Oak Hart Farm Expands Produce and Pantry

Shawna Hartsook sums up the aim of her family farm in simple terms: “I want to keep people shopping in their community.” Oak Hart Farm, which expanded this year to offer a larger store with an expanded variety of goods from spices to grains, to coffee and kombucha, serves as a curator of local and regional produce and pantry items.

They also farm rows and rows of their own chemical-free vegetables, herbs, and flowers, an enviable sight alongside the gravel road leading to the store. Oak Hart sells fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs (chicken and duck), and dairy items from several local and regional farms – including sauerkraut and kombucha to appeal to the pucker-lovers.

And their “low waste” ethos permeates the store, where shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bottles, jars, and bags. Bulk items for sale include olive oil, vinegar, and a host of cleaning supplies. All products are carefully researched and vetted for sustainability, and Hartsook stands strong in her insistence on chemical free products across the board.
On a recent visit to the new store, I felt a nice, slow-down vibe hit me, as apparently did several customers who wandered in and out of the store and shared in conversation. It’s as if someone opened up her own well-kept pantry, with so much to please the senses, and said, “Come on in and stay a while.” You might find something tasty if you do.

Each week Oak Hart’s website posts available produce offerings from their market. This week you’ll find kale, chard, beets, potatoes, turnips, and lots more. Hours of operation and offerings can be found at https://oakhartfarm.com/market.

Oak Hart Farm is located at 822 Shepherd’s Mill Road, Berryville, VA 22611.

Hanging with the Presidents

If a visit to Mount Vernon is in your summer plans, be sure to take a close look at the pictures hanging in the full-scale restoration of the grand Front Parlor. Curators painstakingly recreated the room down to the smallest details. The gilded frames holding the Washington family portraits were handmade by Berryville’s own Peter Miller, a highly skilled carver, gilder, conservator, and restorer. He creates one-of-a-kind frames using the same traditional methods used by 12th and 13th century craftsmen.

Miller was contacted by a Mount Vernon curator to craft 13 historically accurate frames. These replicas were essential because some paintings are too valuable to be put on public display, some original frames did not survive, and some paintings are owned by others. After extensive research and trips to photograph and take exacting measurements, Miller and his apprentice and assistant Christian Ferrante produced the ornate hand-carved and gilded frames.

Miller has also crafted frames for pictures in the George W. Bush Presidential Library. They hang in a floor-to-ceiling recreated Oval Office, the only recreation of the Oval Office in the world.

Originally from Connecticut, Miller learned to work with wood as a child, serving as his father’s eyes and additional hands. His father was a wood shop teacher in the 1940s–50s as well as a hobbyist, but lost his sight when Miller was just a year old. “He continued to work in his home shop,” Miller recalled. “My first tasks were sanding for him and cleaning his brushes. Eventually, I learned to use a drill press.”

Miller didn’t do any woodworking in high school, and gave no thought to a career in the field. In fact, he had no idea what he wanted to do, so his guidance counselor advised him to go to a business college. “I got a bit of business, accounting, economics,” he said. “It wasn’t for me.”

He gave woodworking a second look and switched to another college, where he majored in teaching woodworking, in what was called industrial technology. However, he never did teach, deciding that, “I couldn’t teach in the public school system and build birdhouses for the rest of my life!”

After college, he went to work drafting and engineering for New England Log Homes, then for a millwork company doing cabinetmaking, drawing, engineering and estimating. However, it was a family business and he could advance no further with them. He started thinking of what he could do on his own, and framing was a viable option. A family member had a framing business and he went to work for them.

He started his own business in 1983 in a small frame shop that had been established a few years before. “All they had been doing was typical ‘walk into a frame shop and see the stuff you would order from distributors.’ Then one day a client asked, ‘Do you ever get or work with closed corner frames?’”

Miller explained that with ‘closed corner’ or ‘finished corner’ frames, all of the work—the joinery, carving, etc.—is done prior to any finishing, resulting in a frame that looks seamless. “That was the kickoff point for me,” he recalled.

He began seriously learning more about hand-made frames and became enthralled with gold leaf. “The community I got involved with, The International Society of Gilders, is primarily in the USA but with members around the world. These are the people who taught me to gild. I went in there as a newbie and took workshops and studied with some of the finest gilders in the United States for many years, and I still take classes.”

He added that most of the work he does is focused around frames, but he also does furniture. In addition, he does architectural gilding—he gilded the crosses at the Episcopal Church in Berryville.

