Photographer Walt Lawrence has lived in Great Falls for 30 years, but despite his longtime resident status, it was not until a year and a half ago that he first saw the inside of the Colvin Run Schoolhouse.
“Doris Leadbetter took me over there to see it because they had opened it up for one of the Colvin Run dances, and I was just blown away,” said Lawrence, a self-described “history buff” and a board member of the local artists’ consortium Great Falls Studios.
So in February, when Lawrence and several other Great Falls Studios members started brainstorming ideas for a summer community art festival, the Colvin Run Schoolhouse seemed like an opportunity waiting to happen.
“I thought it would be neat to marry some historical site in our community to the art festival,” said Lawrence.
He approached Walter Harrison, president of the Colvin Run Citizens Association, and asked about the possibility of finding a way to include the Schoolhouse in the Great Falls Studios summer art festival. Harrison was amenable to the concept, and thus, the first annual Great Falls Studios Art and History Festival was born.
This weekend, there will be more than 30 artists participating in the three-day festival in the historic Colvin Run area of Great Falls. The festivities will kick off on Friday evening, June 8, with a reception to launch a new exhibition by Great Falls artists at the RE/MAX Gateway Office Gallery. The reception will be hosted by RE/MAX Gateway real estate broker Doris Leadbetter, an art patron and longtime supporter of Great Falls Studios. Leadbetter permits the local artists of Great Falls Studios to use her office as an exhibit space on a regular basis.
Residents will have the opportunity to purchase local artwork, high-end crafts and photographs at the Art Festival on Saturday and Sunday.
“We will have booths set up inside the Colvin Run Schoolhouse, and there will be painters and potters and everything else,” said painter and Great Falls Studios member Jill Banks.
IN ADDITION to getting a taste of art created in Great Falls, visitors will also be able to tour the historic Colvin Run Schoolhouse building.
“I think the greatest thing here is to get people from the community to that building to see what a treasure it is, and then to see the art that’s available inside is a second kicker,” said Lawrence. “But that building has a lot of history to it and it’s relatively unknown in the community. Unless you go there to dance, most people don’t see it, so I think this is going to be a good opportunity for the community to get out there and see what it’s all about.”
In 1884 the Fairfax County Board of Education purchased the Colvin Run site for $55, and the schoolhouse was built there the following year. In the mid-1920s, the Colvin Run Community League, a co-op with branches throughout Virginia, used the structure to provide “helpful techniques of dairy farming and the raising and harvesting of crops and in improving the welfare and well being of the residents in surrounding communities,” according to a history of the site.
Fairfax County sold the property at auction and a hall was completed by 1932. It became the social center of the area. Benches were placed around the hall, and overstuffed furniture was positioned around a coal stove for use at twice-a-week dances. The Colvin Run Citizens Association, which owns the property today and continues to function as a civic and social organization, still holds dances at the hall. Great Falls Studios plans to donate a percentage of sales from this weekend’s festival to the Colvin Run Citizens Association to support the historic schoolhouse.
The artists participating in the festival exhibit include painters, fiber artists, photographers, sculptors, potters and jewelry designers. Many of them exhibit in galleries throughout the Washington area, and several have international reputations. More than 30 of the 67 artist members of Great Falls Studios will be showing their work at the RE/MAX Gateway exhibit, and 20 of them — including potters, photographers and jewelry makers — will have booths open Saturday and Sunday at the art sale.