Through the Tiger Valley looking glass

Nature nurtures an artist new to annual tour and her veteran neighbor

In a conversation with Ruthie Windsor-Mann, her artistic energy is palpable. Or perhaps it’s just her contagious, congenial company.

Either way, the charming, genteel Washington artist is happy to open her studio for its first appearance in the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community’s upcoming 10th annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour (Nov. 1-2).

Ruthie Windsor-Mann’s “Odd Man In” is just one of her “nest obsession” series on display during this year’s art tour.
Ruthie Windsor-Mann’s “Odd Man In” is just one of her “nest obsession” series on display during this year’s art tour.

Spending a large part of her life in the rolling hills of Linville, N.C., Windsor-Mann now lives among the rolling hills of Tiger Valley Road in a quaint cottage, which she also uses as her studio, creating lovely scenes using mostly oil, watercolors, and pen and ink.

Just behind her home, local contractor Joe Keyser and his crew bang away on a new house which Windsor-Mann hopes to move into next year, she explains, while keeping the bungalow as her creative space.

Entering her that space, one painting in particular jumps off the canvas: Beautiful blue-green robin eggs in a fuzzy little nest. It’s just one of many in her “nest obsession” series, she jokes, the paintings of which Windsor-Mann “can’t keep enough” in stock.

The robin eggs are so detailed, you expect at any moment to see a little beak peck its way out of the shell. “Birds just kinda choose me,” she says of the way the series began, with winged critters frequently building their homes adjacent to hers.

Another in the series consists of three robin eggs and one parasitic cowbird egg all in the same nest. The cowbird is too lazy to build its own home, she explains, and so cleverly borrows other birds’ handiwork. Windsor-Mann has appropriately named this work “Odd Man In.”

(A knock on the door and in walks ex-Marine band director John Bourgeois, a neighbor, to get measurements of an upcoming purchase, “Pond with the Sunset.” Joining in the conversation about Windsor-Mann’s “Rhododendron on Top” — a painting of an indigenous shrub in her native homeland of Knoxville, Tenn. — Bourgeois chuckles as he suggests a rename on his way out the door: “Rhoda in Bloom.”)

Windsor-Mann takes “tons of photographs” of outdoor nature elements, then duplicates them later in her studio. “I get a kick of doing Rappahannock sunsets,” she says, and hay bales and seascapes, as well as pretty still lifes which are sometimes composed of loose brush strokes, sometimes tight details.

Ruthie Windsor-Mann and ex-Marine band director John Bourgeois pose with one of Windor-Mann’s outdoor paintings.
Ruthie Windsor-Mann and ex-Marine band director John Bourgeois pose with one of Windor-Mann’s outdoor paintings.

Occasionally, watching a bit of TV, she’ll grab a brush “when I have a glob of [leftover] paint,” she explains, and improve the work-in-progress sunset resting on her mantle.

A self-taught artist “through reading” and “talking to different [artists],” Windsor-Mann began selling artwork in 1970 and became a full-time professional in 1976, when she quit her high school teaching job. Frequently juried into reputable art shows, Windsor-Mann’s award-winning work is not to be missed.

Just down Tiger Valley Road from Windsor-Mann is a veteran RAAC studio and gallery tour artist — the amiable, Wisconsin-raised Nancy Keyser, who is well-known for her lovely watercolor works (and is the mother of Joe Keyser).

Keyser graduated from Mary Washington University and lived in Clifton, Va., for 33 years before finally fulfilling her dream of moving to Rappahannock County permanently. While she visited the county regularly, she says she finally committed to the move because she loved its “ruralness.”

Keyser still travels every year to Door County, Wis., to fine-tune her painting skills at the Peninsula Art School with its many Chicago Art Institute-trained instructors. When she’s in Rappahannock, she continues to teach her own skills to local students in her home studio.

Keyser says she “paints what she loves,” including equestrian scenes, animals, barns, mountain streams and the beautiful views of fields, mountains and hay bales outside her floor-to-ceiling living room windows.

After receiving a degree in architectural technology, Keyser says she gradually phased in working as a professional artist. An ongoing back problem keeps her from painting more on location, she says, but she finds enough subject matter through photos she takes as well as those looking-glass windows.

The University Club in D.C. has shown Keyser’s work three times, and she is a favorite exhibitor at Flint Hill’s 24 Crows cafe/gallery. Her painting “Knapweed in Bloom” was published in a collection of works in the prestigious book “Celebrating Door County’s Wild Places.”

This is the third in a series of articles on the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community’s (RAAC) 10th annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio & Gallery Tour this Nov. 1-2. For more, visit raac.org/aor14.