Artisan Trail showcases local artists, businesses

By Ryan Cornell

WOODSTOCK — It took nearly two years and an equal number of tourism directors, but the O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail finally unveiled to the public on Monday.

The trail consists of 77 participants from across the county, ranging from art studios and farms to restaurants and local businesses.

These participants have to be independently owned, locally owned and operated and, in the case of restaurants, feature either regional cuisine or locally produced ingredients.

Shenandoah County Tourism Director Jenna French, who took on the role of organizing the trail after taking the job from Natalie Wills in August, said many of the other artisan trails in Virginia were formed from multiple counties.

“We’re really proud of the fact that we had so much talent here in our own backyard to pursue this on our own,” French said.

She said a major purpose of the trail is to give people reasons to stay longer when they come to visit and to increase the number of nights they stay in the county.

“What I love about it is that you can design your own trail within it,” she said. “You don’t have to start at trail participant A and end with Z, you can narrow it to a particular point of interest you have or a geographic region and tailor it to your own needs and interest.”

French said she’s hoping for more participants to join the Artisan Trail as they learn about it in the future.

“I don’t see it as a finish line,” she said. “I think it launching is really the starting point.”

The Daily spoke to five of the area’s juried artisans, who according to the Artisans Center of Virginia, have gone through a “rigorous standards review process” and represent the highest quality of hand-crafted works the commonwealth has to offer.

Elizabeth Ashe
Website: earthspiritsmasks.com
From: Near Middletown
Media used: I create clay masks of nature spirits, faeries or animal spirits that exist alongside us. They’re decorated with different natural materials such as twigs, pinecones, feathers, mahogany pods, acorns, moss and mountain laurel.
How long have you been an artist? I’ve been a working artist with this business, Earth Spirits Masks, for 20 years and have been working with clay for 20 years before that.
How did you start? A registered nurse with a pottery habit, I was obsessed with going to pottery classes and eventually teaching them. I taught a class on Native American pottery and made a mask as an example. I wasn’t happy with it when I was done, but I came back to it and realized there was something there.
Where do you find inspiration? I’ve always enjoyed walking in nature and the peaceful enjoyment of nature.
How would you describe your creative process? For me, it’s about the joy that is inherent in nature. It lifts up your spirits and the leaves around your feet. That’s what I want my pieces to bring to other people.
What do you like most about sculpting? I love the feel of the clay under my hands. I love the feeling of participating, but also being an observer in the process. It participates in its own creation.
What’s your latest work? For the past several years, I’ve been working on tree dancers, which are trees in the shape of women with roots as skirts and trunks as bodies.

Laura Sherrill
Website: laurasherrill.com
From: New Market
Favorite artist: My mother
Media used: Mostly oil paintings on canvas
How long have you been an artist? It’s been about five years now. I started painting after I graduated James Madison University with a degree in health sciences.
How did you start? I did a lot of doodling in class during high school, but it actually started with tattoo design. I’ve been asked by different people to design tattoos and at least nine of my tattoos have been published.
Where do you find inspiration? It starts with color for me. Some people choose the subject matter and then their color palette. It’s the opposite with me.
How would you describe your creative process? I don’t set boundaries for my work, I just let the brush and creativity flow. My best work is completely spontaneous. I never sit down and work on one piece at a time. Currently, I’m working on 12 pieces.
What do you like most about painting? I like everything about it, like the mood it puts me in. It’s my passion. It’s what I live for.
What’s your latest work? I’m working on a triptych, or a three-sided painting.

Roberta Demski
Website: distinctiveartdesigns.blogspot.com
From: Woodstock
Favorite artist: Mort Kunstler
Media used: I’ll take a walk and see a rock and turn it into the face of a wolf. I’ll see another rock and turn it into a pizza. I’ve done paintings, mostly acrylic, on milk cans and use a lot of slab wood.
How long have you been an artist? Three years
How did you start? I saw someone on TV and thought, ‘I could do that.’ It was Bob Ross. I saw the techniques he was using and I just kept watching. He seemed to really enjoy what he was doing. It all fit into place like it was supposed to be there.
What do you like most about painting? I love the challenge of seeing something empty and the feeling of seeing it when I put my signature on it, remembering that it was once empty and blank. It also gives me a great feeling of joy knowing that a part of me is in someone else’s home or office. It’s a special part of me that I can give to other people and I like sharing my gift.
What’s your latest work? A friend of my husband’s found a piece of driftwood when he was in Hawaii and asked me to paint a scene on it. The scene I’m working on is set on a mountaintop and has the sun getting ready to set on a village. There’s a lighthouse, houses and seagulls flying around.

