Safe Haven For The Night

Safe Haven For The Night

By Doug Pifer

My wife and I often look out the kitchen window at our big, white martin house these days.

A flock of seven bluebirds appears around five o’clock or so each evening. Back and forth they fly to the martin house, perch on the porches, and look in the holes. Eventually all of them disappear into the apartments.

Two- storied with 10 apartments, the martin house has been in the backyard for as long as we have lived here. We’ve made sure it stands at the requisite height and distance from the house, with sufficient open space around it for purple martins. I carved and painted life-sized purple martin decoys, which I set out early each year. I bought and played a recording of the purple martin’s dawn song for four weeks every spring, and added a taller pole that holds white painted gourds, should the birds prefer a loftier site.

Despite my best intentions, nature had other plans.

An occasional martin swoops by to have a look. They’ve perched on the house, sat on the perches, and hovered in front of the nest holes. But none ever stay. Sometimes we regard the whole thing as a garden decoration.

During the nesting season, I blocked the entrance holes so unwanted starlings and house sparrows couldn’t get in. Then I stopped doing that. Starlings came to inspect the premises, but they never nested there. A pair of house wrens nested in the gourd tower. Then a pair of bluebirds nested in one of the apartments. They came back that same year and raised a second brood. At least one brood of bluebirds has been raised in our martin house every summer since then.

Bluebirds have nest site fidelity. In other words, adults typically return to nest where they were successful in the past, and young birds hang around and sometimes return to breed at the site where they were born. Our own bluebird boxes have housed nesting bluebirds. But they’ve never been as faithful to them as they have to the martin house.

Bluebirds often stick around all winter in flocks of half a dozen or so. Like many cavity-nesters, they seek shelter at night, particularly during cold weather. This may be a hollow tree, a deserted woodpecker hole, or a bluebird house. Many folks leave last year’s nesting material inside their boxes to provide additional winter warmth. It seems our empty martin apartments suit these bluebirds just fine.

I’ve written and spoken to groups about attracting birds to your backyard. I often say, “Don’t set out a ‘bird house.’ Instead, put up boxes designed for specific birds you want to attract—a bluebird house, a wren house, or a nesting bracket for phoebes or robins. Of critical importance is site placement—put it in an environment suitable to that species.” I say good backyard habitat includes feeding and nesting sites as well as places to hide and roost throughout the year.

Now I wonder whether I really know which house is best for which bird.

The Future of History: CCHA Looks Ahead

The Future of History

By David Lillard

It’s a late September afternoon, and the wind is whirling. That hurricane moving north from the Gulf wasn’t expected to hit hard in Clarke County, but the horizontal rains and leaves blowing past the window make you wonder if the forecast has changed. You pull out your smart phone, click an icon, and check the latest weather report.

No matter what device you’re using, or how you get your weather, the source is likely the same: the National Weather Service, a division of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. The weather reports that people all over the United States now take for granted have their roots here in Clarke and Loudoun counties.

Over several months in 1902–03, the Weather Bureau signed contracts to buy land and construct observation facilities atop the Blue Ridge. They renamed a summit on the ridge Mt. Weather, and set up the country’s first weather observation and prediction center.

The Weather Bureau’s activities atop Mt. Weather lasted only a few years, but the legacy of the agency that tracks everything from heat waves to hurricanes begins right here.

You can read all about the short history of Mt. Weather’s climatological observations in an article by Maral Kalbian and Margaret Peters, published in the 2012 Proceedings of the Clarke County Historical Association. You can also learn the locations of Clarke County gravesites for Revolutionary War soldiers and dig deep into archeological investigations at Blandy Experimental Farm.

The Proceedings is one of the quiet ways the Historical Association documents and preserves the historical record of life in the county. Sometimes the research is original, published for the first time. Over the years, their research has been used by others for many applications for the National Register of Historic Places.

But publishing history is only one slice of how the Clarke County Historical Association (CCHA) serves the community.

The group is probably best known for its work restoring and operating the 1785 Millwood or Alger’s Mill in Millwood, which, according to CCHA archivist Mary Thomason-Morris, they acquired in 1964. Built for Nathaniel Burwell by Gen. Daniel Morgan and others in the mid-1780s, the mill had closed its doors in 1953 with the retirement of its long-time owner Ernest L. Alger.  “This wood and stone mill building in the heart of the small village of Millwood stood dilapidated and forlorn until 1963 when Middletown businessman Leo Bernstein bought it, with an idea to convert the building into a restaurant,” wrote Thomason-Morris in her 2009 history of CCHA.

After Bernstein decided against pursuing the project, he sold the mill to the CCHA for one dollar for a working museum on industrial heritage of the Shenandoah Valley. Over time, the group acquired other buildings, enabling them to preserve not just the mill, but the historic landscape surrounding it.

On weekends May through November, visitors from far and near come to see the grist mill at work grinding corn meal of colorful varieties and wheat flour. Much of the yellow and white corn ground at the mill comes from local farms, says CCHA executive director Laura Christiansen.

It’s at the mill that CCHA brings history alive. The volunteer millers offer up one-on-one history lessons to all comers on the inner workings of the gears and grinding stones, the building, and the village that sprang up and flourished around the mill. They also over all the maintenance, “everything from greasing the gears to sharpening millstones, to replacing pieces of the wheel,” said Christiansen.

The team of millers are always on the lookout for new volunteers, said Christiansen, especially younger ones who will stay with CCHA and, over time, become the next generation of millers. No experience is necessary, only a willingness to learn and share that knowledge with visitors. A fascination with gears and all things mechanical helps, too—as does, Christiansen adds, with a smile, enjoying a beer with the guys after the mill is closed.

