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'Made in Great Falls'

Great Falls Studios prepares for annual Holiday Art Show and Sale.

It is just a tiny gold label with black cursive writing, but it conveys a message that is important to the members of Great Falls Studios.

"It's a reminder to our neighbors in Great Falls that this art is all made locally, and to buy at home from artists down the street is a way to support hometown artists," said Great Falls Studios member and wood sculptor Jonathan Fisher.

The label, which states simply "Made in Great Falls," will be affixed to the back of every piece of art being sold at the upcoming third annual Great Falls Studios Holiday Art Show and Sale. The sale, which runs from Nov. 18-19 at the Great Falls Library, will feature art made by the members of Great Falls Studios, a consortium of local artists that includes painters, photographers, sculptors, jewelry-makers and quilters, to name a few.

The group was founded in May of 2003 after local potter Laura Nichols decided to find out if there were other artists in her community. Through word of mouth, she systematically located one artist after another, and was both stunned and thrilled to discover that Great Falls was teeming with talented artists of all kinds.

"When I first started this, it seemed like everybody I came up to said 'I thought I was the only one,'" said Nichols.

In three years, Great Falls Studios has blossomed into a 55-member organization that puts on a plethora of annual local events that include a self-guided tour of local art studios, various exhibits and the Holiday Art Show and Sale.

"The sales have gone up every year," said Nichols of the Holiday Sale. "It's been unbelievable."

Nichols added that last month's third annual Great Falls Art Studio Tour generated art sales that were "easily twice what they were last year." Great Falls Studios also donates a portion its Art Studio Tour proceeds to the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department, and Nichols said that this year's event enabled them to give the firehouse $600.

TO GENERATE interest in the Holiday Art Show and Sale, members of Great Falls Studios gathered last week to put up a collective display that will run at the Great Falls Library for all of November. The members of Great Falls Studios were encouraged to submit 1-2 pieces of art for the exhibit.

"It's amazing to see what's coming in," said Great Falls Studios member and local photographer Walt Lawrence.

The group ended up hanging 66 pieces, and also placed 17 items in the library's display cases. A total of 29 artists are featured in the exhibit, and an additional five artists will participate with table displays during the actual sale.

"This was a huge increase in the number of pieces submitted, and the number of artists participating," said painter and Great Falls Studios member Jill Banks. "Last year the group only had 32 members."

Never a group to forget local charities, Great Falls Studios will donate 10 percent of the Holiday Art Show and Sale proceeds to the Friends of the Great Falls Library.

The art on exhibit and for sale is as diverse as its creators. Walt Lawrence will offer framed and unframed photographs of the falls in Great Falls Park, and other local sites of natural beauty, and Heidi Mraz will sell her framed, multi-layered, motivational sports posters, which she creates digitally and graphically. Mraz, who is a painter who runs her own graphic arts business in Tysons Corner, started creating the posters two years ago and frequently meets her clientele while shooting photos at her sons' sports events.

"You can either provide photographs to me, or I can go out and shoot them myself," said Mraz.

Examples of her single-sport and tri-sport pieces are on display now at the Great Falls library.

Two portrait pieces by Frances Vecchi can also be seen in the current exhibit ā€” one of young girl and one landscape.

"I paint anything that sits still," joked Vecchi, who has been a member of Great Falls Studios for almost a year.

VECCHI is one of seven artists using the "Artists Atelier," a rental studio space located in the Great Falls Village Center that was acquired by Great Falls Studios earlier this year. Vecchi found out about Great Falls Studios by talking with Laura Nichols and said that she has truly enjoyed being part of the organization.

"It's nice ā€” it really is," said Vecchi. "It gives a feeling of camaraderie, and it really helps out a lot."

Portrait artist John McCabe also uses the Artists Atelier and will have paintings for sale at the Holiday Art Show and Sale. McCabe has been a member of Great Falls Studios since 2004 and said that he loves being a member and is optimistic about the group's future.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Great Falls Studios grow into an organization which supports local artists through providing studio space to artists, exhibit space, and eventually a school," said McCabe. "There is a lot of interest in this community related to art education workshop classes."

The Artists Atelier was the first realization of several goals of Great Falls Studios. The organization has been putting money into its so-called "Dream Fund" which it hopes to eventually put toward the purchase of a permanent space to be used as a studio, exhibit area and school.

"We would like to have Great Falls known as a center of arts," said McCabe.

In fact, drawing attention to the thriving artist community of Great Falls was part of the inspiration behind the "Made in Great Falls" labels that will be making their debut at this year's Holiday Art Show and Sale.

"It's kind of a branding based around Great Falls," said Jonathan Fisher. "One of the rationales is that we want a verification that Great Falls is now known as a center for the visual arts."