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Owner hopes to restore magic to art gallery, workspace

September 29, 2018

HINTON, W.Va. (AP) — It all started with a child.

Harry Peck was sitting inside the Avant Garde Hair Studio on Temple Street in Hinton helping a young boy with his school work and commenting on how much he enjoyed the drawings they had been making.

When the child told Peck he didn’t have art classes in school, a lightbulb went off.

The semi-retired clinical therapist had moved back to West Virginia from Asheville, N.C., and purchased the Temple Street property but didn’t know just what to do with the back section.

But with that inspiration, Peck has grown the location into a gallery and workspace for classes ranging from stained glass and watercolors and acrylics both for children and for adults.

“It’s just been evolving since then,” Peck said.

While not selective to simply West Virginia artists, Peck said that he really enjoys showcasing the talent of local and regional artists.

With a place to show off and teach art Peck said he believes that so much more can be done.

“We have so many empty storefronts here in Hinton,” he said. “Myself and a couple of other folks have been talking about getting the kids’ artwork in the windows.”

Although he was raised in Beckley, Peck and his family are no strangers to the railroad city at the meeting of three rivers.

“A hundred years ago, Dad’s great-grandfather opened the first car dealership around the corner, owned the water company, the sanitation company and had an early airplane,” Peck said. “It’s very odd not to have any old ones to talk to anymore.”

Because so much of his family history is rooted in Hinton’s heyday, Peck said he hopes to see a bit of that magic restored.

“I would like to see more people come here and reopen things, light things up,” he said. “Living here makes me appreciate history because there is a lot of it here. Not just my family but many of the families that are still here. There are wonderful stories here.”

While proud of the past, Peck said that new blood has to be drawn into the town.

“You can make a great soup,” he said. “But if you add a little spice to it it’s even more tasty.”

With art, Peck believes that resurgence can begin.

“The one thing I really learned is that art makes everybody’s world nicer,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Rembrandt, a Van Gogh or an 8-year-old kid. It makes it nicer particularly when you can show it.”

That perspective comes from personal experience, as Peck explained he was a struggling college student when he made the decision to leave school and travel to the Outer Banks of North Carolina when he learned an acquaintance had opened an art gallery.

“I went down and grew up there,” Peck said, explaining he worked at the gallery for minimal pay and adding he believes art can help anyone, anywhere.

Peck said being back in West Virginia and living in his grandmother’s home where he learned to walk has been a very grounding and therapeutic experience.

“I will walk past the same building that 100 years ago Dad’s grandfather was selling Fords and Hudsons out it,” he said. “I will pat it on the brick and say ‘Hi granddad, wish I’d gotten to visit with you.’”

While soaking in the past, Peck is hopeful for the future of Hinton and is looking to grow the Back Alley Arts Centre through more classes and a dedicated exhibition area.

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Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com

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