Berkeley Springs, WV, October 14, 2011 – Last year in this space, we recommended the annual Berkeley Springs Apple Butter festival to those of our readers looking for a short, inexpensive, and fun Columbus Day weekend or daytrip getaway. Well, Columbus Day came early this year and the 2012 stanza of the Apple Butter Festival has come and gone. So why not take advantage of our crisp fall weather this coming weekend? Treat yourself to another Berkeley Springs signature event: the Berkeley Springs/Morgan County Studio Tour, autumn 2012 edition.
The Studio Tour
Let’s get on the road.
As originally conceived, the Berkeley Springs Studio tour is really a Morgan County arts tour during which both in-town, out-of-town, and even more remote individual art studios open their doors to entertain visitors, run demos of their arts and crafts, and, of course, offer many of their items for sale. For this reason, you need to come in your car and with a tankful of gas as you begin. If you have an all-wheel drive SUV, that helps, too, if you plan to tour one of the more physically spectacular venues on the tour of which more anon.
(Hint: If you can get to the Winchester, Virginia area with a fairly empty tank, this is the best place in the known universe to fill up. Gas prices here, for whatever reason, are usually 20-40 cents LESS than pretty much anywhere in the DC metro area.)
Best bet is to start out with the in-town venues and then branch out to visit the more remote locales. However, if you’re taking our directions below and happen to be traveling north from Virginia, a better idea might be to hit, in sequence, the studios that are located just off U.S. 522. Here, as during the entire tour, just stay on the road while looking for the conspicuous yellow signs that will direct you to each studio.
North on U.S. 522 from Virginia
Traveling north, not far from the entrance to Cacapon State Park, a popular venue for area golfers, you’ll spot a right turn that will take you to the Hsu Studios. The Hsus—Carol and Jean-Pierre—have been justly famous for years for their uniquely-designed jewelry, which they craft from colorful sheets of anodized aluminum. Their designs have been featured in nationally distributed museum catalogues, and you can buy many of their latest designs here.
The Hsus’ main claim to fame is based on their whimsical earring designs, but other types of jewelry are also available. In addition, the occasional, Calder-like mobile is available for sale. Anne Larsen’s Deerlight Studio, which also specializes in metal and enamel jewelry, is exhibiting alongside the Hsus, so at this stop, you get a jewelry two-fer.
Back on U.S.522 North, travel a bit farther up the road until you spot the yellow sign for Angela Matthews’ Dog Star Glass. Hang a left here at the intersection of 522 and Caravan Lane, a gravel road located between the now-defunct Valley Caravan Gallery and the Dillon’s Used Cars lot.
Angela recently relocated her studio here from another venue, so her studio—located in a large garage—may still be somewhat under construction. But her designs are unique and well worth checking out, particularly since her new studio is so convenient to the main drag.
Back again on U.S. 522 headed north, take a left onto Cold Run Valley Rd. The intersection happens quickly, but it’s easy to find if you look for the tiny A-frame cottage at the intersection. Cold Run Valley Rd. is familiar to old Berkeley Springs fans as the most direct route to the now basically defunct Coolfont resort area.
Dotted with custom-built residences and rental chalets, Coolfont was a popular weekend getaway a generation ago, boasting its own water and sewer treatment facilities and a substantial man-made lake for swimming and small boating. Just prior to 2008, a major developer purchased the development from its original developer who’d run into financial difficulties.
The new firm’s object was to build a first-class resort to replace Coolfont’s decaying hotel, restaurants, and health club facilities. They began by razing the old facilities. But then, Great Depression II destroyed most real estate development plans almost overnight. And the dynamic young head of the development company was killed in a plane crash. Zero has happened at Coolfont since then, although long-time happy residents of the existing homes and chalets seem to be doing fine.
As we head up Cold Run Valley Drive, the first sign on the left will take you to Cawford Horne’s Thistle Glen Pottery. This is a new venue for us, so we plan to give it a try during the current tour. A couple of miles farther up the road, left turns and yellow signs will take you to My Grandmothers Lace and Magic Mountain Studios.
