Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) There was one question that ran through the mind of Zeb Armstrong, a newlywed from South Carolina recently drafted for service in the Vietnam War.

“Will I return?”

It was a question Armstrong etched onto his bunk in a magic marker, alongside hundreds of other messages and images from countless young men taking a journey many wouldn’t return from. The 18-21 day trip from the West Coast to Vietnam aboard the USNS General Nelson Walker left a lot of time for soldiers to get homesick or anxious about the journey ahead. Though against regulations, drawing on the canvas beds became a widespread past-time.

Yesterday (Tuesday), a traveling exhibit called the Vietnam Graffiti Project stopped at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization in Clarendon that works on improving efficiency and effectiveness of military operations. For one day, canvases covered with years of doodling from soldiers covered the walls of the offices, and co-founder Art Beltrone spoke with CNA personnel about their stories.

The ship started its service in the final days of WWII then ferried troops to and from the Korean War and the Vietnam War. After Vietnam, the ship was put into the James River Reserve fleet — the Ghost Fleet — to be reactivated in case of an emergency. It sat there virtually untouched until Beltrone visited the ship with Jack Fisk — a production designer doing research for The Thin Red Line — and stumbled on rooms littered with relics from the war sitting exactly as they’d been left when the last soldiers disembarked.

When he found out the ship was scheduled to be scrapped, Beltrone said he and his wife asked the military if they could recover the canvases and other items to preserve the memory of the soldiers who traveled on the ship. The ship was taken apart in Texas in 2005, but Beltrone had recovered the graffiti from inside the ships.

“We did not want to see that material lost and those men forgotten,” Beltrone said. “It’s not just an artifact. It’s someone talking back to us through time.”

Then the work began on telling those stories. Many of them signed their work and left messages about their hometowns or loved ones, which made looking them up easier. Beltrone said he still gets emotional when they read the little notes drawn on the canvas about insecurities and homesickness — only to find that the person who wrote them was ultimately killed in Vietnam.

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The Arlington County Fair is adding more events to its lineup this year, including a pie-eating contest and a butterfly exhibition.

Fair-goers can get up close to butterflies later this month thanks to a traveling enclosure for the creatures from Florida-based company The Butterfly Enclosure. Tickets are $3 a piece.

“Children and adults alike will enjoy the wonder of being surrounded by nature’s most delicate, beautiful creatures,” fair organizers wrote on the event page.

The exhibition will be open every day of the fair:

  • Wednesday, August 14, from 5-8 p.m.
  • Thursday, August 15 from 5-8 p.m.
  • Friday, August 16 from 2-8 p.m.
  • Saturday, August 17 from 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
  • Sunday, August 18 from 11 a.m.- 7 p.m.

The county fair itself will be open from Aug. 14-18 and will feature carnival games, food trucks, and live music, in addition to goat yoga and a new beer garden. The fair’s full schedule has not yet been published on its website.

This year the fair will also host a pie-eating contest. On Saturday, Aug. 17 participants will chow down on blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry pie, and everyone will receive a “Arlington County Fair Pie Eating Championship” t-shirt.

Pre-registration for the event, which is free, is sold out. However, fair organizers noted on the event page that there will be space for some same-day signups. The contest begins at 1:30 p.m. and participants are asked to stop by at 1 p.m. to register and check in.

Contestants will compete based on their age category:

  • Ages 2-4
  • Ages 5-8
  • Ages 9-12
  • Ages 13-16
  • Ages 17-109.5

The event is organized together with local bakery Living the Pie Life and young adult event organization Arlington Jaycees.

Several carnival ride favorites are set to return to the fair this year, including the Zipper, the Heart Flip, and the Rainbow from the Cole Shows Amusement Company.

The fair is free to attend but ticket prices for amusements range from $1 for a single ticket to $20 for 24 tickets.

Photos courtesy Dennis Dimick

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A free exhibit entitled Mister Rogers: Just the Way You Are is currently on display in Crystal City.

The exhibit is open to the public at the Crystal City Shops entrance to the PBS building (2100 Crystal Drive) through May 31. Created by Nashville-based artist Wayne Brezinka, the exhibit is described as “a unique and interactive mixed media portrait experience incorporating both two and three-dimensional elements.”

“Through the use of objects, artifacts and memorabilia assembled together, these items craft extraordinary story lines within this artistic profile of America’s most beloved neighbor, Mister Rogers,” Brezinka wrote.

