It's been seven months since members of the McDuffie Arts Council entertained the possibility that they could have a home of their own. Yet on Feb. 12 they will be entertaining the community during the grand opening of their new working studio and exhibit gallery in downtown Thomson.
"There's been some art tucked away here and there, but it hasn't been obvious to everybody," said Bracton Ivey, an art council charter member. "Now it will be."
The arts council made arrangements in September with Camellia Partners Inc. to set up shop in one of the empty buildings close to the railroad tracks on Main Street. The exterior of the building, formerly the Sports Palace Pool Hall, was renovated with help from the city's faÃ§ade grant.
Demolition and renovation of the interior was left up to the arts council.
Members of the council donated their time and labor under the guidance of Bracton Ivey, an experienced builder and a metal sculptor. Now retired, he and his wife, Sheryl, spent long hours working in the gallery.
"Certainly if we had to pay somebody with his skill, we might not have even started," said Marion Ivey, the chairman of the arts council and Bracton's son. "They easily spent three times more hours in there working than anybody else did.
"And they've spent a lifetime doing that kind of work."
Though a lot of demolition was done, much of the building's original character remains.
Marion Ivey said a lot of plaster and brick remain, as does an old door that reveals a solid brick wall when opened.
"If anything, it's a reduction of the past 90 years, and we've taken it back to how it originally was," he said. "We've kept the charm."
Bracton Ivey said old impressions from the Sports Palace's pool tables remain on the floor.
"But it definitely does not feel like a pool hall anymore," his son said. "When people who remember it that way walk in and see it, their jaws drop."
Called MAC on Main, the gallery will be used to exhibit and sell art of members of the council. The members also will teach art classes there.
Artist Charlene Montgomery, who runs an art school in Appling, already has two full classes scheduled weekly in the gallery.
Some other classes are being considered.
The community is invited to visit the gallery and learn more about the arts council during the open house. Entertainment will be provided by The Henry's, an acoustic strings duo who also are visual artists.
According to its Web site, the council is a nonprofit organization established in 2008 for area artisans to showcase their work and for patrons to celebrate local talent. Biographies and pictures of works of most of the council's 25 active members are on the Web site.