Roanoke’s favorite icon, a huge neon star, shines down on the western Virginia city from Mill Mountain. Besides its star, the Blue Ridge city, four hours southwest of Washington, D.C., is also known for festivals, its walkability, its railroad heritage, its abundance of outdoor activities, and its $66 million hyper-contemporary art museum.
In fact, the Taubman Museum of Art’s shape evokes the dramatic mountain landscape as well as the railroad engines passing on live tracks just yards from its north side. This spring, nostalgia reigns at the Taubman in a celebrated Norman Rockwell exhibit.
Organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., the Taubman’s presentation of this national traveling exhibit is the final time that American Chronicles will be on display before returning home to Massachusetts. The retrospective features more than 100 of the prolific artist’s most significant works as well as sketches, illustrations, and 323 iconic covers from The Saturday Evening Post.
“From the rise of the automobile to World War and from the Freedom Movement to space exploration, Norman Rockwell chronicled the most significant moments of the 20th century,” said Della Watkins, the museum’s executive director. “We’ve worked on getting this exhibit for over two years.”
Visitors to the Taubman can enter the spirit of the Rockwell exhibit in several ways. Guests can pose for selfies in “retro vignette” sets created by Roanoke’s Black Dog Salvage (as seen on DIY Network’s Salvage Dawgs), crafting their own Rockwell moment. Visitors may also enjoy mobile audio tours of the exhibit from the viewpoints of the artist and his son. The Rockwell exhibit runs through June 12.
Other notable Taubman exhibits running this spring include the legacy of George Washington as seen through artifacts and portraits, a beaded handbag exhibit, and the museum’s collection of portraits by Thomas Eakins, acclaimed as one of the most important artists in American art history.
Admission to the Rockwell exhibit is $12.50 for adults, $10.50 for seniors and students, and $8.50 for children ages 9 through 17. Other Taubman exhibits are free of charge.
Shopping is right nearby
Some of Roanoke’s most delectable shopping lies within steps of the Taubman, clustered around Roanoke’s year-round open-air market, which operates seven days a week.
Chocolatepaper and the Candy Shop tempt with hundreds of jars, cases, and creatively packaged boxes of sumptuous morsels. Check out the Gift Niche to start your party mood — whether you’re thinking pink flamingos, flowers, babies, or no-occasion glitter glam, this store has the gift or the hat for you (and if doesn’t, tell the management what you need and they may stay up late making it for you).
Gypsy Palooza, La De Da, and 310 Rosemont feature fantastical frocks, while Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op and Eli’s Provisions are the places for local food, Virginia products, and some of the best peanuts in the world. You may recognize some of the unique lettered wedding items at Appalachian Press from Martha Stewart Weddings.
Walkabout Outfitters and Orvis outfit the outdoorsperson for the fishing, hiking, biking, and paddling adventures nearby. At Shabby Love, the creative staff upcycle used items into ingenious furnishings.
Insider tip: Fans of the Salvage Dawgs television show are flocking to Roanoke to pick up their own architectural salvage items to recycle or retrofit, and doing it in such numbers that a “Big Dog Getaway” package has been wrapped around salvage store shopping.
More active pursuits around Roanoke include a hike up Mill Mountain Star Trail to see the world’s largest man-made star, a pedal along the 30 miles of Roanoke Valley Greenway, or a paddle trip on the Upper James River Water Trail.
Famous foods and notable restaurants abound in the Roanoke Valley, so when you’re hungry look for iconic dishes such as Hotel Roanoke’s peanut soup or Blue 5’s catfish BLT.
A good way to learn about the city’s foods and history is through the guided Tour Roanoke food and cultural walking tour. Delicious samplings are served from locally owned eateries and legendary historic locations. Stops include one of the nation’s top historic hotels and a legendary tavern, as well as a smoothie lesson. Local guides share their knowledge of architectural gems, local lore, and exciting local attractions.
“Food is a great story starter,” says Larry Landolt. “For instance, people don’t realize that many immigrants from Lebanon came through Roanoke. We share these stories during a stop at a Lebanese restaurant.”
From great eats to classic American art, Roanoke has you covered this spring.
Roanoke Valley Tourism: visitvablueridge.com