The volunteers save tens of thousands of dollars each year on the cost of operating and maintaining the mill. Still, it costs upwards of $50,000 a year to maintain the mill and the site around it, says Christiansen.

Raising all that cash to keep the popular attraction going—and to preserve it—relies on the popular Art At The Mill, a twice-a-year art show. Since its modest beginnings in 1990 showing the works of 14 local artists, Art At The Mill has grown to about 200 artists and 1,000 pieces for each of the two shows.

The dates for this spring’s show are April 27 through May 12. There is still time for artists to make the February 25 submission deadline to have their works in this year’s show (see the contact information below).

More than the mill

CCHA stewards a major collection of Clarke County historic documents and artifacts, ranging from a complete collection of the Clarke Courier dating from 1869 to a tall-case clock built in 1780 by Goldsmith Chandlee of Winchester at the behest of Lord Fairfax. In her history of CCHA, Thompson-Morris calls the clock the organization’s first crown jewel.

“We continue to gather artifacts,” said Christiansen, “anything relevant to the history of Clarke County.”

The museum’s reading room has a collection of local history books and resources, too, a fine venue for a quiet Saturday afternoon—and for students working on research papers.

One of the Clarke County Historical Association’s best kept secrets should not be a secret at all. It’s the museum’s “Our Land Is Our Legacy” presentation occupying three rooms downstairs of the museum at 32 East Main Street in Berryville. The exhibit begins, literally, in the primeval forest that predominated the Shenandoah Valley for thousands of years—the landscape occupied by the continent’s original people first encountered by European settlers. A floor-to-ceiling forest mural is the backdrop.

The exhibit continues in two rooms of artifacts complemented by sound and video presentations that take visitors on a journey from early settlement to the modern era.

“We’d love to see many more people visit the museum and experience the Legacy presentation,” said Christiansen. “You can spend as little as 20 minutes enjoying the videos or linger for hours over the displays. And it’s free!”


Now, just a year shy of the group’s 75th anniversary, the history folks are looking toward the future. The board and staff are developing a strategic plan to, as Christiansen says, “be more outwardly focused.” and education oriented.

“We’d like to expand our educational programs and collaborate more with partner historical organizations in Clarke County,” said Christiansen. She says the group also would like to offer programs for local schools, but they lack the resources to develop a suite of offerings adhering to the Virginia Standards of Learning. She welcomes volunteers to propose new education program for people of all ages.

A key to offering more living history programs and workshops is to find ways to use the group’s existing properties. “The mill is an amazing resource for programs like engineering, math, physics, and business—as well as history,” she said. “But there are other programs we can offer right now.”

Christiansen says CCHA may also become more involved in historic preservation, offering programs that help people unlock the history of their own homes and the Clarke County landscape. One such program is the upcoming “How To Research Your House,” a 2-hour workshop taught by CCHA board member Maral Kalbian, where you can learn how to begin uncovering the stories associated with the place where you live—or even one you’ve always admired. The workshop takes place February 23, from 10am till noon. The cost is only $5 (free for CCHA members).

History is more than the nation’s founding or stories of the Civil War. It’s the evolution of farming over time, the stories of our small towns, the distinctive communities like Josephine City, the way buildings have been altered over time to incorporate changing times—like the firehouse on Berryville’s main street that became a town hall and police station, and is now an art gallery downstairs and a photography studio and newspaper office upstairs, where this story was written.

The Clarke County Historical Association captures it all—or at least as much as they can. They welcome locals and travelers alike to visit the museum and spend some time with Clarke County’s rich history.


The Clarke County Historical Association is located at 32 East Main Street, Berryville. Museum hours are 11am–4pm, Tuesday through Saturday. Call 540-955-2600 or visit

Around Clarke County


13, 23

Two Parents, Two Homes

Sponsored by Home Service of Clarke County Parenting Education Center, 10am–2pm. Open to all individuals going through divorce, separation, child custody and visitation related difficulties. Would you like to improve your communication skills and learn techniques to assist you in keeping your child out of adult conflict? The “Two Parents Two Homes”  program is right for you. This 4-hour class meets approval for individuals needing to fulfill a requirement. The cost of the class is $35. Registration forms are available online at or stop by the office to pick up a registration packet. Now located at 15 East Main Street Berryville Virginia.


Black History Dramatic Reading Contest

The ninth annual! The program begins at 1:30pm at the Josephine School Community Museum, 303 Josephine Street, Berryville, VA. This is a reading competition open to Clarke County third, fourth and fifth grade children. The readers will read from a selection of black literature and authors. Awards will be given out for each level. This event is free and open to the public. For more information go to or call 540-955-5512.


Free Tax Preparation

AARP TAX-AIDE is an organization that prepares and eFiles Federal & Virginia tax returns at no charge for senior citizens and low to moderate income taxpayers. Tax-Aide will prepare returns in Berryville at the new Senior Center in Chet Hobert Park on 2/16.  Taxpayers will be processed on a first come, first served basis.  Sign in and return preparation will begin at 10:30 AM.  Sign in ends at 2:30 PM or when capacity is reached, whichever comes first.  If married, both taxpayers must be present in order to eFile a return that day.  Tax-Aide is also preparing returns at the War Memorial Building in Jim Barnett Park in Winchester (1001 E Cork Street), with sign in from 9:00 – 3:00 on Monday, Tuesday & Thursday, from 9:00 – 12:30 on Fridays and from 9:30 – 1:30 on three Saturdays (2/9, 3/9 & 3/23).