Christian Ferrente, 22, was working on an ornate wall bracket that will be gilded. “I’ve been working here a little over a year. I’ve been doing woodworking since the summer after high school, taking whatever cool opportunity came my way, and I’ve been lucky enough to do some pretty awesome jobs. I did a little bit of gilding, but just very basic. I got referred to Peter. There are very few people around that know gilding like Peter does, so I’m here, learning.”

“Christian doesn’t boast,” added Miller, “but he has done timber framing at Mount Vernon, and a little over a year working at the National Gallery in the Conservation Department.”

Miller explained that they use very old traditional techniques. “One of the things I’m most passionate about with gilding and this entire art form is that virtually nothing has changed since the Renaissance.” He pulled out a translation of a book on techniques and materials written by an Italian craftsman in the 15th Century. “Our tools are the same, nothing has really changed, even the formulas and recipes.”

Miller offers occasional classes and workshops on frame-making and gilding.

P.H. Miller Studio is located at 1 East Main Street, Berryville. For information, visit www.phmillerstudio.com or call 540-955-3939.

Big Birds and Big Green Eggs

Story by Claire Stuart, photos by Bre Bogert
If you take a drive down Springsbury Road in Berryville, you might catch a glimpse of two huge ostrich-like birds in a field beside the road.
No, you aren’t seeing things. It’s just Big Bird and Puff, Dave and Lauren “LuLu” Conrad’s emus. The Conrads have been keeping the gigantic birds since 2006. Emus are flightless birds that are native to Australia. They grow to be five to six feet tall, weigh well over 100 pounds and live about 20 years in the wild and about 35 in captivity.
Dave Conrad explains how they came to own them. “One day my daughter called and said, ‘Dad, I’m bringing you some emus.’  She knows that Dad will take anything that’s free! At the time, we didn’t even know what an emu was.”
Their daughter was into horses, and the family of one of her friends had a riding stable. For whatever reason, they’d bought some emus and soon discovered that juvenile emus are like packrats —they love bright shiny objects. The birds were stealing items of horse tack and anything else interesting they could find. They had become a nuisance, so the owners decided to get rid of them.
“They’ll pick at people’s rings and watches,” said Dave Conrad,  “and they’ll try to take glasses off your face.”
The Conrads describe Big Bird, the male, as friendly, but he gets aggressive when he has young. Puff, the female, is more standoffish. Once a clutch of eggs is laid, the male emu sits on the eggs and turns them for about eight weeks, without eating or drinking. When they hatch, he cares for the young. In the wild, the female leaves and finds another mate.
Emus can run at speeds of 30 to 40 miles an hour, zipping off in a flash from a standing start. They readily demonstrated this as they took off after a family pup who was annoying them. They defend themselves by kicking, and they have long, sharp claws. However they are generally gentle birds.
Dave Conrad explained that you can’t tell the sex of an emu by looking at it. Emu reproductive organs are internal, and trying to do an intrusive examination of a six-foot, 150-pound bird with claws like a velociraptor, while possible, is not anything most people would attempt. It is easier to do when the birds have just hatched. You can send for an expensive DNA test, or you can just wait and see, as the Conrads did. When emus reach maturity, which takes a few years, the females begin to make a drumming sound. The males just grunt like pigs.
Lauren Conrad brought out one of the emu eggs. It was huge and green and looked a bit like an avocado. “Last year we got 29 eggs,” she said. “One emu egg is equal to about a dozen chicken eggs. We don’t eat the eggs but you can. You can scramble them. We hard-boiled one, but there was too much white before you could find the yolk.”
“It took three sandwiches worth of white sliced off to even get to the yolk,” Dave Conrad recalled. The eggs are not green inside and look just like giant chicken eggs.
In this part of the country, emus only lay eggs in winter, from about November into March. In normal winters, they usually lay an egg every three or four days. In very cold winters, they lay less often. The birds are very cold hardy but they take shelter in their shed in extreme cold.
Big Bird and Puff are very curious. They like certain noises, especially the sound of a loud car exhaust, and they will run to the fence to check it out. The Conrads guess that a local young man with a noisy exhaust purposely guns his engine to get the attention of the emus when he drives by.
The Conrads were raising and selling emus for a while, but it became too much work and expense, considering the price they could get for the emu chicks. Now they only sell the eggs, which people buy to decorate. A customer arrived to pick up some eggs that she planned to use in a decorative nest.
Egg carving is also popular and has a long history as an Australian aboriginal art form. Emu eggs are particularly good for carving with a Dremel or similar tool because the thick shell has three layers of different colors. The outer layer is green, the next layer is turquoise and the inner layer is white, allowing for beautiful three-dimensional effects.
Lauren Conrad sells emu eggs at the Clarke County Yard Sales and other community happenings, or you can e-mail her at:  lulupot47@gmail.com

