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The civic league hopes to revitalize the former school building as a gathering place.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
BENT MOUNTAIN — Streaming into the new reincarnation of Bent Mountain Elementary School on Saturday, residents of this small Roanoke County community passed three black and white drawings depicting detailed snapshots from the natural world around the mountain.
Many stopped to greet the man who stood alongside his creations, Genesis Chapman . In the drawings, which Chapman said were places he knew growing up, locals spotted hillsides and treelines that they recognized. But while Chapman’s work explores Bent Mountain’s natural environments, his sense of place includes people. And for many years, including his tenure as an elementary school student here in the 1970s, this building is where the people of Bent Mountain came together.
“The sense of community I was around when I was a child around the school was such a golden time,” Chapman said. “And I see that Bent Mountain community is still here.”
Saturday night, the community gathered to open the Bent Mountain Center . When the elementary school closed in June 2009, the people of Bent Mountain lost a vital connecting point, according to Bent Mountain Center President Bruce Coffey .
“The school was the focal point for the community,” Coffey said.
In its absence, there were fewer chances for the community to come together, and fewer reasons to stay on the mountain instead of driving down U.S. 221 to Roanoke.
With the new community center opening in the school facility, Coffey said the goal is to bring locals together in the building once again.
The new center will offer a variety of classes and several events a year in an attempt to replicate the atmosphere once created by PTA meetings and school events.
Saturday’s open house was a chance to get all of the center’s programs rolling at once. In the gymnasium, complete with partially raised basketball hoops, a long table ran along a wall that was peppered with brightly colored paper signs. At one end, people could sign up to join a naturalist club that will explore the many biological wonders of the mountain.
On the other, two women who were visiting the mountain for the first time sat in front of watercolor paintings. Suzanne Ross and Charlotte Hanks, who both teach at the Brambleton Center, were approached about serving as instructors at the Bent Mountain Center.
“We were here early because we had to set up, and people were already here,” Ross said. “I think that’s an indication people really want it to work.”
Ross said she plans to return to the mountain to do some painting on her own.
“We love the upper wetlands and the trees and the pasture,” she said. “We’ll be up here to paint. We’ve already decided.”
It’s a mountain that has long been the subject of Chapman’s art and affection. Although he splits his time between Bent Mountain and Richmond, Chapman said much of his work reflects upon the mountain where he grew up.
“I really love the mountain,” he said. “My daughter is 5, so I bring her here for the summer.”
Recognized as an up and coming Southern artist by Oxford American magazine, Chapman displays his work professionally in galleries and shows around the area. But the drawings lined up on the walls of his elementary school were a personal side project.
“It’s sort of finding a way to show the history without being too specific,” he said.
Inside the gymnasium, people lined up to retrieve hot dogs and barbe cue sandwiches, then crowded around circular tables for a night that also featured a raffle and music from the Roanoke Valley Ramblers. Coffey said it was the first of what the civic league hopes will be many events hosted at the center. The classes, including yoga and dog obedience, are set to start as early as April 11.
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