The exhibit is especially relevant given “the love and affection that many have with Mister Rogers in our current social and political climate [and] the buzz around the upcoming film starring Tom Hanks who stars as Mister Rogers later this year,” he said.

The touring exhibition’s Crystal City stop was made possible by Arlington-based PBS and property owner JBG Smith. It is open weekdays from 7 a.m.-6 p.m.

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WHAT: Rosslyn CAFÉ — Photography exhibit & local distillery tasting
WHERE: Bennett Park Art Atrium (1601 Clarendon Blvd)
WHEN: Friday, March 29, 2019 6-8 p.m.
MORE INFORosslyn BID website

For most of the week, Birch Thomas goes to her 9-5 job as vice president of finance for a small company in Georgetown.

She loves the precision of numbers and balance sheets and is good at what she does, but her day job doesn’t define her. When Birch Thomas is really “on,” she’s out with her camera taking pictures.

Although this tenth-generation Arlingtonian grew up in a creative household — her mom is a pastel artist and photographer and her dad a sculptor — she never picked up a camera for more than the usual snapshot until about three years ago.

“I grew up with the camera around, and stopping on the side of the road on a family vacation to take a picture was a normal thing for my parents to do,” she says. “Around 2015, I found myself borrowing my mom’s camera all the time. I’d go on walks by myself taking pictures. I’d lose track of time, getting into the flow of it. I realized how much I enjoyed it.”

Over the past few years, Birch has gradually built up a small photography business on the side. She photographs food, weddings and other important moments in people’s lives. And she still goes on long walks with her camera, lending her unique perspective to D.C. landmarks, monuments and pieces of everyday life.

This Friday, March 29, Birch will have her first solo exhibition at Rosslyn CAFE, a four-week series of free community events every Friday evening hosted by the Rosslyn Business Improvement District (BID).

Taking place at the beautiful Bennett Park Art Atrium in Upper Rosslyn, Rosslyn CAFE introduces attendees to the work of new local artists each week, offering them the opportunity to purchase art while enjoying food, drinks and a festive atmosphere.

Birch will be selling unframed prints at Rosslyn CAFE in a variety of sizes, and if she doesn’t have exactly what people want on hand, they can order it at the event.

“I’m not all that concerned about selling,” she says. “Mostly, I just want people to experience my work and gain a greater appreciation for the beauty that surrounds us.”

Birch says taking pictures of people is a different process for her than capturing objects and places. Photographing people is more about developing a relationship and sense of trust so that others feel comfortable around her.

Currently, she’s in the midst of a documentary project photographing artists in their studios. It’s been an honor to be present with artists as they create, and to see how each person’s creative process is different.

When she’s out with her camera by herself, Birch shoots whatever catches her eye, aiming to depict something people see every day in a different light. For instance, one Sunday morning she stumbled upon a field of seemingly endless purple flowers with the Washington Monument and Capitol in the background. This is one of her favorite, unexpected photos.

Other times, though, she’s deliberate about what she wants to shoot, and will spend months planning and strategizing to take the photo she has in her mind.

“Photography gives me a feeling of satisfaction I’ve never felt with anything else and I’m grateful that I’ve found it as an outlet,” she says. “If I haven’t taken a good photograph in a while, I’ll feel out of balance, the way some people do when they don’t go to the gym or meditate. I never really found my thing until I started taking pictures.”

To learn more about Birch Thomas and her work, subscribe to the Rosslyn BID’s weekly email, which will feature a longer version of this piece later this week.

See Birch’s photography on her website and on Instagram. Click here to learn more about Rosslyn CAFE.

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Arlingtonians can get a glimpse into the past with a photo exhibit currently on display at Westover Branch Library.

The historic photo montage documents houses and buildings in Arlington before their demolition and the structures that replaced them, spanning 40 years. The photos are showcased in window frames preserved from the demolished houses depicted.

The “Windows to the Past: Arlington, Then and Now” exhibit by Tom Dickinson will be on display until Jan. 5 at 1644 N. McKinley Road, Suite 3.

Dickinson, a historian, photographer and historic preservation advocate, told ARLnow that his exhibit combines his passion for photography and historic preservation.

When he moved to Arlington in 1978, he said he was shocked by the constant demolition of older homes and commercial buildings, so he’s been snapping and collecting pictures of houses fated for demolition and then what replaced them.

