group of friends create beautiful pieces, I campaigned to have a newsroom night.

Of course, I am perhaps the least artistically-minded person among us, so I went with a non-challenging trivet. Well, actually, a tile, but volunteer studio manager Patrice Townsend promised to make me look good and add some little footy things.

Others were far more adventurous, as you can see by the pics. As well, we met some new folks and some adorable-and-rowdy girls. We took an opportunity to not talk shop, for once, and kick back with some treats.

I highly recommend this for all corporate groups. Nothing like being busy with your hands to allow honest avenues of communication to open wide up, Patrice says. I agree. If you decide to try, call the studio at 509-522-3738.

And, please, don’t forget to tell your friends and co-workers that I need pictures of kids, pets or co-workers (an excellent opportunity to get even with your boss) with Santa for my December blog feature.