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Artist brings color, light to old Lorton prison guard towers

LORTON — Riding or walking along the Gerry Connolly Cross Country Trail by the Occoquan River one might be struck by the colors radiating off the old guard tower windows of what was Lorton Prison.

Martin Cervantez is counting on that.

Cervantez is a self-taught artist, has been painting since he was a child, and is currently a Studio Artist at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center.

Cervantez spent the past two and a half years at the Workhouse staring at the blank towers.

“I imagined color in the windows of the old guard towers, and I thought they were perfect candidates for placing some art there,” he said.

His latest project, “The Beacons of Peace, Love, and Strength” is doing just that. It is his largest project to date and his first outdoor design.

It’s also the first time he is not using paint for a project — an unusual venture for a painter. Cervantez is using transparent PVC tape to decorate the windows to stand up to the elements of exposure.

He started a GoFundMe in February to help offset the material costs and began the window project this past spring. To date, he’s raised $3,460 toward his $10,000 goal, and he is still seeking donations.

The Beacons of Peace, Love, and Strength name was born because he thought it was the perfect name for the prison reform art project.

“It is everything that is opposite of despair,” he explained.


The Lorton Reformatory was a prison built in 1910. The facility was constructed by the prisoners themselves, using brick manufactured at the on-site kiln complex located on the banks of the Occoquan. It closed its doors in 2001.

On, July 15, 2002, Fairfax County received the title to the facility. The transfer enabled by the Lorton Technical Corrections Act which required the county to develop a plan to maximize use of land for open space, parkland or recreation.

The restoration project got underway in 2004, and the site has been part of the DC Workhouse and Reformatory Historic District since 2006.

In 2008, the Arts Center was ready to be used by the public. Ceramics, photography, painting, theatre, film and more are offered there and local artists are housed there. The old prison yard is also home to baseball and soccer fields.

The old guard towers are now “Static Kaleidoscopes” because depending on what time of day it is, the light quality, and the position from which you view the windows you will see something different each time you look at them.

“In my art, I love to explore the way color, light, shapes, and textures engage the viewer’s eyes as they seek to see more.”

Some of the windows are missing, broken out by vandals or mother nature, and that’s an issue he plans to address as more funds become available. Cervantez is hoping to eventually paint murals on the towers with the help of other artists, which will pull the whole project together.

For now, he is concentrating on making what is there beautiful.

The windows can be viewed from Route 123, the GCCC Trail or the Workhouse grounds. There is no admittance fee, and no time restrictions-the grounds are accessible to anyone at any time.

Photos by: Valerie Meale

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