By Sally Latham Haynes
Special to the Rappahannock News
“It’s all about collaboration,” says Patti Brennan, a stained glass artist, when asked about the evolution of the Rappahannock County Artisan Trail. When the Artisans Center of Virginia, a nonprofit that mentors Trails throughout the state, reached out to Rappahannock, Brennan stepped forward. Despite being busy with work, kitchen renovation, family, gardens and travel, she could envision the benefits of a program that brings together artists, businesses and the community to promote business and tourism. Brennan raised the $15,000 necessary to kick off the Trail, and has worked persistently to recruit members and develop public awareness of activities and events. Three and a half years later she is beginning to see the payoff.
Rappahannock’s Trail is one of 18 around the state, formed under the Artisans Center of Virginia (ACV). The Trails are organized to promote tourism in the different regions of Virginia and invite the public to come explore and enjoy the byways and back roads, artisan studios and galleries, gardens and farms, wineries and breweries, restaurants and eclectic shops, and historical and cultural points of interest.
Today, the Trail has 65 plus members and Brennan leads a management team of twelve volunteers. This team came up with Second Saturday — a day each month for Artisan Trail members to sponsor special events that appeal to tourists and locals alike. “Rappahannock County has had great success attracting visitors with annual events like the Farm Tour, art tour, film festival and house tour,” Brennan explains. “With Second Saturday we have created twelve more special opportunities to generate tourism, which is vital to the county’s economy.”
When Second Saturday was launched in February, Audrey Regnery helped kick it off. She manages the magnificent and historic Greenfield Inn Bed and Breakfast, which she owns with her husband Alfred. Built between 1767 and 1769, the Inn is a testament to gracious living. Says Regnery, “Nothing I do is just about me. At Greenfield, we try to add to what’s here in the county and share with the community as much as we can.” Second Saturday fits perfectly with her philosophy.
For June, Audrey invited Beverly Shepherd, an animal portrait artist, to showcase her Paw Print Portraits at the Inn. Regnery supplemented the Artisan Trail’s Second Saturday publicity with her own evites to friends and acquaintances. To her satisfaction, about 25 people showed up at Greenfield throughout the day to see Shepherd’s work and, incidentally, to take in the Inn’s sylvan charm. Three people ultimately commissioned portraits of their pets. Concludes Regnery, “Joining forces with others for events as well as publicity multiplies our appeal. It just makes sense.”
Gina Irwin seemingly has the energy of a three-year old and chitchats about her shop as she opens Ridge Line Designs for the day. Her pleasure in her work and her shop is evident. Irwin and partner John Sweatt originally opened their store in Front Royal and operated there almost 10 years before relocating to Sperryville’s River District in 2015. She says, “It was like starting all over.” Despite the inconvenience of moving, they have been thrilled with the result. “Artists here are a community,” says Irwin, “there is more networking and referral. It’s great for business.”
Ridge Line offers Irwin’s original jewelry designs as well as vintage and estate jewelry chosen for its uniqueness. Gems and stones are her specialty, while her partner Sweatt works with minerals and fossils and carves items from wood and bone. His many one-of-a-kind pieces are showcased strategically around the shop, including a striking piece of slender smoothed driftwood with an animal head artfully carved on one end.
Says Irwin, “We would be crazy not to be on the Trail; it’s such a great opportunity. We participated in March and again in May when we did a Mother’s Day special and we have planned events for the next two months. We are definitely on board and will be a Second Saturday participant more often in the future.”
Magnolia Vineyards & Winery in Viewtown is one of the newest wineries in the county, but owners Glenn and Tina Marchione did not waste any time before joining the Artisan Trail and signing up for Second Saturday. In August, the band Grass Fed from Flint Hill performed their Beatles covers, 70’s hits and original tunes, and local glass artist Patty Sevre was on hand to engrave wine glasses, decanters and other glass items for customers. Noting that one couple came from Warrenton specifically to buy items from Sevre and two others commissioned pieces from her, Tina said, “It would be really great to have a painter set up an easel on site, or a jeweler bring some of their work. We’d like to team up with more Trail members!”
Sara Adams and Nancy Nord sit quietly, seemingly intent on painting, but when the doorbell signals a new visitor, one or both call out a cheery, “Hello, come on back and see what we’re doing!” Sara is working on a bowl and Nancy is painting a ceramic sign in their River District Potters studio where they greet Second Saturday visitors.
Friends Jen Brougham of Fairfax and Hilary Riffle of Grafton, W.V., browse tables and shelves brimming with the potters’ works. They intend to tour the Copper Fox Distillery next and are delighted to learn there is also a brewery just steps away.
It’s common for Trail members to refer tourists to each other’s venues. When a couple from Staunton finishes touring Middle Street Gallery’s latest exhibition in Sperryville, the staff suggests the duo drop by Blue Ridge Artisans to see textiles, stained glass items and oil paintings.
After investing so much in the Artisan Trail and Second Saturday, Brennan is thankful to reap its rewards. “My own Second Saturday workshops have led to students returning for entire series of classes as well as signing up for open studio instruction,” she says with a smile and sparkling eyes. “I’m very pleased with the results for De’Danann Glassworks as well as the county!”
“With Second Saturday, we are off to an excellent start and we’ve had wonderful support from the Rappahannock News. When we embarked on this journey, I said we would get out of it as much as we, the community, put into it. Awareness is building. Participation is increasing. It’s happening. The Rappahannock County Artisan Trail is getting set to amaze us.”
Interested in becoming an Artisan Trail site? Go to www.artisanscenterofvirginia.org for membership information.