Factory Works Gallery director provides enriching environment for artists

PHOTO PROVIDED Brian Spies, director of the Factory Works Gallery, wants to provide local artists with the tools and space for their creative endeavors.

Located within the revitalized historic Pajama Factory complex, 1307 Park Ave., Factory Works Gallery is a space for artists to experiment materially and conceptually, and for the community to engage with work that challenges notions of what art looks like.

Founded in 2011, Factory Works is a nonprofit arts and community organization whose mission is to provide the local community with resources for nurturing artists and innovative thinkers, to ignite a spirit of creativity.

That’s where Factory Works Gallery director Brian Spies comes in.

Spies has been involved with the Pajama Factory since 2008. He was one of the first tenants after owner Mark Winkleman bought the building outright.

“Our goals are to provide the tools, space and supportive environment for members of the local community to engage in healthy activities that lead to positive personal and professional growth,” Spies said. “We offer educational opportunities and shop access to a variety of disciplines through classes, workshops, memberships and special cultural events.”

In 2009, Spies left Williamsport to attend graduate school and upon graduating in 2012, he came back to the area and naturally gravitated to the Pajama Factory. For a brief period, Spies and Madelin Beattie worked as assistants for gallery director Ralph Wilson. Spies then became director last August when Wilson retired.

Growing up, Spies was always interested in art, as his dad’s family lives right outside New York City. There, he spent a lot of his childhood going to art museums and being exposed to culture and always enjoyed drawing and making things.

But he never thought he would end up studying art.

“In high school, I fell in love with philosophy but when I didn’t get into any of the colleges I had applied to, my parents persuaded me to enroll in a couple classes at Penn College,” Spies said. “Their philosophy offerings were extremely limited, so I took some art classes instead. Before I knew it, I was studying art.”

He would eventually transfer to Lycoming College to focus on photography. Years later, after graduating from Lycoming College, he earned his Post Baccalaureate Certificate from The Maryland Institute College of Art and then his Master’s in Fine Arts from The Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia.

Spies’ practice as a photographer has evolved over the years. He studied photography in college, first at The Pennsylvania College of Technology and ultimately at Lycoming College, where he received his BA in 2002.

“While in college, I gravitated towards large format photography — the type of cameras that you look under a hood or black cloth to see the picture,” he said. “These cameras are very expensive, and while I was a student I could just check one out from school. However, once I graduated that was no longer an option.”

From 2002 until 2012, Spies put photography on the backburner, focusing primarily on painting. While in graduate school, he began to start playing around with digital formats. Eventually, he would get a commission to create a sound installation at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia.

“With the money they paid me I was able to purchase a used 4×5 camera, which has become my go-to camera ever since,” he said. “I prefer to photograph people, my friends and often myself.”

Factory Works consists of a gallery, photo lab, clay studio, community woodshop and bicycle shop.

The photo lab is a black-and-white film community darkroom. They offer individualized instruction in both film and digital photography as well as memberships, and drop-in rates during their normal hours Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

“If you have a roll of black-and-white film or some old negatives we can show you how to develop it and make prints from it,” Spies said.

Factory Works also offers workshops throughout the year, and in September will be offering a cyanotype workshop.

“Cyanotypes are a traditional photographic technique where you treat a substrate like paper or fabric with a light sensitive chemical that you then place objects of varying degrees of opacity on top of while exposing it to sunlight,” Spies said. “After exposing it, you just use water to develop the image. It’s a really fun workshop that produces unique one-of-a-kind images.”

As an artist himself, Spies believes that so much can be achieved in terms of both creating and viewing art, particularly in the development of children.

“I think visual art breaks down hierarchies and allows people to feel empowered both in the making of it and the viewing of it,” he said. “It’s a well-documented fact that children who grow up seeing positive representations of themselves and their community succeed later in life. This was most clearly evidenced by the little girl who was photographed looking in awe at the portrait of First Lady Michelle Obama in the National Portrait Gallery. I hope that by taking pictures I can help people see themselves and their communities reflected back to them.”

Factory Works hosts monthly exhibitions throughout the year, except for the summer when they host the Pajama Factory Artists in Residence Program. During exhibitions, the Gallery is open Wednesday and Thursday evenings, as well as First Fridays and by appointment.

“Currently, as part of the Pajama Factory Artists in Residence Program, of which I am a participant this summer and which is housed within the gallery, I have been creating a series of photographs of myself in drag,” Spies said. “These photos explore what it is to be a man in our rural region far removed from cities and typical centers of culture where these conversations are often headquartered.”

On August 2, the Gallery will be hosting a Closing Pop Up Exhibition featuring this work, as well as work by their five other Resident Artists: Chad Andrews, Ari Hadju, Madelin Beattie, Meredith Grimsley and Paula Swett.