Every Wednesday: Elizabeth Breeden and the art of living

Ever been to a party where Charlottesville insiders one-up each other by remembering the lineage of various restaurants around town? Who knows what preceded Guadalajara across from the Rec Center? What was on West Main before the Blue Bird?

A true insider, however, is one who can boast of going to weekly suppers at Biscuit Run back in the '70s– since May of 1974, to be exact. That's when Elizabeth and David Breeden began the tradition of "open house"– serving dinner to anyone who showed up at their big art-filled country place on Old Lynchburg Road on Wednesday nights.

Over the years, the visitors have changed as people moved in and moved out, and as Charlottesville morphed from a sleepy little town with duck races behind Carroll's Tea Room to America's Number One place to live.

One thing that hasn't changed is Elizabeth Breeden herself– who hatched the idea of a Wednesday night open house in honor of the weekly Paris atelier gatherings of Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. She has presided over them for 30 years, through the birth of five children and the expansion of husband David's career as sculptor and stained glass master.

However, it's probably as founder and primary promoter of the highly visible community project ArtinPlace that Elizabeth is best known.

"Charlie and Blake Hurt came to my house for dinner," (on Wednesday) she remembers. "They said, 'How come there's no art on the streets of Charlottesville?' And thus ArtinPlace was born."

From that idea has sprung an organization which works, she says, "only because of the efforts of volunteers including a business person, a manager, a construction expert, an organizer"– that's Elizabeth– "and someone who drums up volunteers."

But while art seems to be the defining medium of her life, Breeden has her fingers in a surprisingly large number of other pies. Armed with a master's degree in counseling from UVA, the Louisville native also works at a center on West Main street that uses peer counseling– which she calls "the wave of the future" in mental health treatment– to help clients live "on our own."

Some non-art preoccupations also compel her attention: She's a board member of Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church on Rugby Road where "I bury people," she says almost cheerfully. "I dig the holes in our memorial garden with help from children and grandchildren of the deceased people, the way it used to be done."

And she's about to launch another project– Pacem, a combined effort of local churches to provide a place for homeless people to sleep this winter. "This is the first time churches have gotten together to help house the homeless," she says. "Each church will provide space for us to set up our cots, which will move from church to church from week to week."

Such a hectic schedule of community activism, which would exhaust even the most intrepid volunteer, seems to energize this funny, self-described "cross between a vixen and an old lady."

And there's no hope of a respite in the near future, although, "We're trying to plan a trip to Europe," she says, "before U.S. Air goes belly up and we lose our frequent flyer miles."

But that will have to come later, after an art show of Biscuit Run works at Gravity Lounge, after receptions for the new ArtinPlace artists, after all the busy activities of her whirlwind life. Are you free for dinner on Wednesday?

Age: 55

Why here? I came to graduate school and stayed. You always feel that if you put in the energy, you can influence anything in Charlottesville.

Worst thing about living here? Where are jobs for my children where they can feel fulfilled?

Favorite hangout? Outside on the Downtown Mall

Most overrated virtue. Good art

People would be surprised to know? I'm shy.

What would you change about yourself? The giant foot stuck in my mouth while I'm shoving the other in as fast as possible.

Proudest accomplishment? When I notice someone needs something, and I can give it to them

People find most annoying about you? My acerbic mouth

Favorite book? Higglety Pigglety Pop! Or There must Be More to Life by Maurice Sendak

Causes you to rant? People who see that someone needs help and then rant about how the system should help them but don't try help out themselves

Biggest 21st century thrill? Email, the wonder of history TV, weirdness of reality TV, how stars get closer and atoms are visible

Biggest 21st century creep-out? Self-righteousness and war

What do you drive? Self decorated PT Cruiser

In your car CD player right now? Simon & Garfunkel, Peter Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, Joan Baez compilation

Next journey? Mexico, I hope

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Trouble only counts if you're a kid... putting a slug in the gumball machine at Noper's Drug Store and telling my brother

Regret? More adventure when I travel. I'm timid.

Favorite comfort food? Dark, dark, chocolate

Always in your refrigerator? Cheese

Must-see TV? Early West Wing, Dead Like Me

 Favorite cartoon? "Devil's Panties" "Puppetry"

Describe a perfect day. Today

Walter Mitty fantasy? I want to be a firewoman. I want to fly with my arms. I would love to be a really good child psychologist. I want to be a forest ranger. I want to be an industrial psychologist. I want to be a diplomat. There's lots more but...

Who'd play you in the movie? Baby Huey

Most embarrassing moment? I streaked John Tuck's wedding when I was eight months pregnant. There used to be pictures in the phone booth at the Gaslight.

Best advice you ever got? Listen

Favorite bumper sticker? Jesus is coming. Look busy.

Elizabeth Breeden