Valentine’s Dance

8pm till midnight at Blue Ridge Fire Hall, $15 or $25 for a couple. Electric Blues by The I, IV, Vs. Ticket price includes heavy appetizers and a chocolate fountain. Fun will include a live auction, raffles, a dollar dance, champagne glasses for sale, a cash bar, and a rose and truffle sale. All proceeds will go to The Horseshoe Curve Benevolent Association’s scholarship for a Clarke County graduate and High Five Sports Camp for children at risk. Romantic Attire is Requested! All Credit Cards will be accepted.


4H Spaghetti Dinner

Clarke County 4H Leader’s Association’s dinner and silent auction featuring Mackintosh Fruit Farm’s homemade apple crisp topped with ice cream. The evening includes silent and live auctions, with items like gift certificates, sporting goods, collectables, Longaberger baskets, live trees, farm equipment and more. $6 for adults; $4 per child under 10. Dinner at 5pm; auction starts at 6:30. Clarke County Fairground Ruritan Building. All proceeds benefit 4H programs of Clarke County.


Where’s Aubrey

A fundraiser for the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center at the Barns of Rose Hill. Where’s Aubrey has played together since 1985, writing and performing all original music since the turn of the millenium. Rhine Singleton’s original songs, cloaked and hooded by Gary McGraw’s improvisation on the fiddle and mandolin, range from old timey folk music through modern jazz. $15 advance; $20 door. Showtime, 7:30pm. For information, call 540-955-2004; Email:


Young Nature Artists

Join Teaching Artist Annie Young for Wonderland Snowy Impressions, ages 6-9. Bundle up to explore the trails as children gather natural materials for their weekly projects.  Other sessions include: Bird Finders & Feeders, 2/23; and Stick & Yarn Snowflakes, 3/2.


Tai Chi Chuan

Mondays at Blue Ridge Volunteer Fire Department. Start with week 2 in a 6-session course (first session was Feb. 11), 6:30-730PM Shih Fu Lacy Colley. Tuition: $55 per person, includes a $5 donation to the Fire Company. Blue Ridge V.F.D. 131 Retreat Rd. Bluemont. Limited enrollment to ensure individual attention. For information, email Please email the instructor ( for registration or more information.


 A Cappella Group

Join choral director Mark Parsons in this new group of a cappella singers. CraftWorks at Cool Spring. 1469 Lloyd Road, Charles Town, W.Va.


Film: Safety Not Guaranteed

At the Barns of Rose Hill, a smart comedy-drama from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, this film boasts a fine ensemble cast and won Best Screenplay at the Sundance film fest. Three Seattle reporters investigate an unusual classified ad and wind up in a time travel adventure. “Casts an enchanting spell from its opening scene” (USA Today). Rated R. Tickets, $5; showtime, 7:30pm. For information, call 540-955-2004; Email:


The I, IV, Vs

At the Horseshoe Curve Benevolent Association, 1162 Pine Grove Road, Bluemont. Info: 540-554-8291.


Bob Fox and Friends

At the Horseshoe Curve Benevolent Association, 1162 Pine Grove Road, Bluemont. Info: 540-554-8291.


Town Pants

At the Barns of Rose Hill: With a decades’ worth of headlining Roots and Celtic festivals to selling out nights at rock venues The Town Pants own brand of Celtic roots rock rebel spans five albums so far, backed up with a legendary live show that’s garnered them fans internationally from New York to Norway. $10 advance; $15 door. All tickets are general admission. Showtime, 8pm. For information, call 540-955-2004; Email:


Barbara Martin Trio

At the Barns: One listen to jazz and blues singer-songwriter Barbara Martin and you will believe what the critics say about her. Witty. Intelligent. Sultry. Down-to-earth. Insightful. Ironic. Polished. Slice-of-life. Sensitive. Provocative. The list goes on. Barbara Martin is the real deal; a true renaissance woman in genres prone to stereotypes and pigeon-holes. Barbara’s soulful voice and skillful songwriting reveal the essence of her life experience, her creativity and her joie de vivre. And in that very honest and open place, Barbara Martin doesn’t just entertain us; she helps us remember how to dream. Tickets $10 advance, $15 door. Showtime, 8pm. All tickets are general admission. For information, call 540-955-2004; Email:


Polymer Clay & Mixed Media Swap Meet

A FREE monthly gathering at CraftWorks for community artists working in polymer clay/mixed media.  Bring what you aren’t using and swap for something you really want! 1469 Lloyd Road, Charles Town, W.Va.



Last Ham Standing

At the Barns: Don’t miss this hilarious show full of laughs for the entire family. A group of talented performers take suggestions from the audience to create wacky scenes and funny improv games. If you like Whose Line Is It Anyway? you’ll love Last Ham Standing…the other comedy meat! Tickets $10.00 in advance $15.00; at the door. Showtime, 8pm. All tickets are General admission. For information, call 540-955-2004; Email:


Shortness of Breath

At the Horseshoe Curve Benevolent Association, 1162 Pine Grove Road, Bluemont. Info: 540-554-8291.


The Carroll Brothers

At the Horseshoe Curve Benevolent Association, 1162 Pine Grove Road, Bluemont. Info: 540-554-8291.


