Sperryville column for June 12

The complex art of Fred Kahler

Fred Kahler, a 19-year resident of Rappahannock who lives quietly atop his beloved Red Oak Mountain, is an artist of great repute. The 71-year-old channels his mythical, philosophical voice with “the methodology of traditional quill and ink.” His work is currently shown at Cherl Crews’ Living Sky Foundation gallery at Rappahannock Central.

Several of his pieces, Cherl enthusiastically tells me, were recently acquired by the Boston Museum of Fine Art, as well as the Smithsonian, which plans an exhibit in a new wing opening in 2016. The wing will adjoin the American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and will be dedicated to folk art and self-taught artists.

Though Fred Kahler doesn’t usually title his works, the Smithsonian curator calls this piece “The Dragon,” a title Kahler likes.
Though Fred Kahler doesn’t usually title his works, the Smithsonian curator calls this piece “The Dragon,” a title Kahler likes.

“Frederick,” says Cherl, “is a bit of a recluse and until recently only the walls of his home have had the privilege of housing his incredible art. He is an amazing visionary artist. One of Fred’s pieces was selected for this year’s Piedmont Virginian Art Show at River District Arts (opening in October). He is full of life and has many tales to tell.”

James Cerreta, a young man who recently moved to Rappahannock, is a proud new owner of Fred’s artwork. He happened to be in the gallery when I arrived and wanted to meet the the artist as well. Fred graciously invited both of us to accompany him to his rustic mountaintop cabin to view his works — and the studio where the magic takes place.

He is indeed full of life; a charming character, funny and smart, a self-described hippie and overflowing with stories. We toured his sunlit, open-spaced, self-designed home filled with his works, visited his studio and sat on his porch, savoring the heavily wooded dark green surround and sipping tea.

His wife’s name was Mary; they were married for 42 years. She was blonde and blue-eyed, of German descent. He laughs and tells us good naturedly of her stereotypical, germanic qualities. She supported Fred’s artistic passion working as a stenographer in Fauquier, playing what Fred describes as the stenography piano.

It’s clear he loved her with all his heart and she gave him much inspiration. Fred’s work is complex — in fact, most pieces indeed take years to complete. They are, he acknowledges, a thinking man’s art. He was told long ago by a fellow artist at an art fair that the reason his work wasn’t a brisk sell was because people needed time to absorb the symbolic, encrypted messages.

Fred relates that he gave up his artwork as a young man. (An oil painting of Rembrandt lies in his studio, perhaps as a reminder of what once was his style.) Years went by until Fred found his true voice, a stark departure from the traditional Rembrandt-type portraiture.

His work is controversial. He’s been called “the devil’s son,” he says, and visions of the demonic Krampus from the folklore of Alpine countries spring to mind. Fred’s works are highly interpretive, as is his intent. “Your work is medicine for my space and is an art form that is linear and somehow grows from the patterns found in rocks,” James tells him.

Fred’s work is indeed unique and quite beautiful. We wish you much success.

Bucolic biking, and Buttercup

Avid bicyclist Cliff Miller IV recently returned from a southern Germany bicycle tour with Erin Platt — with a video showcasing one of the most bucolic parts of the world, namely the charming landscape of the Main River. Dedicated bike paths meander along the river, taking one into countrysides dotted with castles and palaces, monasteries, beer gardens and wine taverns.

Picturesque timber framing architecture abounds, in signature German style, known as Fachwerkhaüser. Perhaps just as much of a treat was getting to meet Buttercup, a life-sized figure of a dairy cow that is Cliff’s newest addition (and unofficial mascot) to the Miller Dairy Barn at the Inn at Mount Vernon Farm. Built in 1917, the barn is “the largest of its type and era still standing today,” and offers a renovated hayloft and 7,500 feet of space for weddings and various events. The views of the Blue Ridge and soft rolling pastures are stunning.

Summertime ‘Antics’

A recent visit to Fawn Evanson’s Antics and Antiques in the Sperryville Schoolhouse complex revealed many new things. Talented local artists’ paintings adorn the walls, while Nathan Jenkins of nearby Page County offers gift items from his family-honored basket weaving tradition.

Painters Bonita Gowan, Ruthie Windsor-Mann, Trudy Arnold (whose Finnish ancestry is evident in her work) and award-winning artist Nedra Smith all hang their works on the Schoolhouse walls. Tiger Valley artist Nancy Keyser decorates an entire wall with her painted sunflowers.

Fawn tells me she’s once again enjoying the popular products of Mudpie and Two’s Company. Her store is awash in light. “It all looks new and summer-y,” she smiles.

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Chris Green
About Chris Green 127 Articles
Chris Green (formerly Chris Doxzen) is an an executive recruiter by profession who enjoys exploring and writing about all things Rappahannock. Friends and neighbors with potential stories for her Sperryville column should email her at chrisdoxzen@gmail.com.