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Panels taken from the old Villa Sorrento restaurant in Roanoke may become the centerpiece of a fundraiser for the West End Center.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Art gallery operators Dorsey Taylor (left) and Bill Jones are working with West End Center to see if they can sell murals from the old Villa Sorrento as a fundraiser. The paintings, some 10 feet tall, are currently being stored in a warehouse in Roanoke.
Friday, April 26, 2013
There's the couple in the palace stealing a kiss, the man in the gondola with the extremely silly grin who is sitting next to a giant bottle of wine, a man and woman gazing out at the Bay of Naples - old friends from the Villa Sorrento who lack a home but have a mission.
With the help of some extremely careful backhoe operators from Kingery Brothers Excavation, two Roanoke gallery owners, Bill Jones and Dorsey Taylor, have saved 13 panels from the Villa Sorrento restaurant, a long-shuttered but fondly remembered Roanoke eatery.
Jones and Taylor are trying to see if there's a way Roanokers' memories of the popular Italian restaurant can turn into funds for the West End Center, located next door to the now-demolished Villa Sorrento.
It's a big challenge - to be exact, about a 10-foot tall challenge, since that's how tall the panels are. There aren't that many places where they'll fit.
"We'd like to do some fundraising with them, but we need to find a home for them first," Jones said. For now, they're stashed at a friend's warehouse.
They're resisting the idea of cutting the panels up and auctioning them off.
"It's really good, it's really pretty good stuff," said Taylor, owner of LinDor Arts. "And it's part of Roanoke's history."
Jones, whose shop The Gallery specializes in folk art, says the panels are some of the best he's seen.
The panels are the work of local painter Jerry Myers. He spent years working on the scenes of Mount Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples, Rome and Venice.
"I don't think he'd ever seen them. He was relying on what he'd heard and his imagination," Jones says. So the boats plying the canals of Venice aren't the sleek black gondolas seen in photographs, but fanciful, gold-encrusted craft, with dragon-head figureheads and happily waving passengers. One is standing, waving both arms so hard that he seems bound to tip the boat over.
When Villa Sorrento, on Patterson Avenue, closed its doors, it opened the way for an expansion of the West End Center. Its demolition, to make way for a new Freedom First Credit Union, is a key step in the city's revitalization plans for the neighborhood the West End Center calls home.
Executive director Joy Parrish is crossing her fingers and hoping Jones and Taylor can find a way the murals can help keep the community center going.
The center gets less than $20,000 a year from the city, and $25,000 in fees for the family and educational services it offers. But it relies on some $450,000 a year in community donations to continue offering services that range from distributing holiday gifts to tutoring to case management for families in difficulties.
This Sunday is one key event, the Spring Bling silent auction and fashion show - featuring 10 of the West End Center's kids as models.
"The community is amazingly giving," Parrish said. "But you have to work all the time to earn that support."
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