David Troy Francis, Piano

At the Barns: David Troy Francis is best known for his steadfast championing and performance of contemporary American music. Now living in Asheville, North Carolina, he is an esteemed concert pianist and recording artist as well as a respected composer, arranger and accompanist. His critically acclaimed CD, The Americans, features compositions of living American composers including the world premiere recorded performance of Eight Etudes by two time Pulitzer Prize winning composer Ned Rorem. Tickets $15 in advance;  $20 at the door. Showtime, 7:30pm. All tickets are general admission. For information, call 540-955-2004; Email:


Inheriting the Trade

2pm at the Josephine School Community Museum, “Inheriting The Trade” is Tom De Wolf’ s powerful memoir of a journey in which ten family members, descendants of the most successful slave-trading family in United States history, retrace the steps of their ancestors. The trip, recorded in the documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story of the Deep North, takes the family through the Triangle Trade, from New England to West Africa to Cuba. With searing candor, De Wolf tackles both the internal and external challenges of his journey and our nation’s need for healing. The documentary  is an urgent call for meaningful and honest dialogue. This event is free and open to the public. For more information go to or call 540-955-5512.


Drawing & Painting Group

Join Judy Bradshaw for a monthly workshop of CraftWorks’ community of artists who draw or paint. All levels welcome; no experience necessary! 1469 Lloyd Road, Charles Town, W.Va.


Brown Bag with Books

The Clarke County Library which takes place at the Barns, the first Wednesday of every month at noon. This edition is The Widowers Tale by Julia Glass, The idea behind these is an open discussion, and all are welcome.Bring your lunch, and enjoy! April 3 the discussion focuses on Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz.


Forum for Rural Innovation

The 9th annual Forum for Rural Innovation, 8am–4pm at the Best Western Lee-Jackson Motor Inn & Conference Center in Winchester will showcase new and exciting projects and programs that enhance farm or rural business profitability. The theme of this year’s Forum is “Innovative Crops, Funding, and Public Relations for Farm Sustainability.” Speakers discuss innovative agri-education programs and share ideas on how to maximize production by creating value added products. Five area farms will be highlighted. Registration fee of $40.00 includes the forum program, morning refreshments, and buffet lunch.  Registration information at or 703-777-0426. Pre-registration by March 1 required.


Mary Flower

At the Barns, Says Acoustic Guitar magazine of Mary Flower: With her warm contralto and dazzling skills as an instrumentalist and arranger, Mary Flower has cemented her status as one of the most dynamic performers on the acoustic blues circuit. Flower is deep in the pocket of the country blues and there are few musicians in the genre bringing as much creative spark and low-key mojo to this century-old music. Tickets $10. Showtime, 8pm. For information, call 540-955-2004; Email:


Half Past 3

At the Horseshoe Curve Benevolent Association, 1162 Pine Grove Road, Bluemont. Info: 540-554-8291.


Steve Warner and His Plan B

At the Horseshoe Curve Benevolent Association, 1162 Pine Grove Road, Bluemont. Info: 540-554-8291.

February At Opus Oaks

Opus Oaks isn’t just about summer art camps and classes for kids. There are plenty of teen and adult classes and workshops going on all year long. Register online now at or call Clarke County Parks and Recreation at 540-955-5140. Or call Opus Oaks at 955-4226 for more information.  Location  for all classes and workshops, unless specified otherwise, is 111 First Street, Berryville.

Here’s what’s available just for the month of February:


Watercolors with Gale Bowman-Harlow (Age 12+)

Mondays 2/25-4/8 (no 3/25) 10AM-12PM

Thursdays 2/28-4/11 (no 3/28) 7-9PM

Bring your own pictures and ideas. Beginners will start with the basics: color mixing, composition, layering color, experimenting, brush techniques, washes, and materials. The instructor is there to help with artistic decisions and to introduce new techniques to continuing/experienced students. $85.00 Bring your own materials or pay the instructor $50 for a beginner set.


Acrylic and Oil Painting with Gale Bowman-Harlow (Age 12+)

Mondays 2/25-4/8 (no 3/25) 1PM-3:30PM

Learn techniques in composition; focal point, abstract versus descriptive, depth of field, and canvas prep before beginning a painting. Then explore color mixing and theory, light source, brush techniques, layering paint, glazing, and style. Continuing students work on their own paintings. Bring 18×24 canvas & 6 pictures to paint. $100 plus $15 materials fee.


Oil Painting with Eric Cherry (Age 15+)

Tuesdays 2/26-4/9 (no 3/26) 6:30-9PM

Learn the Old Masters technique of oil painting & glazing, including laying out your palette, canvas prep, color theory, gray scale color mixing, composition, and mediums. Bring your own paints or use our studio paints, an 18 x 24 canvas or board, and 5 photos. $125 plus $15 materials fee.


Portrait Drawing with Eric Cherry (Age 12 +)

Thursdays 2/28-4/11 (no 3/28) 10AM-12PM

Students will work with a live model to do a portrait; being sensitive to form, emotion, skin values, textures, and light. $85 plus $10 for materials and $25 model fee.


Tickets to Adventure with Norma Colman (Age 15+)

Thursdays  2/28 – 4/11(no 3/28) 6:30-8PM

Explore and investigate your own process of creativity by generating small projects in  and out of class each week based on a prompt or technique and then shared with the creative company. This approach was designed for visual artists, but is also adaptable to writers, musicians, bakers, candle makers, and you. A small journal or sketchbook is recommended. $65


Stained Glass with Sheryl Reid (Age 12+)

Tuesdays 2/26-4/9 (no 3/26) 4:30-6PM

Sheryl will guide you to choose a pre-made pattern or your own design for a stained glass project. Learn basic techniques of foiling, soldering, and finishing while making light catchers and decorative hangings. Continuing students will work on more advanced projects. $ 85 plus  $15 materials fee.


