Hidden Hotspot: Leesburg’s Senior Center is an Undiscovered Artistic Gem

Most of us know that the arts scene in Leesburg is booming. But there’s one venue that might surprise you: the Leesburg Senior Center is a thriving creative space an easy walk from downtown.

With a dynamic and growing ceramics program and a brand new solo show for Leesburg-based painter Dhruv Dixit, you can add the center to your list of spots to view and buy great art.

Dixit is a biologist with a keen eye for nature and a fascinating backstory. A talented amateur wildlife painter and a former volunteer game warden in India’s Gujarat state, he has cultivated a lifelong passion for tigers, the primary subject of his current show. Dixit collaborated with center director Cassie Lebron and arts programming volunteer Katherine Andrefsky to make the solo show a reality. The center will hold a public meet-the-artist event with Dixit from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 17.

The wry, soft-spoken Dixit will turn 80 later this year but still considers himself a student.

“I would call myself an art maker. I’m not an artist yet,” Dixit said with a smile.

Dixit, who lives in Leesburg with Ranjan, his wife of 54 years, said art is a way to stay engaged and creative in his golden years and also to let go of stress.

“It’s something that makes you forget other things while you’re doing it,” Dixit said. “It’s like zen … while you’re painting, other things are out.”

Katherine Andrefsky, arts programming volunteer at the Leesburg Senior Center, puts final touches on ceramics that she’ll sell at Leesburg’s First Friday event July 6 to raise donations for the senior center.
[Danielle Nadler/Loudoun Now]
            Dixit’s brilliantly colored watercolors and acrylics evoke the country where he was born in 1938 in the city of Surat, on India’s west coast north of Mumbai. The son of a German mother and an Indian father, Dixit pursued a career in the sciences but fell in love with the arts at an early age, inspired in part by his German grandfather, a master artist in 1920s Dresden. Dixit earned a master’s degree in biology and taught at universities in India where he became involved with efforts to revive that country’s dwindling population of tigers.

During his service as a volunteer game warden in Gujarat in the late 1960s, the species’ population hit an alarming low, and that near-extinction made a big impression on Dixit as a young biologist. India, which is home to the majority of the world’s tigers, has made huge strides in boosting the tiger population over the last four decades thanks to conservation efforts by the government and nonprofits.

Dixit and his family came to the U.S. in 1969 when he had an opportunity to complete a second master’s and earn a doctorate in biology at University of California at Irvine. After spending a year as a post-doctoral researcher at Texas A&M University, Dixit got a post as a biology professor at Northern Virginia Community College and moved to Loudoun with his wife and two daughters in 1974.

And while science has been his career, wildlife painting has been his passion. Dixit is entirely self-taught and has gleaned style and technique from his favorite wildlife artists including German wildlife painter Wilhelm Kuhnert and American artist Bob Kuhn.

“It’s all self-taught—see and learn,” Dixit said. “You see other people’s work and that teaches you a lot.”

Dixit and Ranjan visit India regularly, and many of his works are based on his own photos taken during his travels.

Dixit met Andrefsky, who landed in Leesburg three years ago after years of traveling the world for her husband’s career, in the center’s ceramics studio, and she’s since become a friend and mentor, introducing the painter to the joys of pottery.

“She’s really a center of the place,” Dixit said of Andrefsky.

Andrefsky has worked with fellow volunteers to build a self-sustaining ceramics program over the past few years, taking it from a place to play with clay to a more serious group of artisans. Andrefsky and fellow member Rita Sartori helped create the Leesburg Vintage Potters group which sells work at festivals around the county and Leesburg First Friday events.

And with the ceramics program’s higher profile and Dixit’s solo show, Andrefsky is hoping to showcase the center as a great low-cost option for seniors to make art.

Andrefsky said, “I just want more people to know about this place and to come and participate in the arts.”

A reception for artist Dhruv Dixit takes place 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 17, at the Leesburg Senior Center, 102 North St. NW, Leesburg. For more information, go to loudoun.gov/seniors-leesburg.

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