A devastating home fire gave two North Arlington artists the chance to bring art into their neighborhood through a backyard studio. –Laura Fox
An art studio now sits upon a terraced hill in the North Arlington backyard of artists Bryan and Julie Jernigan. The art studio, a dream come true, began as a nightmare. A fire erupted around midnight in an upstairs bedroom in the Jernigan home on Dec. 9, 2012. Julie, daughter Peyton, 14, and two cats made it safely out of the house. Bryan was away at a business meeting.
Months later, a contractor repairing the house discovered the retaining wall in their backyard was falling down. The Jernigans viewed the damaged wall as an opportunity to build a freestanding art studio in their backyard. The “his-and-hers” studio incorporates design and functionality.
Bryan, 48, a landscape and abstract painter, and Julie, 49, a jewelry designer and silversmith, moved into the studio in April 2014. Julie had been working in the windowless, dark basement of their home; Bryan worked from an art studio in Crystal City. Both lead very busy lives, which include “day” jobs; Bryan is the associate executive director for administration at the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools in Washington, D.C., and Julie is director of children’s music and professional alto at the Falls Church Presbyterian Church.
The 16- by 20-foot studio, approved by Arlington County zoning officials, is reached from the house by a series of steps. It’s slanted roof and teal blue corrugated steel facade provide a contemporary, clean, sleek look, says Julie. Bryan follows-up saying they wanted the studio to be an expression of who they are artistically. “We are more contemporary. Julie’s jewelry is very cutting-edge. We wanted the studio to have that feeling,” he says. “I’ve seen people jogging down the street and they back-up to get another look at the studio,” says Julie. “It looks like a spaceship at night when the lights are on.”
Inside, the studio features a fuchsia counter that serves as the divider of the space. Behind the counter is a two-compartment sink for cleaning materials. Julie’s side of the studio includes shelves for the extensive array of equipment and supplies required for designing jewelry. The many windows on her side of the studio provide natural light throughout the day. Bryan’s side of the studio has corner windows and a gallery wall for displaying his paintings. “I want people to come in and feel comfortable and see what’s for sale. I also wanted space where I can create the work.” The studio is equipped with air conditioning and heat making it usable year-round.
Julie got interested in jewelry design one Christmas when Bryan’s family suggested a “Crafty Christmas” theme for exchanging gifts. “I had never made anything, ever,” she says. “I pulled the name of Bryan’s sister, Lori, and decided to make her a necklace. I bought some beads and that’s where it started. After we were married I started buying a lot of beads. Bryan said to me, ‘You need to start selling your jewelry or stop buying beads.’
“Once I started stringing necklaces and putting the artistic components together, I was designing necklaces. I started taking classes in designing and silversmithing in Arlington County and at the Corcoran in Washington, D.C.,” Julie explains. Most of Julie’s designs are one-of-a-kind, and she also creates commissioned pieces. “My customers find me from craft shows, word-or-mouth and my website,” she says.
Bryan started painting when he was a child. “My mom would take out the paints if the weather was bad.” He initially painted for himself. “Julie said I should give some of my pieces as gifts, which I did. Gradually, I had people ask me to paint something for them. I’ve been painting steadily since 2005 and selling commercially the last four years,” he says. “I joined some art groups in Northern Virginia and had the opportunity to show my work.” He relies on shows and social media to publicize his paintings. “The Northern Virginia area is not necessarily comfortable with abstract art so I try to bridge the gap between abstract and more traditional landscapes through the use of colors and shapes,” Bryan explains.
Julie and Bryan believe working in the studio will increase their creativity. “We now have an artistic outlet right in our backyard. We don’t have to drive anywhere, we just walk right up the stairs. This has been really good for us. We spend a lot of time together, we are sitting right across from each other; Julie’s doing her work and I’m doing my work and we share a glass of wine,” says Bryan.
“Working with things I love, across from someone I love, it all works well together,” says Julie.