WHIRLWIND ARTISAN TRAIL ADVENTURE
by Sarah EK Muse
On a beautiful November day with the crisp air gently blowing, the trees loosing the last of their autumn leaves, we take to the trail. The Virginia’s Western Highland’s Artisan Trail that is. And what an adventure.
I decided earlier in the fall that I wanted to help raise awareness for the Artisans Center of Virginia and one of its programs, the Virginia Artisan Trail Network. I thought about it and came up with the idea of donating a ‘service’ to a local women’s group for their fall auction. And what was my service you might ask? I would take the winner and two friends on a one day whirlwind scenic cultural adventure on the trail of their choice. I would be their guide, chauffeur and hostess for the day.
Artisan Trail Tips At A Glance:
• Map It Out
• Create an Itinerary- check times with the mapping.
• Call Ahead to Make an Appointment- at least 3 days minimum, a week or more is preferred.
• Allow 10-15 minutes extra between stops for driving rural roads or to spend a little longer at a destination.
• Wear Layers
• Wear Comfy Shoes/ Boots
• Take a Phone Charger- in and out of service means low batteries.
• If you can allow 2 days to see the sites, visit one of the lodging choices. Or plan several day trips so you can see all of the sites and enjoy the drive.
I made a homemade home grown breakfast for the road, with warm tea and coffee. We settled in and took off down the road, with a detailed itinerary in hand. From Roanoke we headed north to the quaint town of New Castle.
There we meet Diane Givens, a wonderful ambassador to the Trail, who whisked us through the Old Brick Hotel and Genealogy Library, a treasure trove of local artifacts in a 3 story 1840’s hotel. Knowing that we are on a strict timeline, since I called ahead to make arrangements, she trots us over to the Craig County Artisans Center & Farmers Market. Here we met Therese Squires of Art by Momet who shared her story, and her work with us. We also discovered other local artisans of varying media displaying their work along with locally grown produce and jams & jellies.
We hop back in the car and wind our way up and over Potts Mountain, what a scenic drive, to Paint Bank, where we easily ﬁnd the Swinging Bridge Restaurant and the Paint Bank General Store. A unique 3 in 1 experience. A general store with current goods as well as a fun selection of novelties, especially candy, a restaurant with a beautiful large rock ﬁreplace and an actual swinging bridge inside. Did we walk across it? Of course! Upstairs holds an eclectic gift shop that hosts a pond, trees and taxidermy animals including an acrobatic skunk and a big, black bear resting in a tree above a honey bee nest. Behind the restaurant is Tingler’s Mill, an old grist mill which houses artisans making and displaying their wares while the water wheel turns (open weekends). We will deﬁnitely make plans to visit on a weekend to learn more about the artisans there. Across the street is The Depot Lodge, a charming place to stay the night and it continues the eclectic theme with a 1929 caboose which is available as ‘railroad style’ accommodations. It looks like the ladies are coming back for Thanksgiving dinner, as the Swinging Bridge Restaurant will be open!
Since we were on a one day whirlwind tour to see as much as we could, we are unable to stop by and see all of the Trail sites. Thus said we tried to make as many stops as possible. So onward we went, to Clifton Forge.
This charming railroad town is on the rise combining the old with the new. Our ﬁrst stop was the Clifton Forge School of the Arts. Made up of two wonderful old buildings which have been revitalized to house hands-on classrooms, gallery space, event space, working forges, ceramic & glass kilns, studios, an art supply store and gracious hosts, including the resident cat, who took us on a tour of the buildings. This is the epitome of a community based grassroots working studio/ classroom space and a great place to meet old friends.
Across the street is the new Masonic Amphitheatre, designed and built by Virginia Tech students. It won the American-Architects 2012 Building of the Year Award. It has 500 seats with seasonal shows from April to October, many of which are performed under the stars.
