Spring in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley sets a benchmark against which all other valleys must be measured. Adding to spring’s natural splendor, the O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail will host “Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes,” April 25–26, inviting visitors to talk with the artists, see where their creativity happens, and watch their labor and talent at work.
From Strasburg (about 90 minutes from the Washington Beltway) through Toms Brook, to Woodstock, Edinburg, Mount Jackson, and New Market, the trail connects more than 70 artisan studios, craft venues, agritourism sites, independent restaurants and lodgings, and unique points of interest.
Throughout Shenandoah County, studio tours, farm tours, history tours, live demonstrations, specialty foods, and music events will celebrate regional artisans. The “Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes” tour includes nearly 30 locations and 100 participating artists and local businesses. Artisans, craftspeople, specialty growers, and producers will open their studios, galleries, farms, and vineyards. Through live demonstrations, visitors can experience and understand how they produce local specialties.
“We are literally opening our doors,” said Kary Haun, a local potter. Her studio in a historic cabin stands beside one of the older homes in Woodstock. “It’s an ‘open house.’ I’ve invited a couple of other local artists to partner with me and display some of their items in my studio.”
Following the Shenandoah River Valley
The “O Shenandoah” trail is one of a dozen established Virginia artisans trails in a statewide network. Shenandoah County’s trail encompasses much of the Shenandoah River’s bucolic North Fork valley, from north of Harrisonburg to just south of Winchester, and on both sides of I-81. Using scenic U.S. Route 11 as the stem, visitors can easily reach most of the participating sites.
“You can meet people who are dedicated to making, growing, and creating things,” said Liz Hollingsworth of Earth Spirits Masks. “Come see how these things happen. … My work is whimsical and collectible. … I spent years traveling from New England to Georgia to participate in art festivals, but participating in the Artisans Trail allows me to sell my work from home.”
Hollingsworth will demonstrate how she makes her unique pottery masks. Visitors to her cozy gallery overlooking the Shenandoah River can try their hands and “get an idea of what it’s like to be a clay craftsperson,” Hollingsworth said.
The Artisan Trail’s open doors lead into more than galleries. Posey Thisisit Llamas, a 27-acre farm, raises llamas and sheep and invites visitors to “get in and meet them.”
“You don’t just stand by the gate here,” said Posey’s Joyce Hall. “We do a ‘Llama 101,’ what it’s like to live with llamas, and the fun you can have with them.”
Hall is partnering with several Shenandoah craftspeople and a local garden shop. “We’ll be demonstrating using llama wool for yarn. Our visitors can make a project to take home.”
Getting the full flavor
The trail’s network enables visitors to taste other local flavors. At Lynn St. Clair’s Swover Creek Farm, you can sample the farm-made sausage and enjoy craft-brewed beer. The farm also grows hops and provides the spent grains from the brewery to feed local pigs and cattle.
Route 11 has given its name to one of the nation’s premier specialty snack food companies, Route 11 Potato Chips. Started nearly 25 years ago in an old feed store in Middletown, the company has become a Valley icon and a destination in its new location near Mount Jackson.
Insider tip: Sample the many varieties and choose one or more to purchase right at the source.
Shenandoah County lies east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a “rain shadow” that receives less rain than the west side (which faces into the oncoming weather fronts). Randy Phillips, of Cave Ridge Winery, took advantage of this geography to site his vineyard in the foothills outside of Mount Jackson. Part of the “Sippin’ Shenandoah Wine & Beer Trail,” Cave Ridge uses all-local grapes.
Also outside of Mount Jackson, The Winery at Kindred Pointe uses a lovingly renovated stable as a tasting room. North Mountain Vineyard, outside of Maurertown, combines varietal wines with classic Shenandoah Valley vistas. Shenandoah Vineyards, in Edinburg, is the valley’s oldest winery and offers varietals and several popular blends. Wolf Gap Vineyard, also outside of Edinburg, specializes in full-bodied, Bordeaux-style reds and light, crisp white wines. Cedar Creek Winery, near Strasburg, focuses on cabernet Franc and chardonnay.
With multiple artisans and craftspeople sharing venues, the “Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes” open door tour offers a compact sampler of the Shenandoah Valley’s cultural highlights.
For more information:
The annual reenactment weekend for the Civil War Battle of New Market is May 15–17, marking the 151st anniversary of the battle in which cadets from the Virginia Military Institute were thrust into the Confederate battle lines.
The battlefield park and crossroads town of New Market, Va., are in southern Shenandoah County, a little over two hours from Washington.
Events include tours, living history in the encampments and on the Bushong Farm, as well as the actual battle reenactment at 2:00pm on May 17. (vmi.edu/vmcw)