Fused Glass with Gail Gramprie (Age 13+)

Wednesdays 2/27-4/10 (no 3/27) 12:30-3:30PM

Fusing glass in a kiln creates 2D and 3D art pieces with luminous colors, decorations and shapes. Learn to develop a design, cut, assemble, decorate and fuse art glass. Stingers, frit, confetti, glass paint, noodles, rods, and strips to enhance your piece and a brief intro to jewelry making will be presented. $125 plus $55 materials fee.


Jewelry Design with Rachel Rogers-Rodgers (Age 14+)

Thursdays 2/28-4/11  (no 3/28) 10 AM-12PM

Students will learn beginning/intermediate techniques for clay modeling and sculpting using air-dry clay such as tool use, joining, composition, texturing, and finishing techniques. Continuing students will work on more advanced pieces. $85 plus $25 materials fee.


Clay Sculpture with Gale Bowman-Harlow (Age 14+)

Wednesdays  2/27-4/10 (no 3/27) 7-9PM

Students will learn beginning/intermediate techniques for clay modeling and sculpting using air-dry clay such as tool use, joining, composition, texturing, and finishing techniques. Continuing students will work on more advanced pieces. $85 plus $25 materials fee


Drawing Birds from Life Workshop with Doug Pifer (Age 14+)

Saturday  2/23 10AM-2PM

Learn the basics of bird anatomy; shapes, form and movement. Learn techniques for detailed drawings of heads, wings, feathers, and feet while exploring line, composition, perspective, light & dark with various drawing instruments; graphite, charcoal and ink. A live bird will be on-site from the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center.  Bring a lunch. $40 plus $10 donation to Blue Ridge Wildlife Center.


Copper Forging Workshop with Gale Bowman-Harlow (Age 13+)

Saturday 3/23 9AM-4PM

Participants will use metal forging, soldering, chisels and design elements to make a forged copper box of their own. Workshop includes all materials. Wear cotton clothing and bring your lunch. $75


Youth Classes

Acrylic Painting with Gale Bowman-Harlow (Age 6+)

Tuesdays 2/26-4/9 (no 3/26) 5-6:30PM

Students will learn basic painting techniques: color-mixing, building with color, mediums, color theory, light, and composition. Bring an 18 x 24 canvas/canvas board and pictures of things you want to paint. Returning students will work on their own paintings. $85.00 plus $15 materials fee.


Acrylic Painting with Aryana McDonald ( Age 6+)

Saturdays 3/2-4/13(no 3/30) 10:30AM-12PM

Students will learn basic painting techniques: color-mixing, building with color, mediums, color theory, light, and composition. Bring an 18 x 24 canvas/canvas board and pictures of things you want to paint. Returning students will work on their own paintings.

$85.00 plus $15 materials fee.


Clay Sculpture with Gale Bowman-Harlow (Age 8+)

Wednesdays 2/27-4/10 (no 3/27) 5-6:30 PM

Learn beginning/intermediate techniques for clay modeling and sculpting using air-dry clay such as tool use, joining, composition, texturing, and finishing techniques. Continuing students will work on more advanced pieces. $85 plus $25 materials fee


Fundamentals of Drawing with Doug Pifer (Age 8+)

Wednesdays 2/27-4/10 (no 3/27) 6:30-8:30PM

Explore line quality, composition, perspective, lights/darks, building forms and shapes, shading and developing visual acuity skills with different drawing instruments such as graphite, charcoal, and inks. Students will draw from plaster models and still life. $85 plus $10 materials fee.

Ennobling Energy Of The Fire House

In the three short years since the Fire House Gallery opened in the old fire house on Berryville’s Main Street, the gallery has already become a vital arts and economic engine that many people can’t imagine life without.

This meteoric rise from neat idea to regionally known craft and art space might surprise some people, but gallery director Kate Petranech isn’t one of them. “Everyone was behind this,” she said recalling how the town and community rallied to get the gallery started when the Town of Berryville, which occupied the space for decades, decided to move into the new county government center.

When Petranech rattles off a list of people who were instrumental in launching the project, it quickly becomes too long for print. Like a lot of successful community endeavors, people stepped up at the right moment to support the idea. Still, it was the enthusiasm and commitment of the Town—council, staff, and others—that proved essential.

The retrofit and renovation quickly received financial support from the town, county, and individual donors. Within months of the idea’s germination, the work was done and the gallery open. “It took less time than it takes to birth a baby—a little less than nine months, from March to November,” said Petranech.

The Fire House Gallery is a project of Berryville Main Street, a nonprofit that promotes economic growth and revitalization while preserving the town’s historic character. Berryville Main Street is one of 21 similar groups in Virginia, and is part of a national network spearheaded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The gallery consigns the work of some 50 local artists. The consignment approach is more than an affordable business model. It’s a way of growing the local arts community and offering many emerging artists and artisans their first foray into retailing their work. It also enables the gallery to display an incredible variety of work not often seen in a for-profit gallery—from traditional Shenandoah Valley landscape paintings to edgy, uber-contemporary sculpture.

By working on a consignment basis, the gallery can choose artists and their works based on how they fit into the big picture of operating a business.

“We sell more pottery than paintings,” she said, “and more items under $100 than over.” The range of offerings helps.

For example, among the artists featured during this year’s holiday are Samantha Clark Gauldin, a  young jeweler who is also the gallery’s sole paid staff. She majored in drawing and painting in college, but is drawn to working in metal—the unique qualities that enable her to twist and braid it into wearable art. You can pick up handcrafted Christmas gifts from her collection for under $20.

