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Mayfield's Ice House Gallery finds a new home nearly one year after tornado thanks to gift

Mayfield-Graves County Art Guild

A western Kentucky art institution destroyed by last year’s deadly tornado outbreak is getting a new start.

The Ice House Gallery – the home of the Mayfield-Graves County Art Guild since 1995 – was irreparably damaged after it took a direct hit from an EF-4 tornado in December 2021. Now, after putting on programs in nearly a dozen different spaces across the region over the past year, the art guild is getting a new address and a facility all their own.

Art guild director Nanc Gunn announced in a social media post Friday that former director Dana Heath, who served as the guild’s director for 11 years, was giving a pair of historic downtown Mayfield buildings to the guild. When Gunn learned of Heath’s plans to give the group the property her father’s former Standard Oil business sat on, the biggest feeling she had was relief.

“We just had no idea how we were going to get our way out of our predicament. And now to actually have property and buildings,” Gunn said. “It's just … it's like a miracle. We have a plan. We know how we're going to work our way out of the tornado devastation.”

The biggest advantage this new location will provide is that the guild will own it outright. The former location was owned by the state, which allowed the gallery to operate there rent free.

Ric Watson
An artist's rendering demonstrates what one of the future Ice House Gallery buildings will look like.
Ric Watson
An artist's rendering demonstrates what one of the future Ice House Gallery facilities will look like.

Heath and her husband – Ric Watson, also a former director for the guild – see this gift as fulfilling a promise they made to the guild’s first leader, Mary Jackson Hogan, that they would make sure it kept going.

“We've been holding on to that property, just in case, the art guild ever needed it,” Watson said. “It had always been in the back of our mind that since the art guild didn't own the Ice House structure that they might need a home someday. So it's rewarding and satisfying that we're able to help keep the art guild going.”

These two historic buildings also suffered damage in December’s tornado outbreak. In total, the pair of structures will offer the art guild around 3,400 square feet of programming space. One of the buildings – a former mule stable, carriage storage and warehouse facility – will become a studio space for ceramics and woodworking, while the smaller of the two will house a gallery space, a gift shop and the director’s office, Watson said.

“They're structurally sound. It's just the roof,” Watson said. “It's one of the few historic buildings left in the downtown area so we wanted to preserve them.”

Watson believes the buildings will need extensive repairs to the roof and other parts of the structure, but the total project – which he estimates could cost as much as $500,000 – will be much cheaper than building an entirely new facility.

The guild is set to take possession of the properties in the coming days and Gunn couldn’t be more excited.

“We'll be able to call our own shots on how we want it remodeled, but it also comes with a huge responsibility like we've never had before,” she said. “It's intoxicating to think that this is really ours, but it's scary on the same hand because this is all new for us.”

Gunn has organized a number of fundraisers, both ongoing and upcoming, to help the guild support its renovation and programming efforts since the disaster. Currently, people can support the guild through membership or donate to its GoFundMe campaign. There is also an ongoing raffle for a sunflower quilt and an upcoming online art auction.

A permanent Horses of Hope plaque is set to be displayed in Mayfield’s downtown. Anyone wanting to donate to the cause can contact Darvin Towery at Independence Bank via phone at 270-705-1776.

“In the beginning, it was all about the human element and so the art guild just kind of took a quiet step back,” Gunn said. “Now that the human element is really starting to come together and people are having their homes built back and getting the help they need, we feel like this is the time to step forward with some serious fundraisers.”

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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