My Grandmother seems not to open for each and every tour, so this one is an opportunity to check it out. Last time we did—a couple of years ago now—proprietor Rosemary Bigelow was displaying quite a substantial number of her new textile designs which are generally destined for the windows and tables of your home. As we recall, not many of her designs were for sale during the tour, though, as she usually sells them in bulk to various national department store chains and the like. Then again as we mentioned, the last time we took the tour and found her open was awhile back, so things may have changed.
Also left off Cold Run Valley Drive—after a complicated number of twists and turns designated by more yellow signs—you’ll find yourself heading up the steep hill that is Bobcat Drive. You’ll eventually wind up at the weekend home and studio of suburban Maryland resident Richard Kaufman. His Magic Mountain Studio is well worth the steep but spectacular drive, not only for the scenery, but more importantly for Richard’s artwork, which is something, you won’t be expecting.
Richard is a world-class expert in the watercolor art of Japanese Sumi-e painting. This highly stylized art form is formal, romantic, yet highly stylized, generally taking as its subject matter flora, fauna, and traditional landscapes that materialize in the Japanese countryside.
Richard offers for sale his latest paintings both framed and unframed. The best of them are, frankly, indistinguishable from those you might find in the studios of first rate, native Japanese artists. At last count, we own three of them, and check Richard out nearly every time we do the tour, since we never know when we’ll find another gem for our collection. Highly recommended, particularly if you love classic oriental and Japanese design or if you live in a newly-created or painstakingly renovated/restored Arts and Crafts style home where such designs are beautifully compatible.
Back out on Cold Run Valley Drive, continue to head north, taking a leisurely drive past what’s left of the old Coolfont Resort HQ—now sadly defunct—and you’ll eventually find another left-directing yellow sign. It’s Powerline Lane (look up and you’ll see the reason for the name), at the end of which is the jumbled, eclectic series of lodgings and studios of the artists’ collective known as the Frog Valley Artisans.
Currently populated by founders Veronica Wilson and Mark Schwenk in addition to Garnet Marsh, Jessica Craver, Karen Farrell, and Helen Herlocker, the various artists of the collective offer demos and sales of their pottery, metal sculptures and instruments, ornamental and practical glasswares, and photography. We own a few of Mark’s and Veronica’s pieces, and the pair of them combined to craft a beautiful new glass, metal, and wooden shade for an original lamp we’d purchased in downstate Virginia many years ago.
Veronica designs and assembles beautiful stained glass windows in addition to other practical glass pieces. Mark is the village smithy and he usually has his forge fully fired up and in action during the tour as he works on products as varied as fireplace implements, hooks and hangers, and, on commission, elaborate, sculpture-like fencing, custom designed to suit individual residences.
Downtown Berkeley Springs
After Frog Valley, you get to Berkeley Springs by continuing on Cold Run Valley Drive until it dead-ends at WV 9. Hang a right and proceed to U.S. 522, which is at this point known as N. Washington Street in downtown Berkeley Springs.
On the other hand, if you’ve skipped Cold Run Valley and are proceeding north on 522, you’ll eventually get to Berkeley Springs more directly that way.
Assuming the latter, arriving downtown in Berkeley Springs, you’ll find three more venues—less, alas, then there used to be, courtesy of the depression, which hit even low-cost Berkeley Springs hard. Nonetheless, three studios remain—plus one fantastic art shop that, while not on the official tour, is more than worth visiting.
Just before you get into the town proper—known by its original name, “The Town of Bath”—take a right on Johnson Mill Road and travel a few long blocks more or less east to visit Fiesta Fibers where Rika Bennett and longtime Berkeley Springs fiber and fabric legend Jane Frenke exhibit household fabric designs and a wide array of original, handmade quilts. For quilters in particular, this stop is a must, and Jane can soon whisk you off to quilting, fiber, and fabric nirvana.
