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Virginia Ames, helped found Torpedo Factory Art Center

Virginia Ames, a founding member of the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia, and creator of an oversize set of Revolutionary War era flags for display at the Library of Congress during the Bicentennial, died March 3 at her home in Tucson. She was 102.

The cause was congestive heart failure, said her daughter Mary Ames.

As an artist, Ames worked in acrylic paints, watercolors and pastels, and she also did silk-screen paintings and collaged prints. In 1974, she was commissioned by the Library of Congress to prepare a bicentennial exhibition of Revolutionary War flags and for the next two years researched and then hand-sewed 12 flags under which American units fought against the British.

Most were militia flags: the Rhode Island regimental flag, a Bunker Hill flag, the flag of the 3rd New York regiment and the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag with a representation of a serpent.

Virginia Wade was born in Birmingham, Alabama, on Nov. 6, 1914. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 1936 and moved to the Washington area in 1945.

In 1970, after the city of Alexandria had acquired the derelict World War II torpedo factory on the banks of the Potomac River, Mrs. Ames and other members of the Alexandria’s Art League pressed for its conversion into an arts center. Many of its neighbors in Old Town Alexandria objected, fearing it would attract “hippies.”

During one meeting, at the mention of “hippies,” Mayor Charles Beatley Jr. laughed and pointed at Ames — then in her 50s — and declared “Do you mean ’hippies’ like Virginia Ames over there.”

The Torpedo Factory opened as an arts center in 1974. Now, fully renovated, it houses 165 art studios and draws a half million visitors a year.

Mrs. Ames had been a Sunday school teacher at the Episcopal Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria. She moved to Tucson in 1983.

When her eyesight began to fail with age, she became a writer and self-published her first book — a memoir — at 99

Her husband of 57 years, Robert Ames, died in 1993. Survivors include three daughters, Lucy Copass of Port Angeles, Washington, Martha Burgess of Tucson and Mary Ames of Temecula, California; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.


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