By Tracy Shevlin
Since 1977, the Artists’ Undertaking Gallery has provided a venue for sharing a love of art with the visitors of Occoquan. Located on Mill Street, the gallery is uniquely, yet appropriately, named in honor of the building in which it’s housed, which was once a funeral home. The artist-owners of the gallery operate the shop as a co-op, but in their own words, they are much more like a social club or extended family.
Prince William Living spoke with Jane Ernst and David Barnes, two of the co-owners, to learn more about the artists and the gallery’s longevity in the Occoquan community.
About the Gallery
Ernst and Barnes are two of the 18 co-owners of the gallery. As a group, the owners are quite discerning and intentional about any new artist they accept into the family, as well as the mix of artwork they have. They are careful to have the appropriate blend of two-dimensional and three-dimensional work, so as not
to be too overloaded in one area.
In its early days, the gallery was used as studio space for the artists, and art classes were also held onsite. Over time, the artists have found alternative studio spaces and use the shop only to display and sell their work. Because the gallery is privately owned by the artists themselves, they are able to keep their artwork reasonably priced and offer a great value to their clients. Ernst and Barnes explained how important the gallery is to the artists who own it. Not only does the gallery give the artists a home to display and sell their artwork, but the town of Occoquan itself, being a town that finds every occasion to celebrate art, provides them a perfect location. Both the gallery and the town events keep the artists connected to the community.
One unique aspect about the Artists’ Undertaking Gallery is that customers can really get to know these local artists. There is always at least one artist in the building during business hours, each taking turns to work in the gallery, which is open seven days a week. Also, a preview of each artist’s work can be seen on the gallery’s website along with the scheduled times the artists will be onsite. The artists are always willing to talk about their work or another artist’s work.
Ernst enjoys working with the public and seeing different reactions to the pieces on display. Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Each person can have different thoughts and feelings about any given piece. She said, “It’s interesting because sometimes they read in very different meanings than we felt creating it.”
As each new season approaches, there comes a new opportunity to celebrate art. In late October, Occoquan will hold its “Haunt the Town” event, which is a fun and creative occasion for all to enjoy.
According to Ernst, “It’s one of our favorite events.” The gallery storefront might be decorated with ghosts, goblins or Beetlejuice on display. In the short weeks that follow Halloween, the gallery will participate in other town events, such as the “Holiday Open House” and “Winter Fest.”
While the gallery participates in most town activities, the craft fairs are not always possible or a good idea for the art and artists. Barnes explained, “Perhaps 20 years ago, one might have found local artists like us at some of the craft shows, but over time, those shows became cost prohibitive and an inefficient way to spend our time.” The heavy workload associated with some of the major fairs, where artists may have to pay for space, be onsite for the show and pack up and transport art is only part of the deterrent. That work, in addition to the risk of damage and theft, has made many artists opt out of those types of shows. Customers will just have to wander into the gallery while they are visiting those shows.
Inside the gallery, there are 14 display spaces, most representing individual artists, with a few spaces shared by two people. Each area is filled with the artist’s specialty, whether pencil or ink drawings, paintings, photographs or three-dimensional work, such as jewelry, metal sculptures, wood carvings or glass mosaics. While it is very much an art gallery, it also has the feel of a unique gift shop since there are so many different items on display Each month, one two-dimensional and one three-dimensional
artist are highlighted in special display areas of the gallery.
The featured artists are honored monthly at a “featured artists’ reception” held at the gallery. In addition, the gallery also hosts its own open-houses each year to thank the community for another successful year. It is a special night where all of the artists come in to greet VIPs and new customers alike. They also send out a monthly newsletter for those who want to keep abreast of happenings in the gallery.
The Undertaking Gallery and Things That Go Bump
As autumn approaches and the days get shorter, Occoquan will be full of the ghost stories befitting its décor. At the Artists’ Undertaking Gallery, although the name may sound spooky, like a gallery for morticians, the owners are both friendly and welcoming. However, several artists at the gallery told Prince William Living about their own spooky and unexplained experiences there. From hearing voices that don’t belong, to pictures falling from the walls under calm conditions, the artists are happy to share their ghost stories. Customers can stop by the gallery to learn more or can participate in one of the nightly ghost tours in Occoquan.
Additional information about the gallery can be found by visiting theartistsundertaking.com or calling 703-494-0584.
Tracy Shevlin (email@example.com) is a native Virginian and long-time Manassas area resident. She is a graduate of George Mason University where she is also an office manager. Follow her on twitter @nvalady1.