ST. JOHN — Plans to restore the historic Gray’s Photography Studio in St. John took a leap forward last week when the state arts commission awarded a $75,000 grant to the non-profit group in charge of the project.
The restored building will serve as an incubator for developing artists and provide cultural and arts programming for St. John and surrounding areas, according to the grant announcement from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission (CAIC).
The building has studio space, gallery space and living quarters, which will be provided rent-free to budding artists. In exchange, those artists will assist in hosting art-related educational and enhancement programs for the public. The gallery will also display and sell art.
Artist Carol Long, president of Gray’s Studio Restoration board, admits she was “a little stunned” at the size of the grant from the CAIC. “OK, I was really stunned,” Long said. The $75,000 project was the largest of nine grants awarded for a total of $350,000.
The projects will rely on partnerships between arts, economic development and government organizations in order to promote the arts and economic growth in Kansas, said Kansas Labor Secretary and CAIC Chairwoman Lana Gordon.
“Partnerships are critical to the success of the projects receiving grant funding,” Gordon said. “By working together, numerous organizations across Kansas are supporting the arts, generating strong economic activity in the state and contributing to a better quality of life for Kansans.”
The City of St. John and Stafford County Economic Development are partners in the St. John project. Carolyn Dunn, Stafford County Economic Development’s executive director, wrote the grant application.
The building at 116 North Main St. was added to the National Register of Historic places earlier this year for its local significance. It was built around 1900 as a residence and photo gallery operated by O.C. Haworth. Photographer William R. Gray bought the building in 1905, and lived and worked there for the next 42 years. His daughter Jessie joined him as a business partner in 1940, and continued the business until her retirement in 1981.
By 1910, Long said, Gray had added the building’s most striking feature – the big north window. According to the nomination for the National Registry: “A large sloping studio window ... provides natural light to the interior studio space. This 30-light window is approximately 12 feet wide and extends from near ground level into the roof.”
The $75,000 grant is a matching grant and the partners are well on their way to matching the funding – although more will have to be raised, Long said. “We have $37,500 in-kind and $12,000 cash,” she said.
“Our main and first concern is just getting the whole building sealed up,” Long said. That will require work on the roof and foundation, and exterior paint. “The building is the first step of our project.” The work must be completed by the end of June 2014.
W.R. Gray was an old-time photographer who used glass negatives rather than film. While many of Gray’s original negatives are stored at the Stafford County Museum, some are still at the studio and need to be catalogued. Volunteers have planned a workday on Oct. 5 for that purpose, Long said.