10 years, 50-plus artists: Art Tour gears up

The Rappahannock Association for Arts in the Community (RAAC) is getting ready for the 10-year anniversary of the Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour, scheduled this year for Nov. 1-2. Started by an energetic and visionary group of RAAC board members and artists, it is now a major art event in the Piedmont region.

Each year it draws close to 1,000 art lovers from as far as North Carolina and Baltimore — all of whom make the annual pilgrimage to Rappahannock in search of quality art. How did it get started? Not without a lot of work and community support.

“Many of us on the RAAC board, as well as a number of artists, had been kicking the idea around for a while,” said former RAAC president Joanne Hilty. “We wanted to create an event that would showcase the many artists in the community. However, it took Claudia Mitchell and Lois Manookian to get the project off the ground. They were the driving force.”

Mitchell was the president of RAAC back in 2004, while Linda Dietel and Manookian, a local artist who has since relocated to the Pacific Northwest, led the first organizing committee. Two years later, original organizers Robert Ballard and Hilty took over the leadership reins. Then, in 2011, Nancy Raines took over the committee leadership with Ballard and they continue to marshall a group of dedicated volunteers who make the event happen each year.

“With proceeds generously provided by The Inn [at Little Washington] from a holiday tea and cooking class they sponsored, RAAC was able to invest in establishing the first Studio and Gallery Tour. It was an exciting time as it was successful and we were encouraged to make it even better the following year,” said Hilty.

Today, the tour continues to provide funds to support the community art programs of RAAC, while also serving as an important venue for local artists to increase their regional visibility and art sales. The majority of the revenue raised by the tour is through sponsors, with ticket sales also contributing.

These revenues go primarily to the Claudia Mitchell Art Fund, which honors its namesake’s legacy by supporting creative programs in the community, such as Kid Pan Alley, the Child Care and Learning Center, the Studio School and individual artists. Mitchell died of cancer in 2009.

Recent grants include community music performances, after-school photography workshops, artists’ continuing education, video productions and support for young artists. This summer it awarded the Castleton Festival a grant to support the “Castleton Alive!” arts education program for children, which allowed Rappahannock students to have interactive experiences in the performing arts, including live opera performed at the Castleton Festival by tomorrow’s freshest and most talented stars, led by Maestro Lorin Maazel, a pre-eminent conductor who recently passed away.

“We had a lot of fun and there was never a shortage of ideas,” said Hilty, who noted that the initial meeting of organizers and artists was held at Dietel’s home, but that the real birthing of the tour occurred at Ballard’s shop, R.H. Ballard Art, Rug and Home on Main Street in Washington.

“We lived over the shop at that time, and the meetings were held at our dining room table. We researched other tours, set up applications and screening processes, and established policies,” said Ballard, noting that there was a lot of formative work.

The first year was not without its challenges. “We ran out of brochures on the first day and had to send someone to Culpeper for an emergency printing,” recalled Hilty. “Signage was also a challenge. And there was only one restaurant in Washington at that time, which was overwhelmed by the big crowds.”

The tour annually mounts a massive publicity campaign in the region, through advertising and outreach to bed and breakfasts, wineries and other tourism sites. But most important, it also carefully vets the artists that are chosen; their quality results in the high number of return visitors each year.

The tour has morphed from those early days into the well-oiled machine that it is now, thanks to a lot of community support and tireless volunteers. Many of the initial 11 artists who opened their private studios for the first tour are still involved, as are several of the galleries, though their numbers have shrunk from the original 10 to six due to closures or moves.

This year will feature 19 artists and seven galleries — two in Washington and five in Sperryville. In addition, what began as a group showing of 27 emerging artists has now spread to the open studio venue, with studios hosting guest artists. This gives visitors the opportunity to meet and view the work of more than 50 artists.

The Washington fire hall now serves as the headquarters of the tour. Each year, under the careful direction of former museum director Ballard, it is turned into a special “preview” gallery. Here, visitors can view samples of the works they can see at galleries and in private studios, allowing them to plan their personal tour of the county’s artistic richness as they travel the bucolic byways of Rappahannock at the peak of leaf season.

This year’s tour is 10 to 5 p.m. Nov. 1-2; tickets for the weekend are $10. For more information on the tour, call 800-695-6075 or visit raac.org, where you can also get a preview of some of this year’s featured works.

RAAC chooses artists for 10th annual fall tour

Four new artists and one returning participant are part of this year’s 10th annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio and Gallery Tour on Nov. 1-2. With seven galleries on the tour, the number of artists who can be visited during the weekend has grown to more than 50.

The new artists are photographer Matthew Black; Ben Mason, a mixed-media artist; oil painter Christina Leigh; and painters Darian Reece and Ruthie Windsor Mann. Margot Neuhaus, who works in a variety of media, rejoins the tour after being absent last year.

“The artists we choose for the tour represent only a portion of the many artists who live and work in our beautiful county,” said Raines, noting that a committee of volunteers start in March to visit the studios of artists to assure the quality of the participants chosen. Raines co-chairs with Ballard the special committee of the Rappahannock Association for the Arts in the Community (RAAC) that organizes the tour.

The tour runs from 10 to 5 both Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 1 and 2), costs $10 for the weekend and starts, as always, at the Washington fire hall, where visitors can see a gallery of samples and plan their tour. For more, visit raac.org or call 800-695-6075.

2014 Tour Artists

Open Studios:

Mathew Black (photographer)*

Susan Dienelt (potter)

Hans Gerhard (sculptor/painter)

Rosabel Goodman (painter)

Benita Gowen (painter)

Libet Henze (ceramic artist)

Nancy Keyser (painter)

Peter Kramer (fine furniture)

Ruthie Windsor Mann (painter)*

Ben Mason (mixed media)*

Tom Mullany (painter/sculptor)

Margot Neuhaus (mixed media)*

Darien Reece (painter)*

Maggie Rogers (printmaker/drawings)

Nedra Smith (painter)

Ruth Anna Stolk (painter)

Linda Tarry (mosaic artist/sculptor)

Brenda Van Ness (mixed media/photography)

Mike Wolniewicz (fine furniture)


In Washington: Geneva Welch Gallery, R.H. Ballard Gallery.

In Sperryville: Glassworks Gallery, Haley Fine Art, Middle Street Gallery, Old Rag Photography, River District Arts.

*artists new to the tour this year