Dickinson said he finds out about the houses from online archives of demolition permits that developers have to apply for, word-of-mouth and his own observations. One indicator he looks for is a dangling power line, which has to get cut from the telephone pole before a demolition.

The exhibit, which is funded by the Arlington Arts Grant Program, includes photos of Lustron prefabricated enameled steel houses which were developed after World War II, and Certigrade homes, which are made from cedar wood. The original houses in the “before” pictures were built between the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Dickinson got permission from the developers to salvage windows from the houses. His appreciation for the craftsmanship of windows began after he took a workshop on window construction about 15 years ago.

“These are the windows through which who knows how many thousands of eyes peered out through this glass to the world around them, and the light that illuminated their lives came in,” he said. “It’s the last sort of symbolic artifact from these houses.”

While Dickinson acknowledges that some people see new developments as a progress, Dickinson has a “two-prong lament for the loss of affordable housing and of historic structures.”

Some houses in Arlington are better off torn down, he said. “A lot of these places that were torn down were houses that were not distinguished in any way, just average and inexpensive [ones] that served their purpose and came to the end of their life,” he said. “But still that comes with a cost, environmentally, in terms of the energy for demolition, transporting debris and filling up landfill space. There’s an environmental penalty.”

Dickinson insists that the greenest houses are the ones that are already built.

On the heels of Amazon’s announcement that it will set up its second headquarters in Crystal City, Dickinson said he expects to see fewer “less expensive” houses as housing demand skyrockets, along with increasing congestion on the highways and Metro. “It’s the Manhattanization of Arlington.”

Dickinson isn’t holding his breath for Arlington County to put the brakes on developments. “They’re going to do everything they need to do to make Amazon happy and help them find housing for people,” he said.

“This change is inevitable — it’s going to happen for good or for bad,” Dickinson said, adding that in 40 years from now, he expects Arlington to look completely different from its appearance today.

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The Arlington County Fair will kick off on Wednesday, August 16 at Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road).

For the 41st year, the county will host a variety of events for the community, including live outdoor music, a parade, fairground rides and game, food, floral and craft competitions, pig races and more.

This year’s exhibit theme is “Let’s Play,” which organizers said celebrates the “child-like joy and fun that the Arlington County Fair brings out in all of us.”

The fair’s outdoor programming begins August 16, with indoor programming beginning on Friday, August 18. The event ends August 20, with outdoor activities concluding at 10 p.m. that day. More details about the indoor offerings will be available closer to the time.

The fair’s full opening hours are as follows:

The Kids’ Court, which has various activities including a moon bounce and face painting, will be open during the following hours:

  • Friday 2-6 p.m.
  • Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
  • Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Competitive exhibits for participants to show off their abilities and compete for prizes include:

  • Honey, Beeswax and Food Preservation
  • Decorated Food Products and Baked Goods
  • Art Needlework
  • Crafts and Fine Arts
  • Photography
  • Herbs, Fruits, Nuts and Vegetables
  • Flowers, Arrangements and Potted Plants

Local organizations and business can sign up to participate in the fair’s parade, which is scheduled to start at the Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) on August 19 at 10 a.m. It will travel from the Career Center and end at the fairgrounds.

There is no on-site parking at the fair, and street parking is limited to residents with permits. There are several other transportation options, including shuttle buses from the Ballston and Pentagon City Metro stations, the Career Center and the I-66 parking garage at N. Quincy Street and 15th Street N.

The fair’s live outdoor music schedule is below, after the jump.

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Five photographers are inviting people to watch the evolution of Columbia Pike neighborhoods through the lens of a camera.

The photographers, who work as the Columbia Pike Documentary Group, have compiled photographs of Columbia Pike and the surrounding neighborhoods, taken over the last eight years, for a book, “Living Diversity: The Columbia Pike Documentary Project.” The group is also displaying 50 photos from the book as part of an exhibit at the Arlington Mill Community Center (909 S. Dinwiddie Street) next week.

“Photographers Lloyd Wolf, Aleksandra Lagkueva, Xang Mimi Ho, Paula Endo and Duy Tran (working as The Columbia Pike Documentary Project) us[ed] evocative images from their recently published book, ‘Living Diversity,’ to help the viewer experience the spirit of the Pike,” Arlington County said in a press release.

Living Diversity: The Columbia Pike Documentary Project will open as part of a pop-up art gallery at the community center on Saturday, Oct. 17. There will be a presentation to unveil the photographs at 3 p.m. The exhibit will run for a month.

