Close encounters with artists: Musings on creativity, community, and the annual art tour

By Heather Wicke
Special to the Rappahannock News

Fans of the Rappahannock Artists Tour know exactly why we look forward to the event each year. We see and experience surprising new things visiting local artists’ studios and galleries.

But what do the artists think of us … the hundreds of visitors that come to look and talk with them? What are the rewards of the enormous effort to create a large body of artworks and beautify their studios? How does the Tour affect their lives as local working artists?

There is no better place to turn to answer those questions than some of the artists involved in the first Tour in 2004 and still participating in this years’ 13th coming up this weekend.

Nancy Keyser is a watercolor and pastel artist who helped to plan the first and subsequent Tours and has opened her studio every year. She says that it has served to define her creative working life throughout the year. She experiments and teaches painting classes in the Winter, collects her ideas and plans her work in the spring, paints throughout the summer, and frames her paintings in the fall to get them ready for the event. She is energized by the enthusiastic interaction with the visitors, both new and repeating, that come each year.

Nancy Keyser

Benita Rauda Gowen is a multimedia and collage artist who has also been on every Tour. She credits the event with “keeping her going and creating.” She also welcomes the discipline imposed by the Tour deadlines and the motivation it provides when obstacles have to be overcome. Amazed by the number of people that come to her studio each year, she enjoys the social engagement with those that value creativity and art.

Benita Rauda Gowen

Hans Gerhard is a painter and metal sculptor who has missed only the first Tour. He has found it an effective way to lure old friends from his previous life to his studio, gather friends made in thirty years in the county, and meet new ones as the fame of the annual event has spread within the region. He is proud to be part of this effort to support local arts and community.

Hans Gerhard

Jeanne Drevas is a multi-talented artist involved since the Tour’s inception. Now living in Salem, Oregon, she returns each year to participate as a guest artist. “As a struggling artist in Rappahannock, I jumped on the invitation of Lois Manookian and Linda Dietel to a meeting about organizing a studio tour. Then I was encouraged to go be an artist and focus on making my best presentation to our patronage. These days, I am trying to let my creative mind go where it must and the Tour provides an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and supportive base to receive and respond.”

Courtesy photo
Jeanne Drevas

Nol Putnam is a metal sculptor who participated in the first Tour and most of them since. He and Jeanne Drevas will be present and showing their recent works during the Tour weekend at the RH Ballard Gallery. “My first thought about the Tour is always exhaustion. Creating takes, of course, the longest time … imagining what to create, then making it happen. What is difficult is that we are drawn to be artists, but there is no guarantee we will ‘make it’ as artists. It is lonely… ideas come in solitude. And the will to create, share, and explore our vision of our world propels us.”

Courtesy photo
Not Putnam

Martin Woodard is a painter who was also involved in planning for the first Tour and is returning after a 6-year hiatus. “During those six years, business and travel led to a loss of momentum for my painting. I did a few pieces here and there but not enough to rekindle the passion. Painting is not like riding a bicycle — you need to work at it. When I rented my new studio in Sperryville, I finally found myself working and feeling much more inspired. Previously, I had the art tour process down. Now it’s all new … an exciting whirlwind . . . I’m very motivated and inspired.”

Courtesy photo
Martin Woodard

Peter Kramer is a fine furniture maker who can’t remember ever considering skipping a Tour. “I receive a great deal of pleasure and personal satisfaction from designing and creating new pieces of interesting furniture. The Tour provides an opportunity to develop some new designs and a motivating deadline for their completion . . . it also provides a wonderful chance to interact with folks and get some valuable feedback or, better yet, receive a commission for a new piece.”

Courtesy photo
Peter Kramer

Jackie Bailey Labowitz is a photographic artist and the owner of Cottage Curator Gallery in Sperryville, who participated for the first time last year in her gallery. This year she will be inviting Tour-goers into her working studio which adjoins the Gallery. Local artist Kathy Chumley will be her guest there. When asked about her decision to open her studio, she said that she was inspired by her favorite part of her career as an art collection and museum curator. “It is a very special treat to visit an artist in their studio and learn about what is most important to them.” Visitors become part of the creative mix when they make their own personal connection to the art and artist. Jackie is delighted when people who have seen her large photographs of small exquisite wild flowers tell her that they are now seeing these flowers for the first time on their own woodland walks. Her wish . . . that everyone could appreciate the commonality of human endeavor. As she sees it, artists, just like farmers, scientists and everyone else, are trying to solve a “problem” and leave their unique signature on whatever they choose to do with their lives and energy. The Tour contributes to that sense of connection and community.

Jackie Bailey Labowitz
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