BAYarts Huntington House classroom gets a facelift

Virginia Beach's three children, Ann Preston, George Beach and Jane Wessel Lang, at the Huntington House reception.

The second floor of BAYarts' historic Huntington House has been used as a classroom for art programming since the early '60s. Now, thanks to a generous donation from the family of Virginia Beach, one of the original founders of the organization in 1948, it has finally been renovated. On Sept. 12, a celebratory reception in the newly christened "Virginia Beach Art Studio" was attended by Virginia's three children: Ann Preston of Petersborough, N.H.; Jane Wessel Lang of Bay Village; and Dr. George Beach with his wife, Barbara, of Madison, Va.  

BAYarts Education Director Erin Stack explained how important the renovation was. "The room felt busy and cluttered. It was like the 'teenager's bedroom' of our campus." To remedy this, the floors were sanded and refinished while the walls and trim were painted. Along with new tables and chairs, a new sink and floor-to-ceiling cupboards were installed.

It was a massive overhaul that has had a big impact. "Each teacher and student that walks into the new space is completely shocked at how beautiful it is," Stack said. "It now feels like a professional studio that we hope fosters learning." None of the BAYarts staff will forget the Bay Village woman who inspired this reno. 

With her husband, Stephen Beach, and their three children, Virginia settled into Bay Village during 1944. Once there, she managed to build a group of like-minded friends who were all passionate about the arts. She helped begin Baycrafters, and then taught there for several years. As her daughter, Ann, recalls: "There was always a new project underway – sewing draperies, refinishing furniture, designing lamps, braiding rugs [and] stenciling rocking chairs for her young grandchildren."   

American decorative stenciling was where Virginia's special interest lay, and so she transformed furniture pieces with brightly colored images of baskets, fruits, flowers, cornucopias, vines and leaves. Strongly dedicated to the craft, Beach visited museums and libraries to procure authentic 19th-century designs to use as her stencils. She made art a priority in her life, and the quality of her creations mattered to her.

The $9,000 gift from her family made a crucial facelift possible. The Beach children have found a way to honor the spirit of their artistic mother. Ann summed up her mother's gift as one that embraced the idea of reinvention and refurbishment. "She could take the most common objects – sometimes things discarded by others – and turn them into treasured gifts for her children and grandchildren." 

Jessica Stockdale


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Volume 6, Issue 19, Posted 10:10 AM, 09.16.2014