Meet the Artists: Discovering different creative outlets in Sperryville

Meet the Artists

This is the sixth 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).

Artists: Ray Boc, Susan Dienelt and Hans Gerhard.

Tour dates: Nov. 6-7

Tickets/info: 540-675-3193 or

Sperryville may be a small town but it is large in art. Not only downtown but snuggled up in the hollows and mountain tops of the nearby Shenandoah. Here are a few of the artists being featured on the upcoming Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour on Nov. 6 and 7.

For Ray Boc, it all started with a Roy Rogers “Brownie” camera. That was all it took for Boc, of Sperryville’s Old Rag Photography, to fall in love with the world through a lens.

Born in Rome, N.Y., Boc moved to New York City where he lived for 37 years while working for the U.S. Corps of Engineers. He studied under renowned photographers in Manhattan, set up a dark room in his apartment, and then “sort of figured it out myself for a while,” he said.

Ray Boc is a transplanted New Yorker who photographs people and places throughout Rappahannock County. Photo by Megan S. Smith.

In 2002, leaving New York and his accent behind him, Boc moved to Rappahannock, where he now photographs landscapes, people, and everything in between. While his subject topic might be left “kind of scattered,” he said, “I love [working in] black and white.”
Old Rag Photography holds occasional Blue Ridge Workshops in Sperryville for aspiring photographers on the various techniques of the craft. Boc and other instructors lead the workshops.

Previously the home of Conestoga Wagons, the Old Rag Photography building will feature four photographers during the tour: Ray Boc, Brenda VanNess (abstracts and street photos), Greg Robertson (landscapes and nature), and Beverly Hunter (travel and environmental works).

Susan Dienelt uses a reduction process in firing her pottery. Photo by Megan S. Smith.

Artist Susan Dienelt’s obsession with food — which began after a two-year jaunt to Paris — led to an obsession with creating containers for food. “I like functional pottery,” she said in her Juba Mountain Pottery studio.

As a child, Dienelt accompanied her mother to the Art Institute of Chicago, where both studied — a type of twofer for the artistic family. Dienelt went on later to receive a master’s degree in photography and printmaking.

Dienelt and her husband bought their beautiful Juba Mountain property 14 years ago, but she only moved here permanently in 2006 after they finished their vaulted-ceiling home. Soon after, Dienelt negotiated a clever trade-off with her husband: He would get a pool, she would get a studio and kiln.

Dienelt has been working with, or “throwing,” clay for about 10 years, but her art is different from the more common pottery that’s created in an electric, low-fire kiln, where the terra cotta undergoes an “oxidation” process, adding oxygen to the clay. Dienelt and kiln partner Lucia King use a “reduction” process that instead pulls oxygen out of the clay. The result, Dienelt said, leaves a denser “stoneware” product. The 48-hour process in her propane-powered, high-fired kiln can reach a temperature of 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit and takes two days to cool down.

Inspiration for a final piece comes from the “form of the pot,” she said, then the “form and surface [of the pottery] have to work together.” Salt is added during the cooking process to interact with the high heat and clay, leaving a natural glazed surface which can also be seen on her vases.

The pottery can also be dipped in a colored glazed, which when cooked in the salt-kiln, creates designs with names like “hairs fur” and “orange peel,” leaving a unique patina on each piece – sometimes made even more so, this year, with a kiln-housed stinkbug or two.

Scrap metal ends up in the art that Hans Gerhard creates. Photo by Megan S. Smith.

What do a Rappahannock landfill and an old farm have in common? Both may have former prominent-professor-gone-artist Hans Gerhard scavenging on all fours for scrap metal.

Born in Hanover, Germany, the amiable Gerhard began his artistic journey studying painting in school. After teaching at U.S. universities yet still driven to aspire artistically, he took a job at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C., he said, “so I could take night classes at [The] Corcoran [School of Art].”

Initially painting landscapes, Gerhard joked he soon realized that photographs could capture the same thing and switched to abstract. He uses deep, prominent colors for his acrylic paintings, influenced largely by “German modernism.” Inspired daily by “colors and shapes in nature,” Gerhard begins a piece after, he said, he “sit[s] in front of an empty canvass and plays around with colors in [his] head.”

Gerhard also dabbles in whimsical wood-carved animals and pottery. For the tour, he is commissioning his 12-year-old grandson – a “gifted salesman” – to sell earlier pottery pieces that Gerhard was talked out of tossing out.

Gerhard began working with metal after picking up scrap metal on roadsides and around his farm. He took classes in metal and welding and began creating large pieces of refuse art mostly intended for outdoors.

But Gerhard soon found that welding metal together isn’t easy because different cooling rate may affect how they bind. Most days he’s just “content [with his art] when it sticks together.”

For years he moved one piece of scrap metal around from garage to garage, finally letting it come to rest happily in one of his metallic creations. Perhaps the old piece of junk was simply serendipitously readying Gerhard for new metal works to come.