Gemparcel is Sparkling on Main Street in Berryville

Story by Rebecca Maynard, Photo by Bre Bogert
If you’re looking for a gift for that someone on your list who loves jewelry, look no further than Berryville Main Street’s newest business, Gemparcel, located at 23 East Main Street, Suite B (right above Fire
House Gallery).
Gemparcel is owned by husband-and-wife team Michael and Pachariya “Peach” Perez. The couple met in Bangkok, Thailand, Peach’s home country, at GIA — where Peach worked. Established in 1931, GIA is the world’s foremost authority on diamonds, colored stones, and pearls. A public benefit, nonprofit institute, GIA is the leading source of knowledge, standards, and education in gems and jewelry.
In 2007, while in Bangkok, Michael graduated from GIA’s gemologist program, which provides him with the technical expertise and practical skills to evaluate gemstones and diamonds by the “Four Cs” (color, clarity, cut, and carat weight), the International Diamond Grading System, and the Colored Stone Grading System.
“For me, it was kind of a hobby at first, because gemology is the study of the stones, so it was more the science aspect of the gemstones and diamonds that interested me,” Michael said. “Then friends started saying: Hey, I have a question about diamonds, rubies, or sapphires. Because I have the certification it became more than just a hobby; it was a way to transfer knowledge.”
While Gemparcel’s business space opened in early November, Michael and Peach have been in the business for ten years. “Slowly, we got to know people in the business more, so we work with jewelers and can work with customers to do custom orders,” Peach said.
Peach also makes and sells affordable jewelry made with non-precious beads and stones, another great option for Christmas shopping, she said.
“I started selling my jewelry in the Fire House Gallery this year and one day I saw a sign saying this incubator space was available,” she said. “We thought, why not?”
Michael and Peach spent time studying the local market and decided that Clarke County was a promising location for what they offer.
“We’re trying to hit a couple of markets,” Michael explained. “If a customer wants a custom-made jewelry piece or something we may already have in stock, we offer that, and we also sell wholesale to jewelers so we’re in the retail market of jewelry and the wholesale market of gemstones
and diamonds.”
“We’re basically trying to bring unique stones to the local area,” Michael said, in addition to classics such as clear and colored diamonds. All the gemstones they offer are premium quality. “Tourmaline, spinel, garnets, some you’ve never seen before.”
Aside from affordable handmade jewelry and gems,
another potential gift idea Gemparcel offers is the Seiko line of watches, which range reasonably from $140 and up. Michael has always been interested in automatic watches and he and Peach felt that carrying a line of quality, affordable watches was an ideal addition to their business.
Michael and Peach are enjoying getting to know Berryville and hope that people will feel free to stop by even if they are still just considering
a purchase.
“We want people to come in and ask questions and gain their trust,” Michael said. “You go to some stores and you’re afraid to try on rings, but I tell customers to try them on so they can see the quality
and compare.”
Peach noted that they are located right next to the town Christmas tree and that she enjoys all the foot traffic on Saturdays. “It’s a great town,”
she said.
For information, call 540-277-2053 or visit www.gemparcel.com. Hours are Wednesday and Thursday 10am–6pmFriday 11am–7pmSaturday 11am–6pm and Sunday 12–5pm. 

