- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 19, 2005

By all means, stop by and watch Jacqueline Ehle work. It’s all part of the process for artists at Old Town Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory.

Ms. Ehle is a sculptor and painter with a studio and gallery on the third floor of the munitions factory-turned-art-center. Her specialty is big, bold, bright paintings of dogs and cats as well as whimsical wire sculptures of animals. Families with children often stop by to check out her cheerful creations.

“I don’t mind if kids come through,” says Ms. Ehle, whose toddler daughter sometimes plays on the floor of the studio while she works. “It is one of the things about the Torpedo Factory being open to the public.”

The Torpedo Factory is a great place for families to see art in action. Not every studio will lend itself to being a family-friendly destination (the fragile glassworks and sculptures probably should be avoided), but visitors still can get an idea of the process of art by taking a stroll through the building. There they will see all levels of creativity — from fundamental sketches to works in progress to final versions ready for sale.

First, a little history. The building, at 105 N. Union St. in Old Town, was constructed at the end of World War I. Torpedoes were built and stored there in the 1920s and 1930s. During World War II, some 10,000 more torpedoes were built there.

Later, the building housed federal war records. The factory was purchased by the city of Alexandria in 1969 and turned into an art center in 1974.

History buffs can learn more about the Torpedo Factory’s days as an actual factory at a small display in the main hall of the building. Visitors can see an old MK-14 torpedo and read about the more than 5,000 people who were employed by the factory during World War II.

These days, the Torpedo Factory is all about art. There are more than 80 studios and five cooperative galleries in the facility, as well as the Art League School, which offers a variety of classes for children, teens and adults. The third floor also houses the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, where visitors can see archaeologists at work preserving Alexandria’s history and take part in hands-on activities.

A trip around the three floors of the building is a tour of practically every art medium. There are painters and sculptors, weavers and jewelry makers, photographers and mixed-media specialists. Serious art shoppers can, of course, purchase artwork. On any given day, however, many visitors are just browsing.

Painter and art teacher Deanna Schwartzberg says she has been affiliated with the Torpedo Factory for many years. She used to have studio space but now primarily teaches classes.

“I think the Torpedo Factory is one of the best places like it in the country,” she said while guiding students in her abstract painting class on a recent weekday morning. “It is a wonderful way to see artists at work and appreciate art.”

Young visitors also can see art displayed by young artists. Outside the second-floor studios where the classes are held are student works. There are printmaking and drawing examples from the 5- to 7-year-olds in the Art Fundamentals classes up through more sophisticated still-life works from a teen painting class.

The Art League operates a small store where budding artists can pick up paints, brushes, sketchbooks and other supplies.

A small store in the main lobby carries art-themed gift items as well as Torpedo Factory souvenirs.

When you go

Location: The Torpedo Factory is located at 105 N. Union St. in Old Town Alexandria.

Hours: It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily but closed Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter, July 4 and Thanksgiving.

Admission: Free

Directions: Take the George Washington Parkway past Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport to Old Town. Turn left on Queen Street, then right on Union Street.

Parking: Limited street and meter parking are available, and several pay garages are nearby.

More information: 703/838-4565 or www.torpedofactory.org.

Notes:

• The Torpedo Factory is a former munitions factory that has been turned into a studio and gallery space for artists. Visitors can stroll the building, see artists at work, talk to them about their craft and shop for artwork. A wide variety of mediums is represented here, including ceramics, painting, photography and wearable art.

• The Torpedo Factory holds monthly special events, including an arts night/arts chat open house the second Thursday of the month, which features demonstrations by Torpedo Factory artists.

• The building also houses the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, a popular stop for families. Visitors can see archaeologists and volunteers at work preserving artifacts from Alexandria’s history.

• The Art League School located in the building offers many classes for children and adults.

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