The Rapp for May 12

Whither RDA?

River District Arts hosts a continuing exhibit of regional artists in conjunction with Piedmont Virginian magazine. Courtesy photo.The tenants of Sperryville’s River District Arts building are hoping for the best.

All of them were notified last month that, unless a buyer was found by June 1 for the giant packing shed renovated by former Rappahannock residents Jerome and Lucille Niessen six years ago and turned into a distinctive Torpedo Factory-like artists cooperative, everyone would have to be out by July 1 — by which time the Niessens will have moved to Kenya, a five-year overseas assignment they’ve said would make managing the place impossible.

Unless a new owner takes over by July 1, however, the place would have to be mothballed, Jerome Niessen said in the email to the tenants. These include more than a dozen studio-leasing artists as well as the independent Middle Street Gallery artists cooperative and the arts-centric Living Sky Foundation.

But negotiations are actively continuing with a interested buyer, commercial real estate agent Wayne Dickson said Monday. Though Dickson would not confirm it, many RDA artists and other interested parties have reported that the potential buyer is D.C.-based collector and designer Robert Archer, who has a home in Sperryville.

In a week to 10 days, Dickson said, the news could be much better for the River District, which has been an ever-growing part of Sperryville’s small-business renaissance since the Niessens originally opened the place they called Rappahannock Central.

Piano prodigy Bolai Cao at Castleton

Pianist Bolai Cao performs at 4 p.m. Sunday at Castleton's Theatre House.
Pianist Bolai Cao performs at 4 p.m. Sunday at Castleton’s Theatre House. BTM Photo

Castleton in Performance (CiP) presents piano prodigy Bolai Cao in a concert of music by Haydn, Chopin and Schumann this Sunday afternoon (May 15) at Castleton Theatre House.

Born in 1997, Bolai Cao started learning the piano at age 4. He attended the primary school affiliated to the Central Conservatory of Music at the age of 10, the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts at the age of 13, and was admitted to the Curtis Institute of Music in U.S. at 14. He is now studying at the Curtis Institute of Music with Gary Graffman. Over the years, he has won special prizes, gold and silver medals in many important competitions for young pianists, including first place in the IX International Competition for Young Pianists in Memory of Vladimir Horowitz in 2011.

Sunday’s program features Haydn Sonata in C XVI/48 , Chopin 12 Etudes, opus 10 and Schumann’s Sonata No. 1 in F# minor. There will be one intermission.

Bolai Cao is presented by the Keyboard Charitable Trust. The Keyboard Charitable Trust’s mission is to help young keyboard players reduce the element of chance in building a professional musical career. The Trust identifies the most talented young performers and assists their development by offering them opportunities to perform throughout the world. For the most gifted, this means débuts in London, New York, Mexico, Berlin, Rome and other music capitals.

Tickets for the 4 p.m. concert ($20 to $40) are available at 866-974-0767 or

Different strokes at Middle St. Gallery

Among the works of Middle Street's "Same Horse/Different Saddle" show is this painting by Kathleen Willingham.
Among the works of Middle Street’s “Same Horse/Different Saddle” show is this painting by Kathleen Willingham.

Middle Street Gallery, the Sperryville, Va.-based artists cooperative, will show outside-the-box works by its members this Friday (May 13) through June 19. The “Same Horse/Different Saddle” exhibition feature works that extend the familiar styles, subjects, and formats of member artists into new and sometimes unique directions.

You can meet the artists at an opening reception from 3 to 5 this Saturday (May 14) at the gallery.

Some of the gallery’s artists are experimenting with new formats or packaging. For example, Wayne Paige extends his traditional two-dimensional ink drawings into a third dimension by wrapping them around canvas and enclosing them in Plexiglas cases. Painter Kathleen Willingham and photographer Gary Anthes will show three-part “triptych” works, and Thomas Spande will show a detailed drawing of the Hazel River that is extremely long and thin, like the river itself.

Mary Allen and Ann Currie have each chosen to render their works on three cradled wooden panels. Currie’s panels together comprise a study of a blooming amaryllis. She says of the flower, “Seeing the drawings without a barrier of a framed piece of glass offers a more intimate viewing experience.”

A work by painter Nancy Brittle.
A work by painter Nancy Brittle.

Painter Nancy Brittle has also combined multiple works into one whole. Her large painting of Sammi, a young waitress, sits atop four smaller canvases of the same woman at different times in her life. Brittle explains, “The small-town restaurant offers little opportunity for self expression other than adding `face jewelry’ and changing hair color. Sammi has gone from brown to blonde to purple and now lavender. Although I have painted figures for 50 years, I have not framed separate pieces as one before.”

Phyllis Northup’s “Crazy Quilt – Spring” is a patchwork collage of watercolors, each a different representation of spring, the whole hand-stitched together with variegated thread. “It was inspired by a quilt show I saw a couple of years ago at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.,” Northup says. “I researched the traditional shapes in the crazy quilts, as well as the stitch patterns used for embellishment.”

Photographers Carl Zitzmann and Jo Levine both step away from their traditional realistic scenes of landscapes and architecture to present highly colored and abstract images. Zitzmann offers a group of four framed photographs, called “New Age,” that resulted from his intentional camera movements while interpreting instrumental music passages. Meanwhile Levine shows photographs of netting illuminated by lights of constantly changing colors. They are based on a huge installation at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. that conveys the energy released by a powerful earthquake and tsunami.

By photographer Carl Zitzmann
By photographer Carl Zitzmann
By painter Phyllis Northup
By painter Phyllis Northup

In other extensions and modifications of their traditional subjects, photographer Susan Raines’s formal portraits give way to candid shots of people. Rosabel Goodman-Everard offers a whimsical but slightly ominous version of her familiar abstracted tree shapes that are “suddenly being invaded by strange creatures.” And Ren Crawford’s usual contemporary abstracts yield to impressionistic works.

Finally, some Middle Street artists are showing works in new media. Jane Forth’s watercolors are on paper that she adheres first to a panel and then paints while wet. And Sibyl MacKinzie’s paintings – “Chinese figures that echo my youth growing up in Taiwan” – are done on canvas, which she rarely uses.

The gallery next to River District Arts at 3 River Lane, Sperryville, is open 11 to 5 Saturday-Sunday. Call 540-987-9330 or visit for more.

A work by Jo Levine that's part of Middle Street's "Same Horse/Different Saddle" exhibit.
A work by Jo Levine that’s part of Middle Street’s “Same Horse/Different Saddle” exhibit.



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