Alexandria’s Old Town attracts thousands of visitors every year with its quaint shops and restaurants, but the biggest draw for anyone into the art scene is the Torpedo Factory. Fans of this attraction walk right past the chichi boutiques and $7 ice cream cones and head for the ultimate in culture — more than 70,000 square feet of paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, sculptures, glasswork, jewelry, needle arts, pottery, clothing and innumerable other crafts.
The Torpedo Factory, so-named for its original purpose — a post-World-War-I plant that manufactured torpedoes, pays homage to its history by displaying a torpedo inside the front doors in the main hall. After torpedoes became obsolete, the building served a few other less-glamorous government purposes, including storing documents, before it was repurposed as an art center in 1974.
Now, more than 165 artists sell their work there and hold classes, workshops and special events.
The factory houses seven galleries, each with its own purpose and mission.
The Associates Gallery features the works of those who don’t have a regular spot at the Factory. New artists are chosen every three months.
Artists of the Enamelists Gallery offer jewelry, bowls and decorative items for sale.
In the Multiple Exposures Gallery, you’ll find hundreds of amazing photographs of nature, architectural features, people and many other subjects.
The Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery sells art you can wear. Hats, shawls, socks, hair accessories and more compete for space with wall hangings and other decorative items. Crafting methods include knitting, felting, quilting, beading and dyeing.
No art space is complete without pottery, and you’ll find this art form at the Scope Gallery. Beautiful, decorative items are displayed next to more utilitarian works such as cups and saucers — if you dare to drink tea from a piece of art.
The Art League Gallery is where professional artists and amateurs meet. The League has more than 1,000 members of varying skill levels, and each has a chance to be featured in a gallery show or even get their own exhibit. The Art League also operates an art supply store where they sell quality materials at discount prices.
If you visit and become inspired to create your own masterpiece, take advantage of one or more of the many classes the Torpedo Factory offers for children and adults. Besides ongoing classes, the Factory also hosts a number of daylong workshops in many disciplines.
Special events are held frequently — coming up Saturday, Oct. 21, is Art Safari Day, a 20-year Torpedo Factory tradition in which children are encouraged to pursue art expression through hands-on activities.
The Torpedo Factory, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria; open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., open Thursdays until 9 p.m., closes early sometimes for private events; free.