Anne Bowers is a nationally renowned basket artisan, whose heirloom baskets can be found in shops and galleries from Georgia to Maine at prices ranging from about $40 up to a hundred. “One customer came in recently,” said Gauldin, “and left with nine of Anne’s baskets.”

Berryville resident Russ Harrison works in clay, wood, oils, watercolor acrylics and occasionally pastels. His sculptures currently available in the gallery are other worldly abstractions—colorful, playful, bold—that are light years away from traditional Shenandoah Valley craft.

Presenting the works of local artists, says Petranech, is only one part of the gallery’s purpose. The other is growing the audience for art. The gallery, she said, “also helps people of all ages discover what art is.” Other than a gallery that operated briefly in the 1990s, she says, Berryville has never had a “true blue art gallery in its centuries of existence.”

Three years in, locals stop into the gallery just to see what’s new, whether they’re looking for a special gift or greeting cards crafted by a local artist, or whether they just want to look at art.

But true to its intent, the gallery has become a draw for countryside tourists who want to get a sense of the Clarke County scene. The gallery is often the first stop for visitors to Clarke County. “They marvel at the beauty of the space,” says Petranech.

About 25 percent of the visitors who walk into the shop actually buy something, according to gallery records. This is far ahead of a national average of about 5 percent.

After three years, the Fire House Gallery is inching closer to being a self-sustaining operation. “Three years ago I had to raise $10,000 to keep the ship afloat. Last year it was $6,000. This year, fingers crossed, will be $5,000.”

This relatively fast pace toward being in the black is attributable both to the lean operation—Gauldin, who works about half time, is the only paid staff.

The balance, says Petranech, is covered by, “an amazing group of volunteers, including a few of our wonderful artists, who donate one or more 4-hour shifts per month.” Of the gallery volunteers, Petranech says, We could not stay open for even one month without them. That’s how important they are.”

Probably the most remarkable thing about the gallery is that there are Clarke County residents who don’t know about it. People still wander in and say, “We never knew this was here.”

After one visit, say gallery volunteers, most come back.

Petranech has a notion that the spirit of the fire house is alive and well in the gallery. “Think about it. A space that housed men who volunteered to risk their lives to save others. That’s ennobling—and humbling—energy,” she said. “I feel it whenever I walk through the door.”

Cauldron, Currents, and Kites

by David Lillard

They started out simply to make a movie. They may have invented a new way to use film, video, and the internet to help conservation groups collaborate and spread their messages wider than ever before.

The Downstream Project got rolling when two Clarke County residents, longtime conservation advocate George Ohrstrom and documentary cameraman George Patterson, teamed up to produce a film about the Shenandoah River. Nearly two years later, Shenandoah: Voices of the River, a 52-minute film exploring the history, ecology, and beauty of the river, debuted to wide acclaim in Charlottesville, Va. Then, like many a documentary film team, they started looking for an audience.

“We did a road show,” said Ohrstrom. They showed the film wherever they could, knowing from the response they got that they’d done more than make a movie. They had told the story of the Shenandoah Valley and made a compelling case for the river’s restoration and protection.

Still, they had to ask: Now what?

Patterson wanted to make more movies. Ohrstrom was game, but felt they needed a different model—both in terms of how the films were financed and in their sense of purpose.

That’s when Bill Howard came aboard. He’d been doing some computer consulting and social media for Downstream to support the film launch. Howard had been a church administrator and run a Mac-based computer consulting firm; in him the two Georges found someone who could help shape the Downstream idea into something purposeful and sustainable.

“Before Bill got involved, we saw ourselves as film producers only,” said Patterson. Howard suggested that Downstream could be something bigger, that the group could combine its core production strengths with media and marketing to have an impact on conservation throughout the Chesapeake Bay. Howard pushed the idea of getting Downstream into the current—by providing services to partners.

Ohrstrom was intrigued. He had worked with many conservation organizations over the years, as president of Friends of the Shenandoah River and service on the board of the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Virginia League of Conservation voters. He’s also current chair of the Clarke County Planning Commission and vice chair of the county’s easement authority. Through this experience, along with his business background, he saw a common challenge among a lot of conservation groups.

“A lot of them do similar work, but they talk about it differently,” he said, “and they don’t always have the in-house people or expertise to form a message and disseminate it.”

So in 2008 Downstream did what many businesses and nonprofits do. They did some strategic planning, looking at the needs of the conservation community throughout the Bay region.

What emerged was a unique nonprofit that grew from the experiences of all three: Patterson’s decades of production experience as a television documentary cameraman, Howard’s organizational skills and knowledge of internet platforms, and Ohrstrom’s understanding of the issues surrounding conservation and his easy going grasp of the intangibles that shape people’s attitudes about the environment.

The core of Downstream’s approach is what they call OmniMedia. Think of the OmniMedia as an integrated approach to communications. Instead of hiring a web designer to get a site up, a film crew to do a video on a project, a PR firm for press and social media, now conservation groups can turn to Downstream for the package.

At first glance, it looks like a collaborative one-stop shop. But it’s more than that. It’s a way of building a project from the ground up, knowing how it will be distributed and who is going to watch it.

By way of contrast, go back to the film Shenandoah. Like many documentary filmmakers, Downstream made a film that was roughly an hour long, then figured out how to distribute it, then tried to promote the heck out of it. Doing this utilized many of the same specialties as the OmniMedia approach, but those skills were deployed one at a time—not quite haphazardly, but not necessarily strategically, either.

