Explore the creative side of Shenandoah County, Virginia.
“Hand-made treasures, locally-grown goodness and breath-taking beauty around every bend.”
By Hope S. Philbrick
Three trails entice adults to explore Shenandoah County, Virginia: an Outdoors Trail, Spirits Trail, and Artisan Trail. The brochure for the last of these promises “breath-taking beauty around every bend” on its cover, but that claim is true whether or not you’re looking at art—in fact, even if you catch a cold and drive around looking for a pharmacy, a genuinely unappealing thing to do on any vacation, it’s going to be a picturesque trip because Shenandoah County is simply a stunning beauty. It’s a lush valley surrounded by mountains, dotted with vineyards, farms, welcoming homes, and quaint little barns and storefronts that seem to have sprung to life straight from a postcard of an idealized yesteryear.
No surprise that people living here are inspired to get artsy…and/or the area lures artists in a self-fulfilling cycle of creativity. The Shenandoah County Artisan Trail is a collection of studios, agri-artisan farms, art-related venues, restaurants, and points of interest that are locally owned with some authentic, artisan handcrafted component tied to the County’s rural culture. Featured stops get chosen, they don’t just sign up.
The brochure lists 77 stops—and more are in the process of being added—so an afternoon is not sufficient to explore the entire Shenandoah County Artisan Trail. You could spend several days visiting every featured stop, but a few hours is enough time to reach several of them. Odds are good that you’ll find some irresistible piece of Virginia creativity to purchase and take home as a treasured souvenir. Among my recent discoveries…
Fort Valley Nursery is a garden store stocked with unusual and rare plants, herbs and trees. A wide array of home and garden items is available in the gift shop, from ornaments to candlesticks, fountains to stained glass, wind chimes to jewelry, and much more. The Garden Café serves coffee, wine, sandwiches, salads and other deliciousness.
Kary Haun Studio showcases the functional pottery of artist Kary Haun, who was named “one of the Top Ten Artists in the Shenandoah Valley by Shenandoah Living.” Full disclosure: I spent a happy afternoon with Kary as she hosted my exploration of the Artisan Trail; her studio wasn’t on the itinerary but I insisted we add it after I’d spotted a picture of one of her platters on Instagram and knew it was the perfect piece for my fireplace mantel. Over the hours we spent together I confirmed that she’s not only a great artist who just so happens to work my favorite color into lots of her pieces, she’s my kind of people. So I’m not exactly unbiased when I say her studio is a definite must-see. It is, though. Her pieces often incorporate etched trees and glazed dots into the designs, but look closely and you’ll spot differences. It’s amazing how subtle distinctions like round or oval dots can shift the mood of a piece.
Laughing Orange Studio produces fun and functional pottery. Artist Susie Morgan Wilburn works in a range of themes and styles from subjects rooted in reality and others that seem inspired by fairy lands. I’m a personal fan of her fern leaf plates, as well as her mugs and platters depicting bunnies. Some of her more whimsical designs are local favorites, such as bowls with a frog perched on the edge and mugs with frog handles. Some pieces are practical, some purely decorative like miniature houses and campers. There’s such diversity among her collection that it’s easy to find something to adore.
Located on land that has been farmed since the 1700s, North Mountain Vineyards pours award-winning wines in its tasting room and offers winery tours if you’d like a peek at how the good stuff is made. The vineyards stretch from the winery up and down the surrounding hillsides, making this an inviting place to sit and relax. Buy a glass of wine and some gourmet snacks in the gift shop to turn the visit into a picnic.
Posey Thisisit Llama Farm is a 27-acre farm ruled by llamas, a few cats and the humans who love them. While here you can pick up some items hand-crafted from llama wool such as scarves, coats, socks or mittens, take a llama fiber class, or simply spend time gazing into the calming eyes of a llama.
Shenandoah County Historic Courthouse was constructed in 1795. Having served as the center of county government until the early 20th Century , today the building houses a museum, visitors’ center, court space, and community meeting rooms. It is the oldest working courthouse west of the Blue Ridge Mountains in continuous use. During the Civil War, soldiers for both the Union and Confederate armies left graffiti on the interior walls.
Wolfgang Neudorfer’s studio and workshop exhibits more than 800 oil paintings, watercolors, pastels and pen and ink drawings by Wolfgang Neudorfer. His work shows a deep love of the Shenandoah Valley landscapes and townscapes.
The family-operated Woodbine Farm Market is a great place to buy fresh local fruit, vegetables, meats, and fresh-baked pies, cookies and breads. You can also stock up on jams, salad dressings, honey and other edible treats. The fall harvest includes 16+ different varieties of apples. Any time of year, this is no place to prove your ability to resist temptation: Buy a cookie or better yet buy a dozen.
When exploring the Shenandoah County Artisan Trail, it’s best to call ahead to confirm destinations are open. Some sites are “by appointment.”
Shenandoah County is not home to Shenandoah National Park, but you can see it from here: The park is the third mountain on the east horizon; look the other way toward West Virginia. Plan an itinerary that includes both!
In Strasburg, take a walking tour to see six murals on several walls along the main street. Staufferstadt Arts, a non-profit project and public arts program, features several world-class artists. It’s free to look and take photos so bring your camera!
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion. Shenandoah County hosted a group of travel writers during a MATPRA 2017 post-FAM.