Arts and History Share Spotlight in Louisa

CAAR Real Estate Weekly 11/28/2008

Louisa County residents have only to travel to Fredericksburg Avenue to enjoy the benefits of two exciting venues—the Louisa Arts Center and the Sargeant Museum of Louisa County History.

Managed by the Louisa Downtown Development Corporation, the Louisa Arts Center provides performance, visual, musical, and cultural arts for the community. The center consists of The Purcell Gallery, The Cooke-Haley Theatre, and the Arts Education programs.

The Purcell Gallery is named after the Purcell family of Louisa who are active in the community and supportive of the art center’s endeavors. The wing opened last year and offers a beautiful setting with high ceilings and ideal lighting to showcase alternating exhibits.

“All artists are welcome to enter their work,” said Peggy Weston, director. “A curator determines what artwork will be in each show. The Purcell Gallery also provides an intimate site for the center’s monthly Concert in the Gallery Series and Spotlight Speaker Series.”

The Cooke-Haley Theatre is the newest addition. The 200-seat theatre will host programs ranging from concerts and recitals to dance, drama, comedy, and films. The theatre officially opens on August 15 with an invitation only grand opening celebration. The following day the theatre will open to the public with onstage entertainment performing from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Visit www.louisaarts.org for details). At 8 p.m., a ticketed concert in the Cooke-Haley Theatre features the Fab Band (previously called Fat Ammons Band), guaranteed to contribute a fabulous climax to the celebratory weekend.

The Arts Education branch offers classes throughout the year and is a significant part of the mission of the Louisa Arts Center. “We recognize the importance of the arts in our lives, at all ages, and the balance and levity that the arts provide to us, the creative expression and joy that envelops us when we are immersed in the arts,” said Weston.

“This is a subject that I am passionate about and believe in. I have studied the benefits of arts education and I am anxious to work with the school system in integrating the arts throughout the curriculum, hoping the center can act as a heartbeat in the community in all arts-related quests. We are here to serve people and to enrich the quality of their lives. We want everyone to experience the arts on a sensory level, interact with the artists, expand their own concepts, and be entertained.”

Sargeant Museum of Louisa County History

On May 17, with the grand opening of the Sargeant Museum, Louisa County history buffs have a new place to learn about the rich legacy of the county. Now located adjacent to the Louisa Arts Center, the new museum is a far cry from the old brick jail the historical society previously used to house its museum.

“Space, humidity issues, and accessibility have always been hindrances to our being able to truly present exhibits which tell the county’s story as it should be told,” said Elaine Taylor, director. “When the Town of Louisa purchased the old stone school property, there was this lovely home on a portion of it, but the county did not need the space for the new town offices and the Arts Center they had planned. So, the Louisa County Historical Society was offered the home if we would fund restoration of it and could use it as a larger museum setting. We’ve been at work for four or five years now, first restoring the house and then creating the six themed exhibits visitors now experience.”

The museum is named after Mrs. Virginia Sargeant Reynolds who grew up in the home, built in 1914 by her father, Frank Sargeant, who owed a hardware store on Main Street.

The six themed exhibits highlight native peoples, the Revolutionary War, Civil War, education, government, and transportation.

“A committee for each theme drew on our local historians, archived materials, and resources at the state library, etc. to place the specifics of Louisa County’s story into the larger context of Virginia’s history,” Taylor explained.

Most of the museum items have been donated by Louisa residents and are from Louisa County, with the exception of a few artifacts in the Native People’s room, which Taylor said was only because they did not have examples of certain periods.

Visitors are encouraged to tour the property. “The museum is actually self-guided, although a docent is always available for those visitors who prefer a guided tour,” said Taylor. “Each room has a short video presentation that amplifies the text panels and artifact displays.”

One of the most exciting elements of the museum is the fact that classes, seminars, and special events that bring local history to life are offered on an ongoing basis. Old Photograph Day and Oral History Recording, both ongoing programs, reflect the Historical Society’s ongoing commitments to gather oral histories and collect digital images of photographs to document the 20th century.

“We continue to teach people how to research and preserve their own family history, both in Louisa County and in other states through our genealogy and family history seminars, which are very popular,” said Taylor. “We are offering programs for adults and children to delve more deeply into each of our six basic exhibit themes. And, of course, we love to offer special programs that take advantage of the knowledge, or collections, of individuals who specialize in some particular aspect of our history: like the fellow who has a very popular presentation on historic images of Louisa though post cards, or our local WWII collector who brought his items and himself in costume for a day at the museum. We really enjoy having families come and have several specific modules we offer for home-schooling parents or youth clubs.”

The museum is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

Taylor hopes everyone will take time to visit the new museum. “It is a place to learn about the past in our county so that understanding can help inform the present and the future we face together.”

For information on the Louisa Arts Center, visit www.louisaarts.org.
For the Sargeant Museum of Louisa County History, visit www.louisacountyhistoricalsociety.org.