And now the OmniMedia approach: Take a look at Downstream’s effort with Gaining Ground, a partnership of Commonwealth agriculture agencies led by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS. They wanted to reach crop producers and livestock farmers throughout the Commonwealth with educational materials on no-till farming and rotational grazing.

In the old days, extension agents and others spent a lot more time handing out leaflets and talking to small groups of farmers than they did offering technical assistance.

As recently as a few years ago, they might have made a video, then spent tens of thousands of dollars mailing it out. Downstream helped change that approach.

Here’s how it gets built with the OmniMedia approach:


1.  The most effective way to get farmers interested in these new techniques is to hear about them from other farmers—even better, to visit them on their own farms.


2.  The best way to hear from other farmers is through a film shot on their own farms.


3.  The most cost-effective way to produce and distribute a film throughout the Commonwealth is through short films on the web—which also allows farmers to see it on their own schedule.


4.  To get the greatest reach and best stories, involve all the relevant ag-related partners from the beginning: agencies like Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia No-Till Alliance, Virginia Forage & Grassland Council, Shenandoah Resource Conservation & Development Council, and New River-Highlands Resource Conservation & Development Council.


5.  And, if you’re going to build a whole campaign based on web videos, you need to build a website that’s designed to show video—and do it with an outfit that’s set up with the servers and technology to service it.

Downstream hosts theirs on their own proprietary server, with websites built on a WordPress platform they created especially for these types of projects.

At first, says Howard, NRCS was hesitant to build a campaign around social networking. They wondered whether farmers would take to this idea. So Downstream also produced several thousand DVDs, “to see which platform is more effective,” said Howard.


Up in the air

If a picture is worth a thousand words, it only stands to reason that at times that picture has to be taken hundreds of feet above ground. It’s the only way to see the forest instead of the trees. But aerial photography can be cost prohibitive. Sometimes, the high-tech people at Downstream rely on old-fashioned low-tech ways to get the shot.

To get aerial shots of Tangier Island for a recent production, Downstream hung a camera on specially equipped kites about 500 feet above the island. “Renting a helicopter is expensive,” laughs Howard.

After the Downstream crew participated in a workshop on “balloon mapping,” they bought a five-and-a-half foot helium balloon to capture aerials. “Since the workshop, I’ve been on it like paint,” said Howard. “It’s an avenue to low-cost aerial photography for a multitude of purposes, whether getting a good aerial shot or mapping a continuous route.”

Adding aerial photography to their toolkit has been more than just a way of making better movies. It can provide technical information that would otherwise be out of reach for the organizations and agencies working on the ground.


All this strategic thinking and infrastructure only pays off if the finished product is exceptional. That Downstream’s project portfolio is growing indicates people like what the group does. Downstream has produced film projects for the Piedmont Environmental Council and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and are working on a new project in Clarke County called CSpout Run, a restoration project focused on the entire Spout Run watershed.

Part of their success grows from the approach that worked with Shenandoah: Voices of the River. Maybe it’s all those years Patterson spent behind the camera that creates the style. The films are short on narration—if any, at all—allowing people to speak for themselves, whether it’s something heartfelt and passionate, like a connection with land and water, or whether it’s a technical topic like “streamside livestock exclusion.”

Downstream’s cast of characters includes videographer and film editor Nancy Saunders, graphics designer Tom Taylor, and a web building partnership with Studio 105 in Shepherdstown. The board of directors includes scientists and conservation advocates. Howard serves as the producer on Downstream projects, a role that combines his organizing skills and creativity, and ability to herd cats, according to those who work with them.

“I have no doubts about the direction we’re headed,” said Ohrstrom. He likens Downstream to a cauldron, a kind of big soup pot where people and partners—whether agencies, nonprofits or businesses—can collaborate, hone clearer messages, and benefit from one another. “We’ll get a lot more done if we can learn to listen to one another,” he said.

After all, says George Ohrstrom, everyone lives downstream of someone.


The Downstream Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located on Main Street in Berryville. For information, see


In The Saddle

by JiJi Russell

Once Christy Dunkle sets her sights on a priority, chances are she will move it forward. Berryville’s town planner, who believes strongly in community involvement on issues of health and wellbeing, has lately focused considerable attention on several efforts that could positively alter the landscape and fitness culture of Berryville. The efforts center around infrastructure changes designed to encourage more pedestrian and cycling activity in town and around the county.

“Berryville is a great town to walk and ride,” Dunkle said. Indeed, many townsfolk have probably spotted Dunkle power walking through Rose Hill Park during a lunch break, or saddled up on the Bike Share Bicycle that the Town and County received last June through a grant from Bike Virgina.

Dunkle, who serves on the board of Bike Virginia, believes it will take a village of cyclists to effect real change in our driving-dominated culture. “In order for safety issues to become more highlighted, we need to have more people out there on bicycles,” Dunkle said. She believes, however, that “we are definitely on the way” to a more viable cycling and pedestrian community.

According to Dunkle, the Virginia Department of Transportation and their consultant coordinated a pilot program to develop a concept design along Route 340, which would enhance cycling and bicycle facilities along the corridor from Berryville to Luray. Dunkle’s office worked on a number of items, primarily safety and aesthetics, along the corridor, she said.

Also on the horizon, and perhaps even more meaningful to local families, a federally funded revenue-sharing project with VDOT could produce better sidewalks and other infrastructure elements in key pedestrian and bicycle thoroughfares as part of the “Safe Routes to School” program (SRTS). According to the VDOT web site, the SRTS “assists interested localities and schools in the development of plans, activities, and infrastructure improvements to make bicycling and walking to school a safe and appealing transportation option for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.”

