Workhouse Art Center - Gwendolyn C. Bragg

March 13

All articles are written by YJDP Student Correspondents and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.

It is a dark and chilly evening, but the studios in the Workhouse Art Center are alive with artists painting, sculpting, working with fibers, drawing, fusing glass, making jewelry, and crafting ceramics.

Located in Lorton, Va., the prison-turned-art center hosts a public Art Walk every second Saturday of the month. Here artists exhibit their paintings, sculptures, jewelry, prints, photographs and ceramics while visitors enjoy complimentary snacks and the opportunity to mingle with artists.

Gwendolyn C. Bragg is here too-- conversing with art enthusiasts, sipping coffee and perfecting a watercolor landscape.

Bragg has enjoyed painting all her life but never intended to be a professional artist. When enrolling into college, Bragg thought she would pursue a career as a Medical Technologist until her high school art teacher convinced her family that she had the talent to succeed in the art industry. Bragg graduated from Madison College with a BA in Art Education and James Madison University with a MFA in Drawing and Painting.

Bragg has been teaching adult continuing education classes at the Workhouse Art Center since 2008. She also teaches at the Art League and has an upcoming artist workshop at Orkney Springs, Virginia.

Bragg uses what some might consider an unorthodox method of watercolor. By painting on both sides of her watercolor paper and flipping it over against plexiglass, Bragg creates a cracked, almost deteriorated, consistency. She uses this method for her two series called “History” and “Rocks.” “History” depicts abandoned-looking ruins and stone buildings. “Rocks” depicts worn pebbles beneath peaceful water.

“The method helps convey that sense of age, time, weathering,” Bragg said. “I work from my own photographs but I use a lot of artistic license. I move things, change things and push the color to be more imaginative.”

Bragg’s work reflects her teaching, with the exception of her “History” and “Rocks” series, which are generated from her life and evolution as an artist.

“Picking up Rice Krispies or seeing the bottom of the laundry basket was not that fulfilling. I needed to be able to create something,” Bragg said.

Bragg hangs her favorite watercolors in her home. One of these paintings was inspired by a show she visited just after 9/11, where words like Freedom and Power hung on the walls to describe the overwhelming situation in New York.

“I kept thinking ‘what can I do, what can I do?’ Then one day I opened the front door and we had an American flag hanging from our building. I could see from our front porch a church across the way. And there was the same flag reflected in the pure sheen of dark paint on the door. With the flag and the church across there I just thought there is freedom,” Bragg said.

Back in Lorton, Bragg pauses to talk to a man admiring her new painting depicting snowscapes hanging in her studio.

Her studio consists of a desk covered in unfinished watercolor paintings, paintbrushes and a watercolor palette. The walls are filled with watercolor cats, paintings of ruins, rocks, Paris skylines, landscapes and the snowscape painting that are all for sale.

“That is snow you certainly don’t have to shovel,” she laughs.

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