Cary Sober
From: Woodstock
Favorite artist: For many years, I’ve admired Van Gogh, Monet and the Impressionists, Vermeer and the Dutch painters, Michelangelo and Rembrandt, but I studied and was most inspired by Kandinsky.
Media used: I primarily use acrylics for large abstract nature-inspired color-field paintings. With the smaller pieces in “Distant Places,” showing at 7 East Gallery, I made a deliberate effort to use brushes only when necessary. Reaching beyond the traditional use of brushes, I poured, dripped, sprayed, scraped and dabbed using unconventional tools such as sponges, saran wrap, tissue paper, rags, fingers and fingernails.
How long have you been an artist? I’ve been painting for more than 30 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art from the University of Maryland, University College.
How would you describe your creative process? With abstract painting, one way to keep it in the abstract is to create many horizon lines which confuse the viewer’s eye from thinking it’s a landscape. Another way of keeping a nature-inspired painting abstract is by using non-realistic colors and color combinations.
What have you been working on most recently? Check out my show at 7 East Gallery. It focuses on different approaches with paint and material beyond brushes, yet still nature-inspired and abstract.

Susie Wilburn
Website: facebook.com/laughingorangestudio
From: Toms Brook
Media used: Over the years, I have used all kinds of media in my art. I’ve made quilts, oil paintings, drawings and freelance printed products.
How long have you been an artist? I have a bachelor’s degree in art from Berea College and worked in the printing industry for more than 20 years after college. I lost my job at RR Donnelley in 2011 and, after spending some time looking for work, I decided to fall back on a college love and became a potter.
How did you start? My husband had bought me a potter’s wheel for Christmas in 2010 and I saw my skills come back fairly quickly. I had been a ceramic apprentice in college and thought I didn’t like production after a couple years. I regretted it soon because I love the clay and working in it.
Where do you find inspiration? My inspiration these days are things from nature, my garden and animals. Frogs have become a signature image in some of my work.
How would you describe your creative process? It’s continually evolving. I have great drawing skills but not so great that I can just sit down and draw from my head. I have to have an image or object to look at and draw from. With the clay, I seem to be using an abstract storytelling as a way to put an image onto the works. I want the piece to have enough imagery to intrigue the user and for them to interact with the characters that I draw onto the piece.
What’s your latest work? I’ve been helping with the St. Peter Lutheran Church Community Garden project here in Toms Brook. We’re trying to get a community garden for those people in the town who don’t have space to grow some vegetables.

The 77 participants in the O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail are artisan studios: Alexandra Hofgren, Apple Gallery déjà vu, Art That Heals Studio, The Carpetbagger, Cary’s Studio, Coviello Art Gallery, Dan Voss, DebImage Photography, Distinctive Art Designs, Earth Spirits Masks, F and B Farms, Fox Ridge Fibers, Glenn’s Log Art, Kary Haun Studio, Laura Sherrill Fine Art Studio, Laughing Orange Studio, Pasternak Media LLC, Pete Johnson Wood Turnings, Portraits by Kay, Spring House Farms, Steve Sober Photography, Virginia Stultz and Jean Whetzel, Wolfgang Neudorfer Fine Art, Zillustration; craft-related venues: 7 East Gallery, All Things Virginia, The Art Group Gallery, Buggy B’s, E. Pearls, Shenandoah Valley Artworks, Woodstock Café and Shoppes, The Yellow Barn; agri-artisan/farms: Baker Farms, Bridgemont Farm, Cedar Creek Winery LLC, Country Gardens, Deauville Farm, Fort Valley Nursery, Mowery Orchard LLC, Natural Art Garden Center, North Mountain Vineyard and Winery, Posey Thisisit Llamas, The Pumpkin Patch, Route 11 Potato Chips, Shenandoah Vineyards, Swover Creek Farms, The Winery at Kindred Pointe, Woodbine Farm Market; restaurants: Baker’s Store, Cristina’s Café, Hi Neighbor Country Restaurant, Laureen’s Bakery, Shaffer’s Catering, BBQ and Deli, Walker’s Cash Store, Woodstock Café and Shoppes; lodging: Apple Blossom Inn, Edinburg Renaissance B&B, Hotel Strasburg, The Shenandoah Lake House, Shenandoah River Lodge, Widow Kip’s Country Inn; points of interest: Bryce Resort, The Flea Market in Edinburg, Fort Valley Museum, The Market in Woodstock, Museum at the Edinburg Mill, Shenandoah Caverns, Shenandoah County Library, Shenandoah Showcase, Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, Shenvalee Golf Resort, Strasburg Community Library, The Strasburg Emporium LLC, Strasburg Museum, Virginia Museum of the Civil War; tourism information: Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce and Shenandoah County Tourism.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rcornell@nvdaily.com