Love at First Bite

by Claire Stuart

There is one thing that all human cultures have in common — life’s most important events are celebrated over food.  We all have cherished memories of a holiday meal from our childhood or a special dish that Mom or Grandma made.
Lisa Trumbower-Sheppard of Love at First Bite never planned to become a caterer. She studied to be a professional photographer, taught photography, sold cameras, and landed a job with a master photographer who ran a high-end photo studio in Great Falls. They frequently photographed lavish parties, and she was fascinated with the catering process, from the unloading of the food and setting up the mobile kitchen to the artistic presentation of the food.
“It was creative,” she recalled, “and you were part of an important event. That’s when I knew it was what I wanted to do.”
Trumbower-Sheppard got to know the Great Falls caterer through those events and eventually asked if she’d take her on.  The caterer did, and the rest is 27 years of history!
“I started on commission only, doing off-premises catering. Then I went on to Lansdowne Resort as Director of Catering and did on-premises corporate catering.”
Her own catering business began as a hobby and grew, but she keeps it at low volume to maintain the warmth and creativity that goes into
every event.
“We are not a cookie-cutter caterer. Every event is custom created for the client’s needs, from the menu and decorations to the equipment and the staff. It’s fun to talk to clients and get to know them.”
The number of staff varies with the event’s requirements, but Trumbower-Sheppard has a core of people she depends on. She emphasizes that they are an essential part of the process and lend their personal touches to the creation of
successful events.
“We work as a team. I can’t do it by myself.”
 Love at First Bite caters everything from parties and life events to corporate functions, galas and fund-raisers. They’ll even do an all-dessert event if you want one!
“We can adapt to any degree of formality, from moon-bounces to champagne brunches. We’ve done white-glove fine dining for 10 people and company picnics for 500. We are well-known for providing something for everyone—picky eaters, hearty appetites, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free diets “
Trumbower-Sheppard is always ready to try new things.  She says that she works very hard when she is at work, but when she’s off, she likes to travel and absorb the food culture, try things and think about how she can adapt them. For the past four years, she has attended a catering convention in Las Vegas to learn about what’s new.
“I try them out in my own kitchen,” she reported. “Then I have a ‘guinea pig party’ for tasting new things.  If they are appealing, then I find the right event to introduce them.”
She says that her favorite events are heavy hors d’oeuvre receptions, “with lots of little nibbles. They give us an opportunity to display food artistically. It’s the most fun!”
The local auction is a source for all sorts of interesting props and accessories that make for unique “tablescapes.” Trumbower-Sheppard noted that appealing presentation of the food is essential for any event.  “Every event is like a canvas that I get to paint!  It’s well-known that you ‘lead first with your eyes.’”
She was always aware of the warmth and impact that food provided as she watched her mother prepare meals. “Mom was a cloth napkin lady,” she recalled. “We never had a jar of ketchup on the table—it was always in a bowl with a spoon. That’s what we try to do—make it really special.”
Her own favorite main dish is chicken curry. Her favorite dessert is the hot milk sponge cake that her Grandma made. “I still have her hand-written recipe card and her sponge cake pan.”
There is no hard-and-fast rule about how far in advance an event needs to be booked. Some events are booked a year or more in advance, but you might get in the same week. It all depends on the event size and how busy they are. Some things, of course, like celebrations of life, can’t be planned in advance.
Love at First Bite can create memorable meals and a festive atmosphere for most holidays and seasonal celebrations, but they do NOT do Thanksgiving!
They have travelled as far as Washington, D.C. and will serve a radius of about 50 miles, but most of their business is around Winchester, Clarke County and western Loudon.
As Trumbower-Sheppard reminds us, “The most important ingredient is love—and that’s why we are called Love at First Bite.”
For more information and a look at menus, visit
http://loveatfirstbitecatering.com/home/4661462 or call
Twin Oaks Tavern View