Scooting along, we cruised over to the Alleghany Highlands Arts & Craft Center, which has been a pioneer organization and gallery for the arts in the region and continues to be a great advocate for the arts, representing over 260 artists and craft artisans who show and sell their work from the Center Shop as well as from the gallery which hosts rotating exhibits throughout the year. This is a great stop for gifts, as they have a range of price points for all. They offer a variety of hands-on classes and house an original demo kitchen from the 1950’s.
After grabbing a quick bowl of soup from a nearby diner, we proceeded up Rt. 42 toward Millboro to see Cheryl at Tender Heart Quilts located in a quaint cabin chocked full of all things quilt. After browsing the fabrics, quilts and appointments, seeing creativity everywhere, we asked, “Where do you do it all?” Cheryl’s eyes lit up and she graciously took us downstairs… This is where! A working studio, with fabrics cut for new quilts, designs laid out for the top stitching, a large table and several sewing machines. Everything was orderly although she apologized for the ‘mess’ since she was in the midst of several projects due by Christmas. Hard at work. She shared information about her media, her community, and current projects as she informed us that she teaches classes as well.
Onward we marched, drove actually, to Echo Valley Fiber at Diamond Triple C Ranch in Millboro, just off of Rt. 39. What a beautiful farm. We met up with the farm manager, Vanessa, who greeted us with smiles and excitement. She had baby Alpacas to show us, ‘winter babies’ as she called them, who were absolutely adorable. We were allowed to feed them, pet them, and she even let us hold the ‘runt’. They had a special since she was hand feeding it every 2 hours. She let it out of the pen and it followed us around, just like a puppy. We hoofed (ha) it over to the adult females whom we fed as Vanessa gladly taught us about the different breeds of their Alpacas, the different personalities and their life on the farm. We were enthralled by the animals as well as by Vanessa’s enthusiasm, caring and true love for them. We spent much more time there than planned. (Note: Allow extra time to enjoy the beauty of the farm, the sweet nature of the animals & the hospitality of Vanessa.) She then took us to the barn, where, wow, yarn enthusiasts watch out, we were surprised to see an amazingly beautiful shop inside which houses exotic yarns, supplies, novelties and a specialty yarn spun from their very own alpacas. Beautiful! A warm hat is soon to be on my head.
As father time tugged at our sweaters to leave, we slowly walked to the car feeling a great sense of pride and joy, as we wished we could stay longer, however we had an itinerary and must move on.
We started up the mountain toward Warm Springs, stopping at the overlook, taking in the view, then going down the other side. We were hoping to see McGraw Minerals and the Gallery at Seven Oaks, however, we just missed each other. But we did ﬁnd ‘Love’. We will deﬁnitely be back!
Soaking in the scenery, we traveled on to Monterey. There we met Lisa Jacenich at Artful Gifts. She walked us through her gift shop on the 1st ﬂoor then took us upstairs to her studio, where her inspiration, creation and education happens. We had the opportunity to meet one of her students who showed us his latest piece. If this is representative of her teaching skills, she is evidently doing something right. Lisa was full of zeal and her knowledge and love of her craft was infectious. She walked us through her process, showed us her table of inspiration from her travels, told us many stories of her artistic life, entertained and inspired us. What a treat!
From Lisa’s studio we dashed across the way to Morning Glories & Moonﬂowers. There we found an assortment of gift items for the home & garden, including local Maple Syrup! We closed down shop, strolled to the car, took a deep breath of fresh mountain air, sighed, congratulated ourselves on a job well done and took off over the mountains, through the George Washington Forest into the night for dinner in Staunton, where we relaxed and chatted about our artisan adventure and how we must do it again soon. We must go see the other sites we were not able to ﬁt into our one day whirlwind schedule Plans are being made! The car warmed, we traveled back down the interstate to Roanoke.
A full day of artisanal Virginia under our belts and we end with a deep feeling of gratitude, serenity and community. We saw amazing sites and scenery, embraced local cultural traditions and were empowered by inspiring, talented people. We were satiated with wonderful art and craft and we left with a sense of gratitude for all things hand-made in Virginia.