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Arts Thrive in Great Falls

More than 75 artists live and work in the village.

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Barbara Gatterdam, one of six potters in a network of local artists called Great Falls Studios, displays some of her ceramic creations. They include plates, platters, pots, pitchers and bowls, all "made in Great Falls." More than 75 artists live or work in Great Falls.

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With the Potomac River as a backdrop and backlit by the sun, painter Karen Bateman works on a landscape at Riverbend Park. Bateman is a "plein-air" artist, painting outside in nature and interested in effects of outdoor light

If quality of life improves when communities add a creative side, then quality of life in Great Falls is skyrocketing.

"In the last several years, our village has emerged as one of Northern Virginia’s go-to places for original art," said Cindy Grisdela, a fabric artist and quilter. "We have more than 75 artists who live or work here, and we have a new non-profit arts foundation to make our home town a more artful place."

Grisdela is on the Board of Great Falls Studios, an active network of painters, potters, sculptors, jewelry makers, photographers, teachers, curators, computer artists and other creative individuals who put on exhibits, sales and community service events throughout the year. In the process, they have brought a new creative economy to Great Falls.

The group is open to any artists who work or live in Great Falls, and members include some of the leading art talents in the region. To join the organization, check out its Web site at www.GreatFallsStudios.com. Or e-mail potter Laura Nichols, president of the group, at Laura@pigpenpottery.com.

Great Falls Studios’ signature event is coming up Oct. 18-19. It is an annual Studio Tour that takes visitors from across the metro area to the back roads of Great Falls. The objective: To visit barns, outbuildings, and incredible homes to meet local artists at work in their studios and to observe the creative process firsthand. Last year, the tour hosted more than 2,500 studio visits and resulted in 70,000 hits on the group’s Web site. Visitors can see art demonstrations and buy local art. The home studios are normally closed to the public.

The non-profit charitable group, which was started by the artists, is called the Great Falls Foundation for the Arts (GFFFTA). It has its own board of directors, operates independently from Great Falls Studios and is working hard to promote quality art activities and to get non-artists involved in creative endeavors.

This June GFFFTA announced the opening of a new 2,000-square-foot facility in the Colvin Run business district of Great Falls in a loft near Dante Restaurant. It houses a small art gallery, the first art classes in a new Great Falls art school, and a space for 14 painters to work in an atmosphere of mutual encouragement. The building is at 1144 Walker Road, Suite G.

A larger teaching facility and additional studio spaces will follow at a second location when funding becomes available. The group is planning an official grand opening this fall to introduce itself to the public and to raise funds to make an expanded art school a reality. For more information, get in touch with Mollie Vardel, president, at molliev@verizon.net.

<b>By Jon Fisher</b>

Great Falls Studios