Back on 522, still heading north, you’ll hit the town’s main intersection at N. Washington (aka 522) and Fairfax Streets. To the right is the new county courthouse, recently opened to replace the old one from the 1880s that burned to the ground in a tragic and spectacular fire just a few years ago. And to the left you’ll see the entrance to the Mountain Laurel Gallery, a shop that sells some local but mostly art and art objects selected from the work of the nation’s finest craftsmen and women.
The economy recently forced the temporary closing of this gallery shop’s second floor, which mostly offered leathers, woolens, and designer clothing. But the downstairs shop still overflows with wonderful stuff—particularly glassware and ceramics—at pretty decent prices, given the high quality of the work.
Back to the tour and back to 522 north, in just a couple of blocks, hang a right on Independence, and a block up, look for some parking. That’s because, at the intersection of Independence and Mercer, you’ll find the Ice House gallery, which also houses the Morgan Arts Council (MAC) and a surprising array of arts oriented space, including the town’s only official live theater venue.
Named after a famous Colorado art venue, also known as the Ice House, Berkeley Springs’ edition is actually housed in a former apple cold storage facility that was given to the county years ago instead of meeting up with a wrecking ball. The building has needed extensive and continuous restoration since then. But MAC and its friends in the state and county have worked hard to shore up and improve the building which today lies at the very heart of the Morgan County arts renaissance.
The Ice House gallery is a co-op, and actually displays some of the art that’s produced by studios on the tour. But it mounts traveling exhibits as well, and also shows co-op artists who aren’t on the tour, so it’s well worth a stop, particularly if you don’t have the time to do the whole roadshow tour.
Back to U.S. 522 N. again. Turn right off Independence and head up a few more blocks. Right there on N. Washington at its intersection with Depot St. is the white house that serves as the home of the Heath Studio Gallery. Run for years and years by Maryland ex-pats Jan and Jonathan Heath, the house serves as both studio and gallery for this artistic pair.
Jonathan is well known for his weird, whimsical, and often outright funny paintings depicting oddly human animals and hyperactive octogenarians who often indulge in pursuits that grandma might find a tad undignified. Jan, on the other hand, is well-known for her linoleum monoprints, generally revolving around almost impressionistic depictions of nature. Her work has been taking an interesting turn of late, as she seems to be interested in incorporating certain Far Eastern motifs into some of her prints. We own a few of them, prominently displaying them in our Reston home.
Off the beaten path West
We’ve taken you to the easy-to-find studios on this scenic tour, but there are a few more that take a little more time and effort to get to. Some we’ve visited before, some not. Here they are:
If you were to have stayed on Cold Run Valley Drive after visiting Frog Valley, you’d have hit WV 9. Turning right would have taken you into Berkeley Springs proper, traveling past the famous (but privately held) Berkeley Castle before ending up downtown, north of the courthouse.
But if you turned left, you’d be headed more or less west on WV 9 toward the tiny village of Great Cacapon. On the way, you can briefly stop at the peak of the Panorama Overlook where you can gaze off this cliff and see three states.
Heading back down the peak, drive carefully, as the hairpin turns come up with little warning. At the bottom of the hill is Great Cacapon. Follow the yellow sign to Rockford Road, where, at #465, you’ll find River House Arts and Glass, featuring stained glass and paintings by Kathleen Braun and Greg McGrath. This is another new venue for us, so we plan to pay them a visit.
Off the beaten path East
If you head east on WV 9—which you pick up south of the courthouse at the intersection of 522 (now S. Washington) right at the highly conspicuous Sheetz gas station and convenience store—you’ll be on your way to four of the more remote studios on the tour.
First stop, following the signs from WV 9, is the Sleepy Creek Artist Studio where David Flohr and Jessica Valner are exhibiting ceramics and mixed media art. It’s another studio we’re not familiar with, so hopefully, next time we preview the tour, we’ll know more about what David and Jessica have to offer.
Further up the road is, from a physical standpoint, the most spectacular studio on the entire art tour. Bev Kipphan’s Arran Art Glass specializes in custom stained glass windows and objects, and she offers one of the better demos on this tour if stained glass is one of your major turn-ons.
