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Rising from the ashes
Historic landmark houses world-renowned exhibits; features regional artists
Patricia ODonnell, president of the Carnegie Arts Center Foundation, talks about the long journey that ended in September 2011 with the reopening of the newly remodeled arts center. - photo by Turlock Journal file photo

It’s been just over one year since Turlock’s Carnegie Arts Center rose from the ashes of a fire in 2005 that left it in ruins.

Since its September 2011 reopening, the center has housed world-famous exhibits — like the inaugural “Ansel Adams CALIFORNIA” show — and featured regional works through its Distinguished Artist program.

The center has been a place of learning and exploration for area students through a grant from the Manteca-based Watermill Express. The business paid transportation costs for students from around the region to visit the Turlock arts center — and receive a souvenir postcard. Schools from as far away as Lodi, Merced and Sonora visited the  Ansel Adams last fall.

The Carnegie is also home to a variety of art classes and performance troupes for young and old, and the center is a downtown venue for special occasions.

The building itself has been recognized for its innovative design. The Carnegie received an Award of Merit from the San Joaquin Valley Policy Council for historic revitalization.

The newly built Carnegie features gallery and retail spaces, a multi-use facility, classrooms, and an open-air plaza, patio and stage. The design also incorporates some of the salvaged material from the original structure.

The original Carnegie building was opened in 1916 and served for decades as the town’s library. It was one of a thousand structures built by funds donated by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. In 1982 it was established as the city’s art center and was undergoing some minor renovations in 2005 when it was set ablaze by two burglars trying to cover up their theft of computers and other items from the site.

A dedicated group of supporters fought for funding to make sure the center was rebuilt, providing an arts outreach for the community.

“Art is not an elite pursuit. It’s not disclusionary. If (the public) could be comfortable presenting their own artwork and looking at art in return, I wouldn’t ask for anything more,” said Rebecca Phillips Abbott, the Carnegie Arts director and curator.

In an effort to connect established artists with area talent, the Carnegie is currently featuring more than 40 works, including drawings, paintings, textiles, photographs and mixed media works, created by 28 regional artists from Turlock, Modesto, and neighboring communities.

The juried show, titled “Lines and Colors: Celebrating Degas,” will run in tandem with the “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist” exhibit.

The contest asked local artists to submit works that spoke to them of lines and colors coinciding with the legacy of Degas’ formal qualities.

The chosen grand prize winner, Rob G. Bearden, was awarded $1,000 for submitting the winning photograph titled “Abandoned Dreams.” 

 “There is a sensibility present in the photograph that reflects Degas’ explorations of modern life and human isolation. Lines are prominent in its composition. Its colors resemble those of many of Degas’ early works. Yet, in the end, it is a work that is entirely Bearden’s own,” Abbott said.

Honorable mentions included: Aida Fry for “The Palm Warbler,” Ivan Sohrakoff for “Dapper Dan,” and Bill Conrad for “L.” Lines and Colors: Celebrating Degas” will run now until Feb. 3, 2013.

Abbott hopes to continue sharing art with those from all walks of life, including youth.

“Our youth programs are only once a month, but these programs are few and far between. Our exhibits often fit in with the school’s curriculum, ”Abbott said.

The Carnegie will be hosting several events that are tied to Degas, including Family Friday’s “Mono-print Madness,” beginning at 7 p.m. on Nov. 16. The event is free, and teaches children a print-making technique, using water-based inks.

The Carnegie will also preview a friend  and fellow artist of Degas. Diane Wold will give a free lecture, “Mary Cassalt, an American Woman Artist: From Oppression to Prominence,” at 2 p.m. on Nov.  18.

Beginning the New Year, the Carnegie will be hosting an exhibit featuring Turlock area sculptor John Barnett.  “John Barnett, Then and Again: Distinguished Artist 2013” begins Jan. 30, 2013, and ends April 14, 2013.

The Carnegie Arts Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and is located at 250 N. Broadway, Turlock. Admission is $10 for adults and children under 12 are admitted free. For more information on upcoming programs, visit

— BROOKE BORBA / 209 reporter