The photographers will be joined by County Board members, chair of Arlington School Board Emma Violand-Sánchez and Del. Alfonso Lopez to unveil the new exhibit. After the presentation, the five photographers will be available for book signings.

The exhibit opening is free to attend, but guests are asked to register beforehand. Light refreshments will be served. Copies of the photography book can be found on Amazon for a little under $29 and will be available for purchase at the exhibit opening.

The exhibit will be open Monday through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and on Sunday from 1-9 p.m.

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"Making Their Mark: Art Brut" at Gallery Underground (photo via ServiceSource)Artists with disabilities have their own show at the Gallery Underground in Crystal City.

The show is called “Making Their Mark: Art Brut,” and highlights pieces from artists with disabilities from ServiceSource day centers, a non-profit disability resource organization. It is put on in partnership with Purple Art, an art therapy program that works with individuals with disabilities and with military members and their families.

“Sometimes, I feel like Van Gogh,” artist Andrew Ross told ARLnow.com. “Music and art go together with me. I enjoy making both of them, they are big part of me”.

“Art Brut” translates to “raw art” and describes works created without classical art training. It’s an opportunity for the artists to overcome challenges and to express themselves in different ways. Some of the artists created pieces with little or no assistance for the first time.

“It’s good, I did a lot of work on the art,” artist Robert “Bobby” Hoffer told ARLnow.com

Volunteers donated many of the framing materials for the exhibition, in addition to volunteering to frame, mount and curate the show pieces.

“Making Their Mark: Art Brut” runs through August 23. More information can be found on the Gallery Underground website.

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A failed restaurant. An impressive drain pipe. A popular home renovation.

These are some of the humorous and true observations of extremely local history that artist Timothy Thompson has turned in to a series of historical markers in and around the Arlington Arts Center (3550 Wilson Blvd) in Virginia Square.

Thompson’s historical markers are part of the Arlington Arts Center’s 2012 Fall Solos exhibition, which opened on Oct. 3 and features works by seven regional artists. The exhibit is set to hold its opening reception on Saturday (Oct. 20) from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Four of Thompson’s markers are located inside the gallery. Two are within two blocks of the center on N. Lincoln Street. Another is adjacent to the center along Wilson Boulevard.

Thompson will be leading a walking tour of his historical markers from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. The Fall Solos exhibit will be in place through Dec. 23.

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Busboys and Poets in Shirlington (4251 S. Campbell Avenue) is hosting a new art exhibit dedicated to breasts.

The exhibit, called Telling Intimate True Stories (TITS), features plaster castings of women’s breasts, turned into works of art. The opening of the exhibit coincides with October’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Some of the castings are from local breast cancer survivors.

Women who participated in the castings range in age from 18 to 73, and each participant wrote an essay that accompanies the casting. The essays talk about “individual body image or life experiences,” Busboys and Poets spokeswoman Melissa DePaulis told ARLnow.com.

“There are works by domestic violence survivors that tell of jarring horrors. Cancer survivors talk of their own painful journeys. There are stories of self image from preteen years,” DePaulis said. “All work is anonymous. It is our hope that audiences are impacted by the work — that they recognize their own stories in the castings and essays and they feel empathy for the range of women’s experiences.”

Telling Intimate True Stories was created by Taking Flight, an nonprofit group “that gives women creative opportunities to voice our experiences.” The organization hopes the exhibit “brings attention to breast health as it also gives women a platform to express our feelings related to our breasts and body images.”

The exhibit is expected to remain displayed at the restaurant for about six months. An artist reception for the exhibit will be held from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16. The event is free and open to the public.

Hat tip to Scott McCaffrey

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Morning Notes

New Exhibit At N. Va. Art Center –– The new Northern Virginia Art Center in Crystal City will be hosting a new exhibit starting tomorrow, Sept. 1, until Sept. 30. The exhibit, entitled “Grand Visions: Small World,” features a jury-selected collection of visual artworks (including paintings, pottery and sculpture) from a variety of local artists. An opening gala will be held from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14. [Northern Virginia Art Center]

Marymount Receives Cybersecurity Grant — Arlington-based Marymount University has been awarded a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund a four-year cybersecurity scholarship program. [Press Release]

Reminder: Labor Day Closures and Traffic — Most county offices, with the notable exception of the election office, will be closed for Memorial Day. Drivers should expect busy highways if they’re heading out of town.

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