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Kiowa County Signal - Kiowa County, KS
  • St. John artist reclaiming part of town's artisitic history

  • Carol Long is well known for her nationally acclaimed pottery works, but in the endeavor to expand her business she is carving out a piece of St. John's history.
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  • Carol Long is well known for her nationally acclaimed pottery works, but in the endeavor to expand her business she is carving out a piece of St. John's history.
    "Originally I wanted to expand Long Pottery and I was looking for a place on the square, (in St. John,)" Long said. But, when I walked into Gray Studio and saw that facility, it is fabulous on the inside. You know you drive right passed it and you don't even look at it, but when you go inside you go, oh my."
    Long had planned to open up a working studio in St. John and offer classes in a variety of artist endeavors for people of all ages and skill levels.
    Once she saw the potential in Gray Studio's building Long changed her plans considerably. She still plans to open a working studio, and offer classes in about everything from music, to photography and other arts, but she also wants to preserve a piece of St. John's history in the process.
    The Story of the W.R. Gray, William Rossetter was born March 22, 1865 in Greentown, Howard Co., Indiana, In 1883, he moved to McPherson, Kansas.
    He was 22 years old and working for a farmer in 1887 when he asked for his wages a few days in advance to buy a 5x8 camera he'd seen advertised in a circular.
    In his first job, he operated out of a photo car owned by a teacher named Van Duesen. They worked the area around Fall River. Some of the other communities they served were Fall River, New Albany, Fredonia, Neosha and Lafountain.
    Around 1898, he married Mary Tipton an in 1905, moved his family from Fall River to St. John. Where he bought the studio at 116 N. Main. At that time, there were three children: Royal L. (1899-1981), Ina Amelia and Jessie Ruth (1903-1993). Two more sons, Arzy Robert (1906-1978) and Cecil Tipton (1908-1980), were born after they moved to St. John. The family's home was also in the building, which still stands today at the corner of 2nd and Main.
    The studio has fallen into a state of disrepair both on the inside and outside, but still boasts the picturesque wall of slanted windows on the north side for excellent lighting inside the studio. Cameras, darkroom supplies and boxes upon boxes of family photographs still filled the isles and old wooden cabinets in the building.
    An old cooking stove, heating stove and some furnishing rest in the back rooms and upstairs that was the family's living quarters. Other items fill display cases near the front from a more recent era as the building served as a store at one time.
    "Everything changed," Long said. "The first step is the building. We want to restore the building historically. We've lost a lot of (old) buildings around the town already due to construction remodeling, whatever. Here's a building that hasn't been touched."
    Page 2 of 2 - The problem with the old building is it has become more of the focus than expanding Long's pottery studio. The restoration of the building will be a considerable expense that Long would not be able to fund on her own so the venture has changed from a private business endeavor to a public restoration process.
    A board of five members has been elected, and is in the process of applying for 501c3 (non-profit) status. The lion's share of the old photographs have been removed and taken to Stafford County Historical Museum to be come part of a Gray Studio exhibit that already includes a myriad of restored glass negatives that group has been working on for many years.
    Old camera and darkroom equipment will need to be taken out and reworked or cleaned up for exhibit, and Long said the newer items circa 1960s and 70s will also be part of the building when completed.
    "Those items we part of the building's history as well," she said.
    While the project has taken on a much bigger scheme than Long first anticipated her goals remain the same on creating something in St. John that promotes the arts both through education and exhibits.
    Long plans to rework the living quarters of the old building and use them to house resident artists that may be fresh out of college looking for someplace to work and live.
    Long stated the resident artist would add a different perspective to the local art, and provide a service.
    "With a resident artist it would be an open and working museum," Long said.
    "The biggest thing we have to do now is get started cleaning it up, and once the 501c3 is set raising money for the work that will have to be done to the building itself."
    Additional Source-The Story of the W.R. Gray Studio Glass Plate Negatives by Michael Hathaway, Curator Stafford County Historical Museum
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