Historic Gray Studio has the opportunity to expand the arts through educational initiatives and involvement in the community. The studio will be a creative platform for resident artists to develop their talents, as well as encouraging emerging and professional artists through exhibitions and continuing education.
*Enhance the quality of life in our community by providing a safe, warm, and friendly environment as a creative outlet that encourages self expression and assists individuals in creative growth and development.
* Expand on the basic understanding of the arts and its importance in our community through educational initiatives and involvement in the community.
* Provide a venue that will attract both emerging and professionally established artists to display work and offer workshops, insight, or lessons to the community.
*Maintain a locale that the community and surrounding communities can frequent and experience a variety of unique visual and/or performance entertainment in a comfortable and attractive environment with a knowledgeable and courteous staff.
* Educate the public on the historical significance of Gray Studio and Mr. Gray's past contribution to the preservation of our communities history through photography.
Gray Studio after new roof, paint, dirt and window work.
With the completion of phase one, the historic studio of the photographer that once covered the county now has a new cover of its own.
In 1905, W.R. Gray moved his family from Fall River to St. John and bought the studio at 116 N. Main. The eventual family of five lived in the studio and created over 29,000 photographs and glass negatives depicting the life and times of St. John’s early years.
Over the years the building changed hands many times and fell into a sorry state of disrepair. That is until another area artist saw the possibilities the century old studio offered.
“When I stepped in the back door of Gray Studio I was struck with it’s enduring potential to be a wonderful working studio,” said local artisan Carol Long.
Long, along with Bill Clausing, Lisa Milton, and Randal Tucker, formed the studio restoration board. Together they purchased the building, and began the task of returning the unique structure to its former glory.
“I feel like these people are a godsend,” Long said.
The board acquired a grant that enabled them to complete phase one of the project, which was to envelop the outside of the building to protect it from further deterioration. The first step involved removing years of debris and vegetation surrounding the corner lot, putting on a new roof, painting the outside dirt and concrete work and replacing windows including the iconic northern skylight section.
The City of St. John chipped in on the restoration doing considerable dirt work on the north side to improve drainage and make way for a concrete parking area done by Smiley Concrete.
Long said they have tried to stay with local contractors as much as possible with Mike Sayler Construction doing much of the work on the outside of the building.
“They are responsible for how good it looks now,” Long said.
With phase two starting, Long said they will be able to utilize more volunteer labor for the inside work that will be starting soon.
“Now that the work has moved inside we can use more volunteers for things like stripping wallpaper, removing carpet working on sheet rock and painting,” she said.
The vision for the structure is to turn it into a working studio for a variety of art forms with resident artists, art classes, and Long said hopefully a center to coordinate travelers to the many other museums and sites in the County.
The group is currently working to obtain another grant to begin phase two, which will cover some of the indoor work and one major structural challenge to the building’s north foundation.
“The vision is huge, but doable,” Long said. “I thought about that as I was pulling staples from the floor one at a time. I thought this is such a huge project and here I am taking one staple out at a time, but we got it done.”
For more information on Gray Studio restoration,volunteerism or donations, message them on Facebook at Gray Photo Studio, Inc.
William Rossetter Gray History
According to previous research, the building was built in 1898. The 1901 Sanborn map shows the building as a photo studio in 1901. The 1908 map shows the east half of the south addition. Between 1908 and 1914, the north studio light was added and the west half of the south addition was added.
The building is typical for the time period, "wood frame commercial construction." The time period in the life of this building really begins with William Rossetter Gray. He was born March 22, 1865 in Greentown, Howard Co., Indiana, the first of four sons of Luther and Rebecca (Oxley) Gray. In 1883, he moved to McPherson Kansas. He was 22 years old and working for a farmer in 1887 when he asked for his wages a few days in advance to buy a 5x8 camera he'd seen advertised in a circular. In his first job, he operated out of a photo car owned by a teacher named Van Duesen. They worked the area around Fall River. Some of the other communities the served were Fall River, New Albany, Fredonia, Neosha and Lafountain.
Around 1898, he married Mary Tipton (born Dec. 12, 1876, McPherson County, Kansas, and died February 4, 1958, St. John, Kansas). In 1905, W.R. Gray moved his family from Fall River to St. John and bought the studio at 116 North Main. At that time, there were three children: Royal L. (1899-1981), Ina Amelia and Jessie Ruth (1903-1993). Two more sons, Arzy Robert (1906-1978) and Cecil Tipton (1908-1980), were born after they moved to St. John. The family's home was also in the building. It stands today at the corner of 2nd and Main.