Bev’s studio is a right turn off WV 9, headed east toward Hedgesville-Martinsburg, located at 503 Arran Lane atop the incorrectly named Short Mountain just off Short Mountain Road. We say “incorrectly named” because, unless you have full-time or on-demand all-wheel drive, you might get a bit nervous as you ascend a grade that seems, at times, to be greater than a 45-degree climb.
Take your time. The road is rocky and occasionally treacherous. You can actually ascend the grade in a front-wheel drive car just as long as you have decent torque and a sufficient set of low gears. We’ve made the ascent several times in our badly aging AWD 2003 Saturn VUE, using our automatic transmissions low gear most of the way up or down and never using Drive. The all-wheel system kicks in from time to time to help us over the rockier parts when the front wheels begin to slip.
If you don’t mind this kind of excitement, you’ll be well-rewarded when you reach the peak. There’s decent parking—although be careful not to invade the neighbors’ driveway. And Bev’s beautiful house/studio is perched right at the top of Short Mountain. And on a clear day, you can see all the way to the famous Sideling Hill Cut on Interstate 68 in Maryland—probably 30 miles from Bev’s studio from this point, at least as the crow flies.
You can talk both glass and opera with Bev, a former Federal employee with wide ranging interests. She’s lived up here for years, and famously survived a near-fatal encounter with a rattlesnake sometime back, but it never deterred her from living and working in a compound that in our opinion is the closest we’ve ever been to a natural mountain paradise.
If you can extricate yourself from Bev’s studio—and Bev’s mountain—turn right again on WV 9 (known here as Martinsburg Road) and you’ll soon run into Wayne Peterson’s home and studio on 10266 Martinsburg Road. Wayne’s a painter who focuses primarily on natural scenes, and he tends to offer many of his best current works during the tour.
A bit more of a stretch is the trip to Amingo Glass, the studio of brothers Henry and Edward Palczewski. You continue past Wayne Peterson’s studio, again heading east on WV 9 until you catch a right on Mountain Lake Road. You’re actually in Berkeley County at this point, but you’ll soon double back over the unmarked border into Morgan County once again.
Mountain Lake Road is the route to the home and golf course community known as The Woods. The Woods, alas, has also fallen on hard economic times. While the golf course was still open last time we checked, the restaurant and some other facilities have shut down with no immediate plans to re-open.
In any event, getting to Amingo is a bit of a drive, and you’ll pass The Woods on the way. Keep going until you get to a sharp bend at a downhill swing of the road. If you’re going too fast, you might miss the entrance of the facility, which is to your right and offers plenty of parking.
Amingo is a real studio, dusty, cluttered, and loaded with all sorts of glass art and pieces of glass destined to become glass art. The brothers Palczewski are delightful if a bit eccentric, and they specialize in timeless glass designs that riff off prairie, art nouveau, and art deco designs. We own a few of their glass pieces and—if the economy would start behaving—we hope to order stained glass windows from both the Palczewskis and Bev Kipphan as we replace windows in our Berkeley Springs second home. Amingo offers a variety of beautiful, iridescent glass bowls and mirrors, and their work is widely exhibited in numerous east coast galleries.
There used to be more studios in and around Berkeley Springs, but the hard times have driven some of the artists out, alas.
Highland Ridge area
Two final remote venues remain on the tour—remote because, depending on where you currently are on the tour, you’ll probably have to backtrack through Berkeley Springs. On or just off Highland Ridge Road, you’ll find the studios of Lynn Ferris Watercolors and blacksmith Glen Horr’s Highland Forge.
To get to these studios, you could have hung a right on Luther Michael Road not far past the Hsus off 522 N. You’d then have to follow some twists and turns to get to Highland Ridge. But in many respects, if it’s not too inconvenient, it’s better to head for these studios via Johnson Mill Road, which you would have taken to get to Jane Frenke’s Fiesta Fibers.
