Art at the Mill Opens 21st Season

Each spring, just as surely as daffodils and tulips add the first touches of color to winter’s brown palette, artists from far and wide turn Millwood, Virginia’s 18th century Burwell-Morgan Mill  into the Mid-Atlantic’s premiere gallery of collectable masterpieces. This year is no exception as nearly 350 contributing artists from a dozen states flock to Clarke County to offer their art and to help Art at the Mill celebrate its 21th anniversary.

Millwood, Virginia resident Phyllis Nee browses art work - Photo Edward Leonard

Hundreds of art patrons ignored the wet and chilly weather to consider the nearly 1,000 pieces of art of all descriptions unveiled Friday night. As in days of old, the Burwell-Morgan mill once again donned its mantle as a commercial center for Clarke County as patrons purchased works of art ranging in price from tens-of-dollars to thousands. Oil paintings, sculpture, fine woodworking water colors and pottery creations offered a stunning selection for buyers of every taste, budget, and decor.

“The Art at the Mill show is important because this historic mill represents the industrial, commercial and agricultural history of Clarke County” said Clarke County Historical Association president Howard Means. “The money that we raise here is what supports the mill and keeps it open.”

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Means said that Art at the Mill is CCHA’s primary fundraiser, providing the operating funds for the Burwell-Morgan Mill and the Clarke County Museum and Archives.  CCHA retains 28% of each sale while the selling artist receives 70%. The remaining 2% of the sale goes to the Sarah P. Trumbower Memorial Scholarship fund established to help a deserving local student pursue a university education in the fine arts.

The $5,000 scholarship awarded annually.

Art patrons paid $65 each to attend Friday night’s grand-opening. Hundreds of potential buyers packed the stone structure’s first and second floors to consider the beautiful works as well as to chat with friends.

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A fiddler serenaded the buyers while they feasted on hors-doeuvres prepared by the late Sarah Trumbower’s daughter Lisa’s “Love at First Bite” catering service.

Clarke County Historical Association President Howard Means provided an umbrella escort for patrons from the parking area into the mill - Photo Edward Leonard

“My mother started the art show twenty one years ago” Lisa Trumbower-Sheppard said while placing the final garnishes on a tray of delicacies. “Love at First Bite,” in its second year of business, has grown quickly thanks to a willingness to adapt to differing budget needs and venues according to Trumbower-Sheppard. “We try to deliver the best value combination of food and beverages.”

Patrons seemed to be in agreement with Trumbower-Sheppard as they nibbled on her culinary creations while strolling aisles filled with art last night.

Millwood resident Phyllis Nee, an interior designer who’s nearby backyard is bordered by the mill’s race, said that she loves living near the historic structure and is pleased by the community effort that goes into keeping it open and operational.

“I like this show because it’s colorful, affordable and has a lot of variance,” Nee said while eying a sculpture that she was considering purchasing.

A few steps away from Nee, volunteer and Millwood resident Cheryl Voytek, stood ready with clipboard in hand to record purchases of the buyers. Voytek, who is also a painter with entries in the show, said that she still enjoys volunteering at the event even after fifteen years and thirty shows.

“I absolutely love being here,” Voytek said. “It’s fascinating watching how the art has evolved and changed over the years.”

Voytek’s said that her favorite painting subjects are local animals including foxes and horses. A large canvas of Virginia bluebells painted by Voytek greeted patrons as they entered the mill Friday evening.

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Last night’s Art at the Mill opening was a treat for all the senses. The venue’s fine art combined with history, food, and music offered an experience unique to Clarke County. Much of the success of the event, which has carved out both a regional and national reputation for art excellence, is attributable to the hard work and professionalism of Clarke County Historical Association Executive Director, Jennifer Lee.

“Putting on a show like this would wear out Superman,” said CCHA president Howard Means. “But Jennifer thrives incredibly well doing it. She does an excellent job putting together an art show that is unlike anything else in our area.”

Clarke County Historical Association executive director Jennifer Lee (l) provides last minute directions to Art at the Mill volunteers - Photo Edward Leonard

“This is the 40th show and 21st year of Art at the Mill and it keeps getting  bigger and better with every show,” Jennifer Lee said “But without the help of our many  stellar volunteers the effort would truly not be possible. They do everything from hanging art to decorating and cleaning to  greeting visitors and working the sales desk. They are just a terrific group  of people who make this a tremendous community effort and celebration.”

Lee said that this year’s Art at the Mill had received a record number of entries from artists from all around the country and that she was particularly pleased to have 55 artists new to the  show this year.

One of many returning artists, local painter and Leesburg resident, Trisha Adams was a graphic designer before taking up her paint brush seriously in 2001. At Friday night’s event Adams worked her canvas and oil paints to the delight of patrons as they watched her masterful strokes create impressionistic flowers before their eyes.

Painter Trish Adams demonstrates technique at Art at the Mill - Photo Edward Leonard

“This is a fun event that I love participating in” said Adams between brush strokes. “I really love being around all of this wonderful art for a couple of weeks each year.”  Adams’ artwork has been featured in American Art Collector magazine and her paintings reside in many corporate and public collections including the Virginia State Senate.

While many of Friday evening’s attendees came with the goal of buying the perfect piece of art for a home, office or as a gift, many other people in attendance came to simply enjoy their Clarke County neighbors and community.

“I’m too old to buy anything else,” laughed former Clarke County Planning Commissioner Dave Jelinek. Jelinek, who will turn 88 years old a week from Sunday, said that he always likes the show even if he doesn’t take home any new art.

“I think that the new lighting and the new space configuration has really opened it up nicely,” commented Jelinek. “There’s lots of great art on the walls that I wouldn’t want to miss.”

The Spring 2011 Art at the Mill show runs from April 23 through May 8, 2011. Hours are Sunday through Friday  12:00 to 5:00 pm and Saturdays from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission for adults is $5, seniors $3 and students are admitted free.