Twin Oak Tavern Winery

By Keith Patterson
Twin Oaks Tavern View
 The first thing I noticed was the color, like amber covered in smoked honey, as our glasses of Twin Oaks’ signature Chardonnay danced gleefully across the Great Room to our table by the window overlooking the beautiful mountainside vineyard. Our charming waitress also delivered our baguette and honey-dripped almond baked brie from the amply stocked Light Fare Menu which also includes a pulled-pork barbeque sandwich, home-made chili, meat pies, burritos, sausage, cheeses, chocolates and more.
My wife and I clinked our glasses in “salut” and sniffed the crisp bouquet of the liquid gold. There is just a hint of citrusy fruit, complex and muted, not sweet, and a tastefully restrained remembrance of the oak casks in which all of Twin Oaks’ wines are created. A taste of the nectar confirms what the nostrils already knew. The Chardonnay grape itself is the star. This wine-maker loves wine and knows how to make the wine that she loves.
Donna Evers, owner and hands-on proprietor of Twin Oaks Tavern Winery, has wine-making in her blood that goes back several generations to her family’s hillside vineyard in the Central European country of Croatia. Her grandfather immigrated to America in the early 1900s and the Kobasic family put down solid roots. This firmly-rooted foundation has now flowered into a dream-come-true, the magnificent, must be-seen Twin Oaks Tavern Winery. “There is no place like America,” says the owner. “The opportunities here are endless. If you can do it… you’re on! I’m so grateful to be in a country where nothing can stop you. Go! Go do it! I feel like I have so much to be thankful for.”
Donna Evers built this winery with her own very capable hands. There are three and a half acres of grapes including two full acres of Chardonnay, three quarters of an acre of Cabernet Franc and three quarters of an acre of Merlot. She tells us how she and her late husband planted their first vines in 1999. Those vines yielded only leaves for three years before their first real harvest that produced thirty-five gallons of wine in 2002. By 2015 Twin Oaks was up to full-production and Donna produced 2700 gallons of wine. It is top quality, award-winning wine, made by a master that knows the strengths and weaknesses of the varietals that she planted and also understands the intricacies of the unique local climate of the Western slope of Mount Weather.
We sip our Chardonnay and nibble on our baguette and brie as we sit in the newly renovated Great room that hosts weddings, parties and events. Outside and below our table by the window, on a deck that spans the entire Western side of the Winery’s main building, a guitarist entertains the happy, sun-splashed crowd with well-played classic covers and a clutch of fine originals. Everyone that we encountered was in a friendly, jovial mood. There is a nice, laid-back vibe to the place that starts from the top.
There is always live music on Saturdays and an open mic on Sundays. You might even be lucky enough to catch the owner herself, with a guitar in her hands, singing and picking her way through her set that includes some Creedence Clearwater Revival classics. When the weather is nice the live music is on the deck. When the weather will not cooperate, the music moves inside to the Twin Oak Winery’s brand new Great Room.
The original stone dwelling on the scenic Bluemont
property was constructed in 1893 and was one of the first stone houses in the area. When the train began service to Bluemont in 1900 there was a Real Estate frenzy “like the vicinity had never witnessed” which resulted in a few more houses being built. Around 1910 the owners of the property converted it into a B&B for city folks who took the train from DC out to Bluemont to escape the heat of the city. People stayed for the weekend, the month or sometimes the entire summer at the inn called Twin Oaks Tavern. And the business continued on as an inn all the way up until the 1950s. And then in 1968, the train stopped coming
to Bluemont.
In 1997 there was a catastrophic fire that destroyed the original residence. Donna and Bob Evers bought the property in 1998 with the intention of rebuilding the house and selling it. They loved the results so much, and fell in-love with the gorgeous vista so deeply that they decided to sell their other residence on the mountain and dwell at Twin Oaks. Donna tells us a story:
“That summer, Bob and I were on vacation in Europe. We were riding on a train through Italy and I was dozing and dreaming. I remember waking up- and here it starts sounding like a Bob Dylan song. I looked out the window of the train and beheld the most beautiful landscape of rolling hills and mountains and everywhere were vineyards, as far as the eye could see. I decided then that I had to have a vineyard and after  several months of research and planning we planted grapes on this Twin Oaks property and worked with them and improved our knowledge every year. We built a three-car garage and that eventually became our first tasting room, which we opened in 2009. Since then we’ve added two large additions, one in 2011 and one in 2017.”
In the tasting room at Twin Oaks Tavern Winery you can experience several Gold Medal winners, including the outstanding aforementioned Chardonnay “…apple and pear, an oak center and a long, zesty finish…”. Vidal Blanc “…aromas of melon… creamy honey center…”, and Norton 2015 “… smoke, cedar and blackberry… pairs well with steak…”
This is a beautiful, friendly place. Come on out to Bluemont and enjoy yourself!
Twin Oaks Tavern Winery
Open Thursday and Monday 12pm–5pm; FridaySunday, 12pm-7pm.

Berryville Main Street: Happy Birthday and Many Happy Returns

Berryville’s Booster-in-Chief Turns 25

Berryville’s commercial scene has changed a lot in the last decade. I remember visiting the town when working on a travel guide to the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area. I remember thinking, “Cool, what a nice place.”

It was actually a functioning downtown. You could still come to Berryville to buy things you need — an almost extinct phenomenon in
America’s small towns.

Today, Berryville is more than a functioning town; it’s a truly awesome place. You can still buy things you need: eyeglasses, prescription drugs, flowers, electronics, appliances. All that good stuff. But now you can find things way beyond the everyday. Experiences that make life a little better, like galleries, gift shops, and locally sourced eateries.

