Art resides at Red Door 104

Published 12:52 pm Thursday, July 30, 2015

Red Door 104 on Main Street in Farmville has new life and a new purpose. As the name suggests, color and art await inside Audrey Sullivan’s art school and studio that opened May 2 as “a place to celebrate art.” Another celebration will take place later in the year when a massive 500-year-old door is put into place. The door, Sullivan believes, will be the perfect entrance to a magic world of artistic expression.

Since opening, Sullivan has been busy offering a variety of classes and workshops to budding artists of all ages. One of the most popular is the Paint Party, billed as “a great way to unwind with a glass of wine and a paint brush.”

“The ladies in town seem particularly pleased,” Sullivan said. “They don’t have to drive all the way to Richmond and back for an event like this.”

Email newsletter signup

Sullivan is offering a number of classes and workshops this summer for adults and children, including Book Adventure Summer Camp in collaboration with Longwood creative writing professor Mary Carroll-Hackett. Campers, ages 9-14,  will write, illustrate and publish a book.

Sullivan was a young teen herself when she discovered art and decided to make it a lifelong career.

“My family was military,” she said. “We were in Italy when I was hired as an intern at the national opera house during the production of ‘Madame Butterfly.’ I had worked with all the different departments, and they put me in set design. I will have to say, that was the start of my art career. That’s what grabbed me.”

Sullivan was 14 years old at the time.

Later Sullivan worked in decorative painting, establishing a successful business in Annapolis, Md., where she remained for 20 years. In 2000, Sullivan became reacquainted with childhood sweetheart Kent Wilhelmi. The two married and moved to Northern Virginia.

Ultimately, that move would lead the couple to Farmville. In 2013, Sullivan and Wilhelmi moved to Farmville to be closer to Kent’s father, retired Navy Capt. Que Wilhelmi.

“Que is 85 now,” Sullivan said. “He still lives on his farm in Cullen, but we felt that someone needed to be here to help him out. We were the obvious choice.”

In the course of her marriage to Wilhelmi and subsequent move to Northern Virginia, Sullivan discovered another love in her life — teaching.

“I went to work for the Lorton Center for the Arts in Northern Virginia,” she said. “It was an old prison they spent three years renovating.”

Sullivan was assigned the Kid’s Zone.

“When the first kids walked in, I fell madly in love with teaching,” she said.

While most art instructors are structured in their approach, Sullivan admits she is not.

“I think the most beautiful things come out of that,” she said.

The renovation of 104 Main Street, a work of art in itself, is definitely among those “beautiful things.”

“I drove to Farmville one day and found a real estate agent,” Sullivan said. “I’ve always wanted to renovate an old building. The truth is, when I walked into this building, I fell in love with it instantly. As creepy as it was, it felt like home.”

Built in 1922 by Dr. C. P. Capps, 104 Main Street served many businesses over the years. To name a few, it housed a shoe shop, pharmacy, millinery shop, recreation center for soldiers during World War II, grocery store, school of dance, and restaurant.

“It’s had quite a life, this building,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan and her husband felt sure they could bring the building back to life and developed a three-year renovation plan, now two-thirds completed.

Sullivan’s first concern in purchasing the building was a crack across the sidewall.

“It was from the earthquake in 2011,” she said. “We brought in a structural engineer who told us, ‘this building did exactly what it was designed to do — it cracked just where it needed to crack.’ He told us it was a structurally sound  — that was really our only concern in buying it.”

Once the building was purchased, renovations began.

“It was a three-phase project,” she said. “We built the deck to create access to upstairs, then it was the upstairs apartment and this space.”

The termites, Sullivan added, were a surprise — and huge expense. The wood floor and all the beams beneath it had to be replaced on the lower level.

The “red door” was a second surprise, this time a happy one.

“I drove by a salvage yard on the way to Farmville and almost ran into the car in front of me,” Sullivan said. “There was this door standing outside. It turns out the door is over 500-years-old and came to North America on a ship from Spain. It was a door for a courtyard and was already red, although oxidized by age.”

Framing is already in place at Red Door 104 for the 11-by-6-foot door.

“The front of the building should be spectacular,” she said. “And the door will be bright red!”

To date, Sullivan is pleased with the local reception to her art school and studio.

“I feel pretty sure that I’m in the right place doing the right things for the right people,” Sullivan said. “Something told me this is where I need to be — and I listened. I would like to see this become a real art community.

Red Door 104 is well on the way to making Sullivan’s wish a reality.