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With the appeal of a high-end gallery, the Quinlan offers community artists a place to call home

POSTED: January 17, 2012 1:30 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Mary Hull, owner of Pen Dragon, checks on an item Monday at the studio level of the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville. Pen Dragon is a fine arts supply store located inside of the visual arts center.

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With an in-house fine arts supply store and 20 exhibitions annually, the Quinlan Visual Arts Center is the caliber of art gallery that you’d expect to find in bigger cities like Atlanta and New York.

Yet for the last six decades, it has gratefully called Gainesville home.

"This will be our 65th year. Obviously the arts have been something that’s very important to the members of this community," said Amanda McClure, the executive director of the nonprofit.

"Gainesville has a really distinctive character. There’s a sense of community and civic pride that I haven’t experienced anywhere else.

"We’re really lucky to have the need for a center like this in the community."

And community need has been at the center of the Quinlan’s operations from day one. The comprehensive center began in 1946 as the Georgia Arts Association, a sketch club.

A few year later, Leslie F. Quinlan, deeded the land at 514 Green St. NE in Gainesville for the center "as an investment in the cultural future of the community."

The center included a gallery for exhibitions and studio space for artists to work, but in 2004, operations were kicked into high gear when a renovation and expansion project was completed.

"We added more classrooms on the studio level downstairs, which really allowed us to improve the quality of our programs," McClure said.

"Now, we can have 5 different things going on at the same time."

The expansion has also allowed the center to better diversify its exhibitions.

"We try to show as many different talents in Georgia as possible," McClure said.

"For instance, we never had a full-scale folk art show before, but we will be doing that this summer."

Based on community feedback, the Quinlan regularly offers pottery classes, annual kids’ arts camps and a variety of workshops.

"We find out what the community wants, then we find someone to teach it," McClure said.

Waning interest in the dark-room photography workshop is how the Pen Dragon fine art supply came to call the Quinlan home in late November.

"The shop’s space used to be our dark room, but it had been about five years since we had even a little interest in a class. Everyone has gone digital," McClure said.

"The space was really going to waste until Mary (Hull, Pen Dragon co-owner) approached me about possibly opening a store.

"This turned out to be the perfect thing for this space. There’s really no other place like this one in Gainesville."

Part of what separates Pen Dragon from other supply stores is the availability of the higher quality of the materials needed by the Quinlan’s artists and other fine artists in the community.

"There are different grades of materials," McClure said.

"There’s stuff that’s called student-grade, which is perfectly adequate for learning and things of that nature, but for fine artists who are reselling their work, they require a higher level of quality."

Hull often gives artists a crash course for creating their own paint from scratch.

"It’s very messy, but it’s very fun. All paint comes from the same, basic (dry) pigment," Hull said.

"For example, if you’re doing an oil paint, you’d mix the pigment with cold-pressed linseed oil. If you’re doing acrylic paint, you’d start with the same pigment, but mix in something called GAC, which smells like Elmer’s glue."

Having access to the necessary ingredients to create custom paint colors is important for painters, especially the ones who are trying to bring the colors they see in nature alive on their canvas.

"You can’t always find that in a tube," Hull said.

From elementary-school potters to master-level painters, the Quinlan is home to a wide range of artists.

The Georgia Art League meets there monthly, as does the Georgia Mountains Handspinners Guild.

There’s a gift shop filled with products created by regional artists and weekly sketch club meetings.

"I enjoy putting local artists to work. That includes everyone from the jewelry designer to the hand-painted scarf person to the potter," McClure said.

"The gift shop is an opportunity to support your community and to really buy local. We feel like nurturing any grass-roots arts movement is something we should be interested in.

"I think one of the best things we do here is offer artists the opportunity to come together. I’m hoping it’s a trend that you’ll see pick up all across the country.

"The arts are very important to a community."



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