At age 5, Catie Faryl said she "wanted to be like Peter Pan and never grow up."

But instead of staying in Neverland, she moved to Ashland and now, at 58, she's creating Toyland an art installation for the kid in everyone.

"Anybody who knows my work will say I never did grow up," she said last week, sitting in the empty Provost building, 357 E. Main St., that will become Toyland from 3 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 17 through 19.

The exhibit will benefit the Ashland Artisans Gallery & Art Center, a 140-member organization, which plans to move into the downtown building in the spring of 2009 and use the space for studios, classrooms and a gallery.

"The art center will fill a real need," said Denise Baxter, executive director of the Artisans Gallery. "We don't have a place where artists can plug-in in a very accessible way."

Organizers are asking exhibit attendees to donate either $1 to benefit children's art activities or one food item that will be given to the Ashland Emergency Food Bank.

The toy-themed installation will feature sculptures, interactive art and paintings by local kids and professional artists. Some of the professional art will be auctioned off from 3 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 19 and a portion of proceeds will go toward the $250,000 cost of restoring the building and operating it for a year, according to Baxter.

Carolers will also make appearances at the event and volunteers will serve cookies and cider.

"We really want it to be the kind of thing where people just come and go, 'Wow,'" Faryl said earlier this month.

"It's amazing to transform an empty building into something colorful and interesting and it really embraces the spirit of the holidays, without all the commercialization of it," she added.

Faryl, a painter, wanted to give locals an outlet to express their creativity and a place to see their work pay off, especially because the recession may be whittling away holiday cheer, she said.

"I said, 'Let's do something for kids and not burden them down with all our economic gloom and doom.'"

Faryl, who struggled with dyslexia, remembers what it's like to face changes and challenges as a child in a grown-up world.

"It's important to give children a worry-free chance to be kids. It's important for children to see adults happy and it's important to share hope at a time when there's a lot of black," she said, speaking in painterly terms.

Faryl helped elementary school children paint in a rainbow of colors Monday in the Ashland Middle School cafeteria, as they created pictures of toys that will hang in the exhibit later this month.

Sarah Aaronson, 8, bent over her white paper, was busy painting a teddy bear, spinning top and candy machine.

"It's a machine where you press the 'on' button and candy drops out and if you press the 'off' button it stops," she explained.

Faryl instructed the children to paint toys they had, wish they had or wished existed.

"I have a teddy bear," Aaronson said. "I wish someone would invent the candy machine. I don't have a top but I wish I did because I think it would be fun to spin a top like a dreidel."

Although Aaronson thought about what she wanted to receive for the holidays, she also thought of others.

"I like the idea of Toyland because maybe kids who don't have lots of money to do things and stuff can see lots of toys at Toyland," she said.

Meanwhile, across the room, Hayden Jane LaCoste, 6, was conjuring up two four-legged creatures and a giant Christmas tree on her paper.

"This is my grandma's dog, Daisy, and that's what I want for Christmas it's a stuffed fox. And now I'm going to draw a smiley face on the tree," she said, smiling.

Nearby, Garrett Baxter, 10-year-old son of Denise Baxter, said he was nervous but excited about having his painting of a rubber duck hang in an exhibit downtown.

"The farthest I've gone is the school hallway, but to be out in the town is going to be different for me," he said.

Kids or professionals who want to submit art, or those who want to help set up the installation, can contact Faryl at 535-1854 or catiefaryl@hotmail.com.

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.