Rappahannock’s Fall Art Tour — reimagined to incorporate cautions in the age of the pandemic — is taking shape to debut in November with a mix of new artists and established names, online elements and in-person visits to 40-some studios and galleries. 

The return of the Tour next month blends last year’s virtual gallery adaptation with the ever-popular in-person studio and gallery tour. This hybrid reflects a resourceful pragmatism that is helping countless companies, schools and organizations manage risks in COVID-19’s new reality, which is safer than before — because of vaccines and masks — but still subject to reasonable worries of transmission. The Rappahannock Association for Arts and Community (RAAC), will once again produce the Tour — but without pretending that risks no longer exist.

The result: RAAC’s flagship Nov. 6-7 Art Tour will offer a free self-guided studio and gallery tour, offer online viewing and pre-visit planning, and offer maximum flexibility to participating artists and visitors.  Ten galleries, concentrated in Washington and Sperryville, will participate in the tour. These offer works by artists in the county and elsewhere, and will provide a rich mix of processes, materials and expressions.   

Matthew Black, RAAC’s board chairman, said the hybrid formula represents “an accommodating twist on the traditional. We achieved critical flexibility by converting our physical HQ Gallery into a virtual one, and making our tour guides and maps available online. That has allowed all of us to flex with the virus.” 

The design emerges from consultation with participating artists, points out Heather Wicke, head of the Art Tour Committee. “We surveyed 43 artists and galleries,” she said, “and the vast majority said they would participate in an in-person tour as long as conditions remained the same.” But, she added, “a closer look revealed lots of uncertainty, anxiety about Covid risks.” Given the unknowns, the best path was to maximize flexibility, for both artists and visitors, allowing each to fashion an experience that is both satisfying and safe.  

Artists and galleries will have three options, and will indicate a choice by Oct. 25:

  • Open up to visitors from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m., Nov. 6-7, subject to masks and crowd control. 

  • Welcome scheduled visits that must be arranged in advance.

  • Display work online, with no in-person visits. 

Visitors also will see changes: 

  • There will be no central gallery in Washington and no ticket sales. The tour will be free. 

  • Visitors will go online to to peruse works by participating artists, and map an itinerary. 

  • Studios may offer drinks and snacks, but these will be located outdoors. 

  • Studios will also require masks, and some may request that visitors be vaccinated. 

  • Studios and galleries will avoid crowding inside, and will maximize ventilation. 

A reception for artists and Fall Art Tour sponsors will not be held. 

The bottom line, said Black, is that “we will welcome hundreds of visitors to celebrate the visual arts safely and enjoy the beauty of Rappahannock County.” 

Nol Putnam, Rappahannock’s esteemed ironworker, plans to open his forge to visitors — possibly for the last time, since he is planning an artistic shift from the physical demands of the anvil, and perhaps to a new location. In addition to his various works in iron, Putnam will be exhibiting a number of preparatory drawings and original architectural renderings.

Putnam’s Huntly studio will also feature paintings by Darien Reece; her works are rendered in casein, an ancient paint composed of earth and mineral pigments using milk solids as a binder. The paintings draw from archetypal inspirations and all convey a dream-like quality, emphasizing shape-shifting forms that originate in the natural world.

Ruthie Windsor Mann, a popular oil painter who lives just outside Washington, said she’s pondered the best way to handle the tour this year and is planning in-person participation, abiding by Covid-safe precautions, and emphasizing interactions just outside the studio entrance where mountain views are spectacular. Her works include paintings of animals, landscapes and vegetation as well as recent semi-abstract works. Windsor Mann plans to bring out a book this fall — “A Painter’s Musings”— that will be available for purchase at her studio on Tiger Valley Road. 

For the planners and artists, the weeks of thinking and rethinking the event have been taxing. The emergence of the easily transmissible delta variant had generated dread of a new round of lockdowns and cancellations, with acute concern that the beloved Art Tour would be sidelined for a second year. But once the community coalesced around the hybrid approach— with maximum flexibility built in— there was a sense of both relief and anticipation. 

"If you feel a little more excitement than ever in the fall air for the 16th Annual Art Tour weekend, it isn’t your imagination,” Wickle said. “It’s due to the joyful retrieval of the popular tour in the face of the continuing pandemic challenges.” 

Visitors can tap into an updated online view and begin planning their tours on Nov. 1 by going to:

The writer, while also a regular Foothills Forum contributor, serves on the board of RAAC and will open his studio to visitors on the tour.


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