St. Mary’s Art Center is Virginia City’s ‘unknown jewel’ |

St. Mary’s Art Center is Virginia City’s ‘unknown jewel’

by Susie Vasquez, Appeal Staff Writer

The historic St. Mary's Art Center, which has been a haven for artists since the mid-1960s, will soon be open to the public.

VIRGINIA CITY — A haven for artists since the mid-1960s, the doors of St. Mary’s Art Center will soon be open to the public.

The historic four-story brick building on Virginia City’s east side offers week-long classes for artists in a number of disciplines, everything from water color and photography to basket weaving. Lodging and meals are provided for the approximately 400 artists that visit each season, from May to October.

Built as a hospital in the 1870s, the center is undergoing renovation. The heating system is almost completed, so the building can be opened year round. Mimi Patrick, executive director for the center, said more community services will be added.

Through a $10,000 grant from the Nevada Arts Council, the center already provides classes for children at Virginia City Middle School twice a week. There are plans to extend those classes to other children or groups and open the building for weekend tours from May to October.

“We have to create a balance between making the building community-friendly and maintaining its historic fabric,” Patrick said. “That has been the focus since I took office last October.

“Everyone talks about Piper’s Opera House and the Fourth Ward School,” she said. “This is the unknown jewel. It has a lot of potential.”

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Just weeks ago, St. Mary’s received a $34,000 grant from Nevada’s Commission on Cultural Affairs to correct building code violations and create a gift shop and gallery under the porch, an expansive space on the south side of the building.

“We’re going to remove the old lathe and plaster. The brick underneath will provide a great backdrop for the art,” she said. “Virginia City doesn’t have a gallery for local artists.”

When that’s completed, Patrick expects St. Mary’s Art Center Inc. to turn its efforts toward remodeling the bathrooms, providing elevator access for the disabled and a sprinkler system.

Junipers mark the long, circular drive leading to the main entrance of what was once St. Mary Louise Hospital. Standing on the eastern outskirts of Virginia City, the building served Comstock pioneers until it closed around the turn of the century.

The large, airy rooms boast high ceilings, beadboard siding and wooden plank floors. Huge windows open to beautiful views all around. Sugar Loaf Mountain provides the backdrop to the east, Mount Davidson and Virginia City on the west.

The building is designed around a staircase with a heavy oak rail. Beaded curtains from the 1960s and aging macrame from the 1970s decorate quaint, centralized dormitory-style bathrooms that are stark by today’s standards.

The ongoing restoration has been arduous, the progress slow, and nothing is cheap. When completed, heating system costs alone will total $180,000.

The building will be formally open to the public for the first time May 18 during a birthday celebration for Anabelle Shelley, who preceded Patrick as executive director of this private, nonprofit organization. She will be 80.

For more information or to make reservations for the party, call the center at 847-7774.

What: St. Mary’s Art Center opening

Where: Virginia City

When: May 18

Center’s director an artist in her own right

By Susie Vasquez

An artist in her own right, Mimi Patrick owns Argenta Earth and Fire, a pottery shop in Gold Hill. When not practicing her craft, she’s executive director of St. Mary’s Art Center.

“Being the executive director for St. Mary’s is a way to give something back to community and for me, that’s very rewarding.

“The nice thing about Virginia City, is that it’s small enough so you can really make a difference,” she said.

She creates high fired stoneware and porcelain with another artist, David Karrasch. In addition to their small gallery, the pair sells pottery at nine other museums and gift shops around the state.

Patrick started working with clay years ago, when her two children, a son and daughter, were small. “They were driving me crazy, so I took a pottery class to maintain my sanity,” she said. “It turned into an addiction to clay.”

A single mom, she paid the bills by working for Nevada Bell, doing everything from marketing and sales, to data design. After her children were grown, she took up her art full time.

“Pottery is the only thing I ever really wanted to do,” she said.