Torpedo Factory Art Center

Torpedo Factory Art Center: Raw Materials, Talent in Old Town Alexandria

Watercolorist Margaret Huddy works in her Torpedo Factory studio. Dawn Benedetto's studio and her Poppi rings, below, can also be seen at the center.
Watercolorist Margaret Huddy works in her Torpedo Factory studio. Dawn Benedetto's studio and her Poppi rings, below, can also be seen at the center. (Photos By Holly E. Thomas -- The Washington Post)
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Friday, March 20, 2009

How often does the average Joe (or Jane) get to see a work of art being created? To smell the heady fumes wafting from a table filled with acrylic paints, to watch a watercolor artist hunch over paper to get that shade of cerulean just right. Sure, there are TV design shows and how-to blogs that offer peeks inside the creative process, but Old Town Alexandria's Torpedo Factory Art Center offers something entirely different: a chance to interact with artists at work.

A cool respite from the foot traffic of King Street, the former torpedo assembly plant is now home to more than 160 artists tucked away in 82 studios, as well as five cooperative galleries, two workshops dedicated to printmaking and fiber arts, and an art school where adults and children can channel their inner Picasso.

The space invites visitors to get lost -- literally. The first floor boasts a spacious layout and brightly lit, approachable studios housing ceramics, clothing and paintings from the likes of Sheep Jones, Tory Cowles and Kathy Beynette. The three artists share a paint-splattered space, accessorized with dabs of color and piles of crumpled rags, evidence of works in progress. On the second floor, jewelry designer Dawn Benedetto crafts her signature Poppi collection out of gleaming glass petals and orbs, and painter Margaret Huddy fills in a sketch of a sycamore tree with luminous watercolors as visitors file in and out.

"I've painted on location for 50 years, so I've gotten used to people watching me and asking what I'm doing," Huddy says. "That's really our objective of being in the center, to teach people about what we do."

Don't miss the maze-like top level of the factory, where you can pull up a chair for a chat with some of the center's creative types, several of whom have been here since the space opened in 1974. Peer into fiber artist Ann DiPlacido's space, if only to take in the enormous loom, then visit jewelry designer Zoya Gutina, whose intricate, hand-beaded necklaces are nothing short of stunning.

Now, with three floors' worth of inspiration, you may even be tempted to dust off an old sketchpad when you get home.

-- Holly E. Thomas

Where is it? The Torpedo Factory Art Center is at 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. The closest Metro station is King Street, which is a little more than a mile from the Torpedo Factory. Hop on the free King Street Trolley, which runs between the Metro station and the Old Town waterfront, and don't forget to pick up a map of the center at the visitors' desk.

How much does it cost? Free, unless, of course, you wind up buying some art!

If you have more than three hours: Explore the Alexandria Archaeology Museum, which is on the Torpedo Factory's third floor. For refreshments, choose between a cup or a cone at Scoop Grill & Homemade Ice Cream (110 King St., 703-549-4527) or Pop's Old Fashioned Ice Cream Co. (109 King St., 703-518-5374).

For more information: 703-838-4565,

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