There is much credit to recognize. Good planning, the Barnes of Rose Hill, and incredible community financial support for a town of this size, to name a few.

Let’s also give credit to the work of Berryville Main Street, a nonprofit booster for downtown that recently celebrated his 25-year anniversary.

The group has brought amazing energy to create an atmosphere hospitable to locals and tourists alike — and one which has attracted several businesses that have relocated to Berryville in the past few years.

There is an old saying. “Bad things happen through neglect. Good things happen only through intention.” When you look at all the wonderful things about Berryville, you see that the Main Street miracle is part inspiration and a heck of a lot of perspiration. It’s intentional.

Much hard work, most of its volunteer, has gone to create the charming yet still practical small town å is Berryville. It’s nice to know that Berryville Main Street is not resting on its laurels. Instead, Main Street is looking ahead to the Town of Berryville in the next 25 years.

Time for the Clarke County Studio Tour

By Liam Harrison

Mark your calendars for the Clarke County Studio Tour on Saturday October and Sunday October 2. This self-guided, free family-friendly tour will take visitors through the Clarke County countryside and the towns of Berryville, Bluemont, Boyce, Millwood, and White Post. The tour offers a diverse group of 30 artists and 22 different locations. The artist studios will be open 10am–5pm each day. Most artists will be doing demonstrations, offering refreshments, and have items for sale. Locations will be marked by a tour sign at

the location.

On the tour you will see woodworkers, furniture makers, fine artists in watercolor, pastels, acrylics, and oil painting, pottery, a variety of sculpture, fiber art, jewelers, floral design, antique upcycled/repurposed items, art in nature, and hand carved gilded work. The following 30 artists are participating on the tour:

Julie Abrera, Gale Bowman-Harlow, Scott Carpenter, Tim Chambers, Mizue Croswell, Christy Dunkle, Jay and Peggy Duvall, Constance Fisher, Norma Fredrickson, Malcolm Harlow, Diane Harrison, Liam Harrison, Russ Harrison, Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton, Hip and Humble – Julie Ashby & Steve Scott, Dave Hickman, Sue Hickman, Ron Light, Carl Maples, George Maxwell, Tia Maggio, Julie Miles, Peter Miller, Keith Patterson, Kellie Patterson, Nancy Polo, Rachel Rogers, Mikisa Shaajhante, Bruce Smallwood, René Locklear White-Feather.

Peter Miller, a frame maker on the tour, was key in helping revive the tour. A Connecticut native who moved to the area and opened his shop on Main Street in Berryville was amazed at the number of artists and artisans in the county. Peter started in January by pulling in a key group of artists, shop owners, citizens, and staff working on tourism in the town and county. After receiving all the responses from artists, the group was surprised by how many newcomers and the variety there is in the area that will be opening their studios.

The Clarke County Studio Tour organization, headed by Miller, hopes to highlight the abundant creative talent that resides in Clarke County. Also, the group wants to help promote tourism which will benefit the county as a whole. The Clarke County visitor’s center at the Barns of Rose Hill is the center point of the tour, providing information on the area and tour, brochures, and a viewing of the raffle items beginning mid-September. The center will have extended hours that weekend from 10am–4pm on Saturday and 10am–3pm on Sunday.

Diane Harrison, a Berryville potter, helped run the previous tours in the county. She said that this tour goes above and beyond any that we have had in the past. The quality and the variety of skilled artists and artisans is amazing. “It has been a great pleasure to work with the group to get this one off the ground and to meet so many new artists to the area,” she said. A number of the artists are also participating in the new Top of Virginia Artisan Trail kicking off in September. This will help to give tourists and locals an idea of what a treasure of artistic talent Clarke County has to offer.

A Passport Program gives each tour visitor a chance at one of many artist-donated items which will be on display starting September 16 at Barns of Rose Hill. Visitors will pick up a passport at their first stop. At each stop, the passport will be stamped marking where you have been. When a participant is finished with their tour, they turn in the passport at their last stop to be entered into the raffle. You must have visited at least one tour stop to be eligible for the raffle. Winners will be drawn the following week.

A website allows visitors to preview artists with links to their websites and maps are available so that you can plan the route. The site is also phone friendly, and ties into Google Maps. You may also download the PDF brochure if you want to ‘go green’. The website address is clarkecountystudiotour. You may also access the tour Facebook page directly from the site for posts highlighting artists on the tour and updated information.