Berryville’s SRTS team is hoping to secure a grant to fix one stretch of sidewalk on Swan Avenue next to Johnson-Williams Middle School. According to Dunkle, a public meeting will take place November 26 with the middle school’s Health Advisory Committee in an attempt to gain public input on the proposed project. The meeting will be held in the AB Meeting Room of the Government Center at 2 p.m.

One motivating force behind Dunkle’s personal commitment to health and fitness lies in her love of travel. She stays fit so that she can enjoy yearly international adventures, which have included much hiking, walking, and cycling in Europe over the years.

The small-town planner loves the energy of urban environments. “Outdoor public spaces in these cities are so vibrant and fun,” she said. “My current favorite city is Glasgow, Scotland, and Buchanan Street is one of the best public spaces I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. [There is] so much going on: music varying from a grandmother playing the accordion, to big hairy shirtless guys playing the bagpipes, to one guy playing acoustic White Stripes,” she said.

Dunkle, who holds a Master’s degree in landscape architecture, appreciates the “amazing architecture and history in those [urban] walls,” she said. “It’s a little edgy, a little grungy, but you can feel the creativity there.”

Her passion for travel, coupled with the early death of her parents at age 56 (both died of cancer), keeps Dunkle honest about staying well. “Wellness to me definitely encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual . . . including diet, exercise, and lifestyle,” she said.

If, or perhaps better stated, when Dunkle’s civic priorities for Berryville come to fruition, perhaps the town’s landscape will more closely resemble those of the European towns and cities, where citizens would rather walk and ride than drive.

The Fields of Chilly Hollow

by Annie Young

With ideals and a philosophy as fresh as the produce they bring to market, the young farmers at Chilly Hollow Farm work to create a sustainable future. Childhood friends Chris Dalton, Matt Lander, and Justin Carrasco work together on three acres nestled in the rolling valley of Clarke County.

Carrasco grew up outside of Philadelphia, and loved the time outdoors when he went to visit his grandparents in Clarke County each summer. Two years ago, Carrasco’s family suggested he try farming this special spot. Dalton had been exploring and learning on farms from Georgia to Oregon, and was developing a strong sense of self-sufficiency and the need for sustainable practices in agriculture. Those ideas fit Carrasco’s plans, and Lander jumped on board.

“It is a ripe time for farming” said Lander. Their desire to be self reliant started with the wish to feed themselves and their community. So with a little start up money, three acres of uncultivated land, and seemingly unlimited possibilities, the new farmers took pickaxes and started breaking through the sod.

Two growing seasons later, Dalton describes their progress as “300 percent better than the first year, and yet we have learned just as much this second year.” Although they are not certified organic, they use the same rigorous methods. Maintaining their sustainable philosophy, they do not use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides.

Walking through their fields, it is apparent how much work goes into growing the wide variety of seasonal vegetables, fruits and eggs. Carrasco offers me a few leaves of Malabar spinach that he plucks from the tall, trellised plant. The thick, chewy leaf is oddly citrusy and juicy. It is one of the many varieties of greens they grow. This year they experimented with eight heirloom varieties of tomatoes, as well as strawberries, eggplant, squash, cucumbers, and pumpkins. The farmers enjoy trying unique vegetables like red okra, Easter egg radishes, and blue potatoes. They even grow hops and brew beer for themselves. The seeds and slips they start in a large hoop house. Carrasco explains, “Learning on the go forces us to be creative.”

Although the Chilly Hollow Farmers work hard together, it’s their customers and neighbors that really keep them motivated. One neighbor shares his tractor and experienced advice. A local hunter happily helps keep the deer population down on their farm with a special permit. Friends and volunteers come and help on the farm. “We love weed pullers!” effuses Lander.

The farm supports a 22-week CSA. The members of the Community Supported Agriculture program buy a share in the beginning of the season. Once a week from May to October, members come to the farm or Berryville Farmers Market to pick up their bags of produce. “We like knowing our customers.” says Dalton. The customers visit the farm to see how the vegetables are grown and how the land is used. It is this exchange of knowing who they are growing for—and the customers knowing how they grow—that feeds their sustainable values.

Customers also support Chilly Hollow farm at several local farmers markets. Each farmer packs a vehicle and heads to market. Dalton even uses his Saturn sedan. “I pack everything, and it fits like puzzle pieces,” he said, explaining how he fits a tent, table, produce, and CSA shares all in the compact vehicle.

Customers can find Chilly Hollow produce at the Berryville Farmers Market, Middleburg Market, and Purcellville Community Farmers Market on Saturdays throughout the season as well as the Front Royal Farmers Market.

More and more people are requesting local food be served at local restaurants. When asked how the community can support them, the Chilly Hollow farmers say, “Demand organic and local!” In this way, small farms like Chilly Hollow are supported and able to thrive. Magnolia’s at the Mill in Purcellville creates dishes using Chilly Hollow vegetables. The Wine Kitchen and the Tuscarora Mill in Leesburg also include their locally grown produce on their menus. This partnership between chefs and farmers not only benefits the restaurants and producers, but the customers as well. Customers receive seasonal, delicious organically grown food.

When fresh, locally grown fruits, meats and vegetables are available on menus, small farmers have another outlet to provide for the local community. Being part of this connectedness is part of the sustainable, self reliant philosophy that Chilly Hollow holds tight in their hardworking fists.