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Wednesday, November 27,2013

Farm to studio

The transformation of a Grand Ledge granary into artisan space

by Jordan Bradley

Handmade birdhouses, jewelry boxes and wine bottle wind chimes neatly line one of the walls of the teeny art gallery. A small workbench rests in the corner, adorned with custom jewelry pieces, woodwork and pottery. Historic photos of the building hanging on another wall reveal the building’s original function, which also gives it its name: The Granary Studio. And on a chilly fall afternoon, it’s a perfect place for a vanilla spiced tea and warm molasses cookies. Just ask the building’s owner, Norma Pryor.

“This is what my friends and I do (here) — we sit and have tea,” Pryor said. “A lot of people come in, and they don’t want to leave because it’s so cozy.”

With its quaint charm, the Granary Studio looks like it would fit in perfectly with the artisan stores in Old Town — except that it’s located about 50 yards off a two-lane highway in rural Grand Ledge. The building, constructed in 1836 as a grain storehouse, has been in her family for 61 years. Positioned between the farmhouse that was Pryor’s childhood home and the ranch-style house that she and her late husband, Larry Pryor, built in 1967, the building seems caught between past and present.

Growing up, Pryor, 62, spent summers playing in the building. When she and her husband built their home and started their own family, their children also used the former granary as a playhouse. Eventually her grandchildren did, too.

“As kids, (my siblings and I) always wanted to clean it up and live in it,” Pryor said. “The kids always wanted to turn it into a restaurant. Everyone has tried to imagine it as something else.”

Pryor said that over the years, the 150-square-foot building had become filled with things pushed aside and forgotten, including old farm equipment. She said the building had also begun to sink on the left side, giving it a “defeated” look. But about 10 years ago, Pryor decided she wanted a place to call her studio; she makes pottery and works in wood. The granary seemed like a perfect place.

Pryor said her husband supported her dream to restore the building, but he fell ill shortly after planning started. He enlisted a contractor to assist with renovation, but Larry Pryor died before any work could begin. The project fell by the wayside. By the time Pryor was ready to start working on it again several years later, the contractor had gone out of business. That’s when her friends began to step up.

Melody Moyer said she’s been friends with Pryor since their college days “30 or 40 years ago.” Moyer, who moved to California in 1978, returns to Michigan for a few weeks every summer to spend time with Pryor. Moyer, 64, makes garden items and has a company in San Jose called Wild Melody Garden Creations. Four years ago, they decided to start working on the old granary simply for something to do. In support of the project, Moyer bought Pryor a new tool each summer she visited, starting with a cordless drill. With little knowledge of how to do renovation work, they started anyway.

“But that woman has a spirit that cannot stop,” Moyer said. “I didn’t believe (the granary) would ever be finished.”

Soon afterward, other friends rallied behind Pryor and started to help out with the work. During the process, Pryor tried to keep as much of the original building materials as she could, using only reclaimed windows and pieces of wood when necessary. The foundation was also fixed. Moyer said it was one big learning process.

“These little ladies would just show up, and, by God, did we use those tools,” Moyer said.

“I went to Norma’s to fix a fridge,” said Dale Westrick, who’s known Pryor since high school. “Once I started, I realized I wanted to do this for Larry.” In all, Pryor and her ragtag renovation team spent three years working on the granary. Chalk it up to Pryor’s uncanny ability to rally friends for a project.

“I’m kind of a Tom Sawyer,” Pryor said with a small smile. “I can get anyone to paint a fence.”

Some friends who helped out are artists, giving Pryor the idea that the space could also double as a place to sell their pieces, too. Work was finished in late summer, and a final vision materialized: The Granary Studio would be an artistic workspace as well as an occasional gallery.

Pryor held a grand opening event on Oct. 19, and she said the turnout was better than expected. With little more than simple word-of-mouth, the space in the middle of farm country was filled with friends and curiosity seekers. Based on that success, Pryor will host a holiday artisan sale on Saturday, Dec. 14. She also envisions a spring event next year to invite people into her garden, where her grandson was married last year.

“She’s adding something to the world,” Moyer said. “I have no idea what her next job effort would be, but nothing would shock me. The restoration is the culmination of a dream that Norma has had. We were just all lucky to be a part of it.”

Granary Studio Artisan Open House

Saturday, Dec. 14 For time and address, contact Norma Pryor at historicgranary@gmail.com.


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