- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

KEWANNA, Ind. (AP) - A local artist is breathing new life into an old Kewanna building.

Owner Diane Tesler is turning the former Masonic lodge on Logan Street half a block south of Main Street into an art gallery and studio with the help of a crew from Logansport-based Shepler Construction. The red-brown siding that once covered the tall 1800s-style windows has come off, revealing a facade Tesler compares to “something from the Wild West.”

“When you’re in a small town, each building is like an individual. There just aren’t that many here,” Tesler said. “It just kind of called out to you. Like a dog or cat that needed to be taken care of.”

It’s a building with plenty of local history. Fulton County Historical Museum records indicate the Masonic Lodge was chartered Sept. 26, 1876 - and the rules of the Masons required each lodge to have a building before it was chartered.

It cost the Masons about $1,900 to build the two-story frame structure, museum records indicate.

The first floor of the 2,700-square-foot building was originally occupied by a drugstore, Tesler and a museum spokesman said. A former member of the Kewanna Masonic lodge noted the drugstore made frequent appearances in the minutes of Mason meetings.

“I can remember reading some real old minutes from meetings way back,” Stephen Rude said. “It seemed like in a lot of those, the very last line that the secretary recorded was ‘the members adjourned downstairs for cigars and ice cream.’ “

Rude joined the Masons in the 1970s, more than a decade before the Kewanna lodge was closed and its members absorbed into Rochester’s lodge. The lodge continued meeting in its original Kewanna building until the closure.

Bereft of its Masons, the lodge building went into private ownership.

“During that time, sadly enough, the building kind of went into disrepair,” Rude told the Pharos-Tribune (https://bit.ly/1vEOSJo ).

At some point in its history, the building was re-sided, covering up its original windows.

“It was hideous, hideous,” Tesler said, fishing around in her nearby studio space for a historical photograph of the building. “It was full of pigeon poop. There was one window that was left open and the pigeons would just fly in and out.”

In 2008, she went to the building’s auction after its former owner’s passing, out of curiosity to see who would be bidding on it. She went home its owner.

“I lived in Alexandria, Virginia, and the idea of getting buildings like this - it’s impossible,” Tesler said.

The former Washington, D.C.-area artist bought a house in Kewanna in 1991, about five years after stumbling upon the area’s rural beauty while on a trip with a friend. Tesler split her time between Indiana and the D.C. area for many years, but sold her Virginia home two years ago.

By then, nearly all of her artwork was done based on Indiana subjects, especially cars and historical buildings.

“A lot of the things I’ve painted are gone, so I feel like I’m documenting the passage of time,” Tesler said.

She already owned the former Odd Fellows building at 101 E. Main St. and had some renovations done to preserve that building. The old Masonic lodge, she said, was more of a restoration project. She also owns a house in town she considers another “rescue” project.

“You just feel like somebody’s got to rescue that poor, whatever,” Tesler said.

The Masonic lodge’s rescue is still ongoing. So far, construction crews have stripped off the old siding, stripped the interior down to the studs and removed most interior walls, replaced the foundation on three sides, renovated the front concrete stoop and added a stabilizing wall halving the building’s first story.

“Piles and piles of Dumpster loads came out,” Tesler recalled.

A crew from Shepler Construction has prepared the upper story for a new metal roof. The building will also get a paint job on the outside as well as flooring, drywall and ceiling work inside, besides new duct work.

Once the building’s finished, Tesler plans to rotate her artwork on display in the first floor and use the second floor as a winter art gallery, since it’s more efficient to heat than Works in Progress, her current studio and gallery in the old Odd Fellows building.

“I don’t know exactly” when it’ll be finished, she said, though she things it will be sometime in 2015. “I guess, just whenever it’s done.”

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Information from: Pharos-Tribune, https://www.pharostribune.com

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