Beaumont House Design: Telling your love story with flowers

By Claire Stuart

Whether it’s a single lovely bloom, a bouquet, or a whole garden, flowers have a certain magic that elicits smiles and happiness, and there’s no happier occasion for flowers than a wedding. As a floral designer specializing in weddings and events, Julie Wheeler Abrera radiates enthusiasm when she talks about her work. She understands how important flowers are to a bride and believes that every bride “needs to feel amazing and wonderful with everyone on her team of wedding vendors.”

Growing up in Berryville, Abrera always loved flowers and trees. “Gardening is in my DNA,” she says. “Mom was an avid gardener — Dad, too. But at 18, I never would have thought that I’d be doing this.”

Actually, Abrera took a vastly different path before returning to her figurative and literal roots. For 20 years, she lived in Alexandria, working in management of nonprofits involved with humanitarian projects like affordable housing and school nutrition programs. She was proud of her work, yet felt that something was lacking in her life.

Pondering a career change, Abrera thought about how she had always enjoyed working with flowers. It could be possible to make people happy while bringing herself the joy that creative people seek in
their work.

She decided to take some classes at FlowerSchool New York while still working, “to see if I could seriously do this for a career.” FlowerSchool New York offers floral design classes on a host of topics, from beginner’s level through the latest new design styles for experienced professionals. Intensive workshops are taught by top floral designers from all around the world.

“It’s a wonderful place to hone your skills,” said Abrera, “and discover the things you are good at.”

Abrera came away convinced that she could be successful, and launched her own studio, Beaumont House Design, in 2013. The first wedding she booked was for a friend of a friend in Alexandria. She recalls that she felt tremendous pressure to make her flowers live up to the bride’s expectations, and she was happy to report that the bride loved them.

Her business has continued to grow through brides referring her to friends and through social media. She does a lot of networking, building relationships with photographers, wedding planners, caterers and other wedding vendors. She joined the Ashburn chapter of the Rising Tide Society, a national online creative community with local chapters. They offer business webinars, educational opportunities, and ideas for creative entrepreneurs, and they meet in person once a month.

Abrera enjoys the challenge of constantly stretching herself to learn more. “Working with flowers, you are always learning new things and practicing,” she reported. “You have never completely mastered it.”

She recently attended a workshop in Bethesda
learning a new technique for making flower crowns. She follows Ponderosa and Thyme, an Oregon fine-art wedding and event floral boutique online. She was so taken with a picture of a bouquet they posted that she contacted them. When it was announced that they were giving a workshop, she quickly grabbed a spot before they sold out and flew out to Oregon
to participate.

Abrera loves creating everything from wrist corsages to floral arches. She shared a photo of a stunningly beautiful arch made for a wedding, using a trellis base covered with chicken wire, into which the flowers were placed.  “I did one with eight or nine hundred individual blooms,” she said. “Each bloom is in a flower pick with water to keep it fresh.”

She also loves to teach. She has held wreath-making workshops and looks forward to doing some flower
crown workshops.

Some of her flowers are gathered from her own cutting garden, which she started just this year. She pointed out a stack of seed catalogs and noted that she is taking what she learned this year into her planning for next year. She also enjoys foraging for wild flowers and green accent plants in the fields near her Clarke County home. “I always keep clippers and a basket in the car,”
she declared.

Other flowers are purchased, and she buys as many locally-sourced flowers as possible. Additional flowers come from a wholesaler in Baltimore, where flowers from all around the world are available. She buys a lot of flowers from Greenstone Fields in Purcelville, where they raise over 90 varieties of flowers and something beautiful is available throughout the growing seasons.

“Greenstone Fields raises their flowers using organic methods,” she said. She noted that this is especially important for weddings, so that the clients will not have to be concerned about pesticides on
the flowers.

Of course, Abrera admits that production work can be stressful, particularly on the wedding day. “I might have 20 centerpieces to pack and load safely,” she explained.  “My husband Richard helps me with deliveries. He is the vice president of logistics!”

Abrera likes to form a relationship with every bride-to-be, inviting her to bring her ideas, lists of favorite flowers, and dreams of what she wants her special day to look like.  She reports that she has never experienced a “Bridezilla.”

“All the brides I have worked with have been wonderful and appreciative. I love to present the bouquet to the bride. I want to be her personal connection with the flowers. When the bride says, ‘It’s what I imagined,’ it makes me float!”


Visit her website at
beaumont-house.com or call  703-801-3529; studio hours by appointment