Painting (and Sculpting, Drawing, Designing and Photographing) the Town

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Prince William Art Society is ‘Positive, Encouraging’

Atmosphere for Budding Artists

January 2011

 By Jennifer Rader, Contributing Writer

 James Gallagher, president of the Prince William Art Society.

James Gallagher, president of the Prince William Art Society.

Artistic expression takes place through a multitude of mediums. Through dance, music, painting, pottery and the like, the artist can conjure any emotion and allow it to be defined by the observer. Prince William County may not currently be known for these cultural resources, but there is an almost secret society where this kind of artistic expression—at every level of ability—is  embraced.

The Prince William Art Society (PWAS) concentrates on these attributes through the cultivation of the visual arts. Novice and expert painters, potters, photographers and jewelry designers alike, to name a few, are encouraged to become members of the society. Jewell Pratt Burns, a painter and charter member of the PWAS, says, “We watch new members grow, get confidence.”

PWAS was formed in 1971 as the Woodbridge Art Guild with 60 charter members—among them Lena Liu, a silk painter who has since gone on to enjoy national recognition in the collectibles market. Liu is an inaugural inductee of the Bradford Exchange Plate Artist Hall of Fame.

With the intent of welcoming artists from across the county, the organization was incorporated in 1976 as the Prince William Art Society, and in 1999 the group formally received their nonprofit status.

The Prince William Art Society’s purpose is to promote the appreciation of visual art and fine crafts, gain recognition and publicity for local artists’ work, and provide a variety of educational art programs and fine art exhibits to the Prince William community. The society does this through monthly programs featuring a guest artist, workshops, gallery and museum excursions, Prince William Art Society-sponsored shows and high school scholarship support.

pwasMeetings provide time for the membership and visitors to socialize and tend to organizational business, and to get to know prospective members, who can expect receive a warm welcome and a genuine appreciation by PWAS members for their artwork. The meetings conclude with a discussion or demonstration of a specific technique used in the visual arts. Monthly meetings are free and open to the public, and they take place at a local community center on the third Wednesday of each month, with the exception of July, August, December and January.

The PWAS approaches their monthly meetings and membership enthusiastically as a social opportunity through the learning process. Burns, whose pieces are exhibited in the Loft Gallery in Occoquan, said, “People that didn’t have confidence (in their work) gain it from the group.”

Fran Pennington, a registered nurse and artist, joined the group because she enjoys art; it had always been a family interest during her upbringing. “(PWAS) allowed me, as a novice or beginner, to be welcomed. Members shared technical advice and support. There was no hesitation; it’s a positive, encouraging atmosphere.”

paint brusheMarie Marakowits of Marie’s Crystal Delights Jewelry found confirmation and success by joining the Prince William Art Society. She had always thought her jewelry creations—a relaxing hobby she shared with family and friends—were enjoyable  personal indulgences. In speaking with members of PWAS, she found her pieces to also qualify as art and was empowered by the society to exhibit and go on to retail her jewelry at Art a la Carte in Occoquan.

Not only does the society provide positive affirmations and learning opportunities to its membership, the society also conducts workshops for groups and schools. PWAS members mentor next generation artists through their work with schools and the Jewell Pratt Burns Scholarship. Each year, PWAS awards scholarships to Prince William County graduating high school students who are continuing their study of the visual arts.

Being an entirely volunteer organization, the PWAS does not have its own gallery; however, they still manage to host two to four formal art exhibitions each year in various locations. The exhibitions are all open to the public. PWAS member pieces can also be found on display at the Prince William County and Manassas public libraries and at the annual Occoquan Craft Show.

Exhibiting is found to be an educational venture in itself. New members who have never before shown their art have the opportunity to participate in one of the annual shows. “I learned a lot through what was seen at the shows,” said registered nurse and novice painter Dorothy Headley. “I learned how to properly frame and present paintings.”

The Prince William Art Society is an intriguing, quiet force that just makes a person want to pursue artistic expression. It is described by its members as unique through diversity, but most certainly this “secret society” will be a great influence in keeping and expanding artistic cultural enrichment in Prince William County into the future.

For further information about the Prince William Art Society meetings, membership and scholarship opportunity visit

A nonprofit development director for 10 years, Jennifer Rader now works as a freelance writer and consultant. She lives with her son and husband in Manassas and can be reached at





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