PANORAMA - Space to breathe

Yoga classes lend an air of flexibility to the spaces at Carnegie Art Center

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Sandra Fairbanks is reflected in the polished wood floor of the 106-year-old building.

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Sandra Fairbanks holds a yoga pose while framed by doorway leading to the staircase foyer at Carnegie Art Center.

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City Parks and Recreation Department yoga instructor Ann Hair, on mat with flower motif, faces Justin Lincoln and Jerri Grant as she leads a Power Vinyasa class at the center.

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Fingers meet toes during a yoga class at Carnegie Art Center.

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Students hold poses during a yoga class at Carnegie Art Center.

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Students hold poses during a yoga class at Carnegie Art Center.

Built around the turn of the century, the Carnegie Art Center was originally dedicated as the new Walla Walla Public Library in 1905, and served as such until 1971.

Today, the stone, brick and wood edifice listed with the National Register of Historic Places is used as a multipurpose arts center for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.

Along with offering classes in pottery, paintings, jewelry making and various arts and crafts, the walls of the Carnegie are also the home to an ancient practice.

The foundations of yoga were established several thousand years before the first sandstone blocks from Tenino, Wash., or red bricks from Kansas were shipped to Walla Walla to build the Carnegie.

While yoga has a much longer history than the 106-year-old building, modern forms of yoga were popularized globally around the same time the Carnegie was being envisioned.

For the most part, modern yoga, including Vinyasa yoga, was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Yoga instructor Ann Hair said Vinyasa is a "flowing yoga posture linked with breath."

Every Sunday morning and Tuesday evening, Hair teaches Vinyasa yoga, but the Tuesday session is a prenatal yoga class.

Over the years Hair has taught in homes and small studios, many of which were not as aesthetically pleasing and conducive to yoga as the Carnegie.

"The environment is nice. It definitely contributes to the overall quality experience. And Carnegie definitely has a charm that people remark upon. It is very spacious and simple.

"I have taught at studios where you could hear the bar next door, and the pool tables … It is helpful to be able to take a break and step back. And it is such a different place to step back."

On a Sunday morning in May, four of Hair's students stepped back into the Carnegie, as they planked, bent, reached, stretched and breathed to a number of moves that Hair called out in a relaxed voice.

The enormous ceilings provided no artificial light - only sunlight streamed through the old-world style windows and bounced off the wood floors and through the glass and wood partitions that separate the two wings.

The hardness of the walls and floors, the detail of the oak and marble trim, and the pliable humans holding positions in the mostly empty space seemed something like a living art exhibit, which was fitting since the promotion of art has been the mission of the Carnegie for two generations.

"A lot of people like myself grew up here. I went to the Carnegie as a kid … so I have like a complete mood alteration when I walk in, all those beautiful details are so pleasing. It is just so enjoyable.

"It's really a beautiful place. It has this strong central place. And it is very old and rooted. And it is right in the center of Walla Walla."

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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