Meet the Artists: Art and its makers flourish around Flint Hill

Meet the Artists

This is the second in a weekly series of articles on the artists you can visit during this year’s Artists of Rappahannock Studio & Gallery Tour on Nov. 6-7, sponsored by the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community (RAAC). This week we visit with three artists who work in and around Flint Hill. (A fourth Flint Hill artist, Benita Gowen, was featured in last week’s Meet the Artists article.)
Artists: Nan McEvoy, Heidi Morf and Nol Putnam.
Tour dates: Nov. 6-7
Tickets/info: 540-675-3193 or www.raac.org

Flint Hill is not a big place, but it seems to attract an abundance of artistic talent. Three artists working in the mixed-media world of iron sculpture, mosaics and fiber are the subjects of this week’s visit with participants in November’s Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour.

Nol Putnam poses with one of his sculptures outside his forge and studio in Huntly. Photo by Megan S. Smith.

Nol Putnam is no ordinary blacksmith. Anyone can tell that by his work. His hand-forged iron works are in the homes of a range of Rockefellers to Rappahannock residents, as well as in galleries.

But Putnam did not always work with his hands. He made his radical career change after 14 years of teaching in New England.

“It was the Vietnam era. Drugs and protests were coming to campus, but school administrators were still worried about long hair,” said Putnam, who was finishing a doctorate in cross-cultural education and directing a program for disadvantaged youth when he decided to quit teaching at age 37.

He started out working in wood, but eventually gravitated to working in forged iron. “I come from a long line of blacksmiths,” said Putnam, noting that four of five generations of his family have worked with metal, starting with his great-great-great grandfather, who was a blacksmith and wagon maker.

Putnam works in the traditional manner of blacksmiths, forging his work from single pieces of iron by hammer and fire at his studio, White Oak Forge, in Huntly. “No stick and weld for me,” said Putnam, noting that he first made decorative “house jewelry” (e.g. hooks, candlestick holders) before eventual moving to forging architectural-scale pieces. One of his major works is the elaborate iron gates of the columbarium at the Washington National Cathedral. Today, he is focusing on sculpture, turning iron into intricate art.


Mosaic artist Heidi Morf works with glass as well as found objects (mirrors, broken crockery, even a few pieces of salt shakers from the old Four and Twenty Blackbirds restaurant.) Photo by Megan S. Smith.

Heidi Morf is well known for her culinary artistry but less so for her creativity in fused glass and tiles. The co-owner and chef at Flint Hill’s 24 Crows cafe and gallery (and its renowned predecessor, Four and Twenty Blackbirds), Morf is also an accomplished mosaics artist with a flair for color. Many of her works use “found objects” such as mirrors, broken crockery and even salt shakers from the old restaurant. She also works in whimsical steel decorative items and painted furniture.

Morf was first introduced to mosaics in a college architecture class. However, it was a visit to Barcelona and the works of Antonio Guadi that spurred her to this, her medium. “I saw Gaudi’s amazing works and knew that one day I’d try my hand at breaking tile,” Morf said. She later studied with Isaiah Zagar, the mosaic artist known for creating Philadelphia’s South Street Magic Gardens. Patti Brennan, who works in stained glass and owns Sperryville’s De’Danann Glassworks, will also exhibit with Morf.


Nan McEvoy poses with a couple of felt hats and one of the llamas who provide the fibers she uses to make them and her other fiber-based art works. Photo by Megan S. Smith.

Nan McEvoy came to her artistic medium through her love of animals. Her medium is fiber and felting, specifically llama fiber, which she turns into wearable creations. But McEvoy, who worked in the medical field prior to retiring, never planned to get into the ancient art of making felt.

“I kind of fell into this,” said McEvoy, who owns Skye High Llama Farm, just outside Flint Hill. “I have loved llamas since I first saw one at a Christmas show as a little girl.”

She bought her first “starter set” of llamas in 1996, never intending to get into felt art. She is now passionate about the process of making felt, which she will demonstrate during November’s studio tour. “Felt is one of the world’s oldest fabrics, dating from the Bronze Age,” said McEvoy, who will be joined on the tour by her 10 llamas. These are bred specifically for the fine llama fiber that eventually ends up in such one-of-kind creations as fedora-style hats, vests and other accessories.

“It is very labor intensive, but I get great joy out of making fabric out of individual ‘wild hairs’ from my llamas,” said McEvoy, noting that one of her favorite quotes is from early 20th-century author Louis Nizer (a quote often misattributed to St. Francis of Assisi): “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

No matter who said it, participants in the Nov. 6-7 tour (details at www.raac.org) will surely come to agree with the sentiment.

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