Artists find divine place to work

A painter and an architect team up to turn a house of worship into a home and workshop

LEIGH HORNBECK Staff Writer
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Monday, December 13, 2004

VICTORY - After years of creating art in cramped spaces, local artists Brian Petroski and Travis Kline have found blessed space for their creativity.


Their new home is a former church, replete with nave, bell tower, stained glass and a confessional - which is now a bathroom. For painter Petroski, 27, a 1999 graduate of Skidmore and a Saratoga Springs native, and Kline, 24, an associate architect at Phinney Design Group who also works as a painter and a stone mason, the pairing seemed natural. The two became friends early this year while living in apartments in Saratoga Springs. Both had a common interest of finding space big enough for a spacious studio. And while looking for property, they spotted a for-sale sign on the Notre Dame-Visitation Church on Gates Avenue.


"We said to each other, `Wouldn't it be cool to own a church?' " Kline said.


Soon their quest to find a new home and a studio was over.


The price was right: $300,000.


The church was built in 1871 and housed Catholic services for 119 years before it was closed by the Albany Diocese in 1990. Originally christened the Church of the Visitation, it was combined with another parish to become the Notre Dame-Visitation Church. The congregation now meets at a church of the same name on Pearl Street, a few blocks from Petroski and Kline's home.


They agree that by respecting the heritage of the building, they give it new life that is lost in other church renovations that have seen developers turn the buildings into condos.


The church is about 14,000 square feet, Kline said, but it was renovated so only 2,400 to 2,600 square feet is heated. Petroski and Kline live in the front, in a space created by a wall at the front of the nave, the main body of the church where pews once sat. Two bedrooms were built where the choir once sang. The former owners took railing from the choir loft and rebuilt a balcony above it. Both bedrooms have a door that leads to the balcony.


The men said they are pleased by the way former owners blended the features of the church into modern living space rather than removing or plastering over elements of the architecture.


In Petroski's bedroom, for example, a Gothic arch decorated with an original design of red, black, blue and gold paint curves through a wall across from his computer. Freiderick the iguana lies placidly in an aquarium between the two bedrooms where one of Kline's paintings stands on an easel. Three-year-old Gelato, a friendly mix of golden retriever and Labrador, has run of the place but pouts because he can't go into the bell tower.


The tower itself, absent a bell, still exists but is an abbreviation of what used to be a 112-foot steeple that once dominated the village skyline. The previous owners removed the steeple because of its age and covered the tower's octagonal top with rub ber roofing material.


The homes and businesses in much of Schuylerville and Victory are visible from the top of the tower, as are the Hudson River and the Green Mountains to the east, Victory Mill to the south and the lights on the Schuylerville High School football field to the north. The Schuylerville Monument stands behind the church, to the west.


All this has created a backdrop for Petroski's paintings, sensual oils and acrylics influenced by the artist's time in San Diego and Key West, Fla. Other elements of the men's lifestyles are side by side with features of a place of worship.


A basketball hoop stands in the nave, which the men hope to use for a gallery. Light filtered by stained glass in the huge front doors falls on skis standing in the corners of the entryway.


The men's plans for the church evolve as they explore.


Kline suggested a library for the balcony, and Petroski wants to put a wine cellar in the old furnace room, where a rusty old boiler looms over a modern natural gas furnace.


Much of the nave is in need of new plaster and paint. Kline speculated a large wooden altar was removed, leaving behind an outline on bare brick. He said that when the church was closed, the priest allowed parishioners to take furniture. The stations of the cross were removed. The absence of religious artifacts make Kline, who was raised Catholic and graduated from Notre Dame University, comfortable with living in a church.


"I have friends who are priests at Notre Dame, and they love the idea," Kline said.


Leigh Hornbeck can be reached at 581-8438 or by e-mail at lhornbeck@timesunion.com .