In any event, if you go this way, stay on Johnson Mill Road until it morphs, toward the center left, into Highland Ridge. It’s a little tricky, but you can do it. Stay on Highland Ridge for what seems a very long time until you get to Glen Horr’s forge, which will be to your right. Parking on premise is a little tight, but you can do it.
Glen is a well-known blacksmith whose designs range from home implements to rather grand fencing, gates, and doors. We have a few of his smaller household pieces (hooks and the like) but—again economy permitting—hope to commission a small fence from him to replace a disastrously rusted off-the-shelf set of railings we have that date from the 1950s. Glen’s work is stout, durable, yet surprisingly graceful and can fit nicely into many interior and exterior decors.
Exhibiting with Glen is jewelry artist Abigail Porter whose work is highly original, delicate and unique.
Considerably farther down Highland Ridge, you’ll take a turn into Lynn Ferris Watercolors. Alternatively, you could pick up this venue earlier by taking that turn we mentioned after the Hsus, so either way. We haven’t had a chance to visit Lynn in awhile, but her sometimes surprisingly dramatic paintings are certainly worth the trip, particularly if you’re a watercolor fan.
The drive to Berkeley Springs from this writer’s primary residence in Reston, Virginia, is approximately one hour and fifty minutes if traveling without a break.
Best way for northern Virginia residents to get there is to:
Take the Toll Road/Dulles Greenway (and don’t forget your credit card if you don’t have an EZPass transponder on your windshield). The Greenway ends at the Virginia Route 7 Bypass in Leesburg, at which point you take the 4-laned highway all the way to Winchester.
Just before you enter the city of Winchester, hand a right onto I-81 North. At the very next exit (U.S. 522 and 11) get off at the ramp and hang a left.
Now it’s slightly tricky. When you turn, you’re on Rt. 11. Go straight, past a Sheetz to your left and another station (which looks like it’s becoming a 7/11) on your right. If you stay on the main drag, it morphs into Virginia 37 South, which is non-intuitive—but it’s actually a half-beltway around Winchester, and you’ll be less confused if you think about how directions work on the Capital Beltway.
Anyhow, stay on 37 once again until the very next exit, which is U.S. 522, and turn right.
It’s a straight shot from there, 4-lanes of sweeping curves and vistas until it drops down to two lanes at the WV border. When you get near town, follow the signs and traffic officers. They’ll keep you out of downtown proper and you’ll have to find parking in one of the neighborhoods. But not to worry, since you won’t have to walk very far.
Special Great Depression II bonus for Northern Virginians:
Going through Winchester either coming or going, make sure your gas tank is pretty close to dry. Hands-down, these are the best gas prices anywhere in the Metropolitan DC area. Fillerup for 10-20 cents less per gallon than in northern Virginia, upwards of 30 cents less than in Maryland, and, if you’re lucky, up to 50 cents less than in DC. Don’t wait for West Virginia. The state’s gas tax is high, getting Berkeley Springs’ area prices up to around what you currently pay in northern Virginia closer to DC.)
Getting to WV from closer in:
DC and Maryland residents might be better off heading to Berkeley Springs via I-70 North, getting off the interstate in Hancock, MD at the Hancock/Berkeley Springs exit to U.S. 522 South. Once you’re off I-70, Berkeley Springs is only about 10 minutes away once you cross the Potomac River. You’ll pass by the historic, though rather hideous outcroppings of the U.S. Silica Sand Mine, and very soon, you’re there, so slow down when you see the signs. The local constabulary can be a little zealous.
For More Information:
If you’re impatient with our insider verbiage here, you can actually download a PDF of the official Studio Tour brochure, which is also available at the Ice House and other venues in town. But for your own PDF, visit the Berkeley Springs Studio Tour website here, or go directly to the download page here. Alternatively, you can call the tour office at 304-258-0066 or ring up Travel Berkeley Springs at 800-447-8797.
Here’s hoping for good weather.
Maybe we’ll see some of you this coming weekend. Drive safely and have fun.
Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.
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