In the Shadow of South Mountain

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The Foothills Artists’ Studio Tour shares local art and historic homes in a thriving community

By Karen Hendricks  |  Photography by Noel Kline

“Over the river and through the wood,” begins the beloved holiday poem about Thanksgiving travels. It could also apply to the adventuresome Adams County tour known as the Foothills Artists’ Studio Tour, always held the weekend before Thanksgiving. This year’s 10th annual tour, Nov. 19-20, links the homes and studios of about 10 artists dotting the picturesque landscape of western Adams County.

In the shadow of South Mountain—the northernmost Appalachian Mountains—the tour is more of an experience than an artist tour, mixing all genres of art with historic homes, unique studios, winding back roads, countryside vistas, conversations, and demonstrations with talented artists. Just as you travel “over the river and through the wood” to go home for the holidays, traveling on the Foothills Artists’ Studio Tour takes you into warm, welcoming homes, with an artistic twist.

“It Showcases the Fairfield Area, Which is Picturesque”

One of those homes, tucked into the woods of Jack’s Mountain, Fairfield, belongs to artist Dorothea Barrick, who has been involved with the tours since their beginning. She says the tour was the brainchild of Madeline Wajda, former owner of Fairfield’s Willow Pond Farm, who envisioned area artists opening their studios in conjunction with the farm’s holiday open house to form a free tour. Barrick says the artist lineup has changed and evolved through the years, but the group keeps the number of artists around 10.

“It’s just a great creative group of artists—we all have our specialties,” says Barrick. “We like to talk to people, share what we do, talk about our techniques. Plus, it showcases the Fairfield area, which is picturesque.”

“A lot of people won’t go into museums, but they’ll go on these tours,” Barrick continues. “We’ve gotten so global—you can sit down at your computer and order anything. But, it’s important to support local businesses. And, to go to an artist’s studio personally—that’s a very special thing.”

All of the artists offer artwork for sale—many of them unique, one-of-a-kind pieces. Barrick says attendees can view her life’s work—40 years of painting, print-making, and mixed media—throughout her home-based Spring Branch Studio. She enjoys sharing stories, inspiration, and explaining techniques.

“I used to always paint outdoors; now it’s called ‘plein air,’” Barrick explains. “Surrounded by nature, I feel at home. Basically, you are observing light and color as the day changes…you observe how nature feels 360 degrees around you, and your painting becomes more attuned…the artist is like a sponge.”

“To Go to an Artist’s Studio Personally—That’s a Very Special Thing”

Artist Ann Ruppert’s home is a fascinating tour stop on many levels—not only does she exhibit her landscape and botanical paintings, but she displays jewelry, flower arrangements, and allows woodworker Rod Stabler to showcase his unique works throughout her historic home—which is, itself, a work of art. The home, originally built in 1810, was bought by Ruppert and her husband in 1988—in ruins. It was the breathtaking setting, with sweeping views of Ski Liberty, that captured the couple and motivated them to painstakingly dismantle and then reconstruct the stone home, a two-year process. Today, sheep pastures add to the pastoral setting, as the Rupperts operate an acclaimed sheep farm, Windborne Farm.

While many of the Foothills Artists have dedicated their lives to artwork, Stabler retired from a corporate career with IBM/Eastman Kodak and refocused his life on woodworking. His works—bowls, benches, and tables—all gleam with hours of handiwork. “I love wood and the uniqueness of its natural beauty,” Stabler says. “The most fun I have is opening up a log to see what’s inside—there is no greater joy. Every piece of wood has a story.”

Just as artists start with canvas, Stabler says his artwork begins with unique pieces of walnut, cherry, or maple, and he lets the character of the wood direct his creative process. “Some people enjoy playing golf, but this is my way of having fun,” Stabler jokes.

Similarly, Foothills Artist and photographer Geoff Grant committed his career to research management but considers photography his lifelong hobby. “I especially enjoy landscapes—a painterly, atmospheric style,” he says.

Grant often travels to photography workshops and tours all over the world, bringing back photographs and memories. He recalls the story behind one of his most striking photographs, a rare horizontal rainbow which he captured in New Mexico. “Part of photography is opportunity, along with intuition and technical skill,” Grant says.

Eden Farm, Grant’s historic Fairfield home, shares a unique connection with the Rupperts’ home—the stone houses were originally built by German brothers settling Adams County. Grant’s home, featuring a vista with a pond, was painstakingly restored by his parents in 1980.

“To Discover Someone Living 10 Miles From You Making Great Art—It’s Part of the Whole ‘Buy Local’ Trend”

New to the tour in 2015, Geoffrey Thulin’s Cashtown home represents the tour’s northernmost point. A map on the Foothills Artists’ website pinpoints each location; attendees can create their own routes.

“I’m really delighted to be part of it,” Thulin says. “I think that by its nature art is a solitary pursuit…you can lose sight of the fact that there’s a community of people out there doing similar things…to discover someone living 10 miles from you making great art—it’s part of the whole ‘buy local’ trend.”

Thulin’s historic 1849 stone home saw Confederates march past and encamp in the area in 1863. The adjacent summer kitchen, recently renovated as Thulin’s “new old studio,” provides work and exhibit space for his colorful artwork, primarily animals and abstracts. The bright artwork, painted in Goache—an opaque watercolor—is a contemporary contrast to the studio’s historic beams and exposed brickwork.

Potter Jack Handshaw, a life-long artist who has been a Foothills Artist since its founding, also opens his studio, Hobbit House Pottery, located on a grassy knoll aside his Fairfield log home. Walking on the stone steps and footpath leading to his studio feels like entering a magical place. “I love the mountains as evident by the themes in my pottery—mountains, fish, snails, and hobbits,” Handshaw says. “Creating pottery brings peace and takes your mind away from the stresses of life.”

During the 2015 tour, Handshaw welcomes attendees with steaming cups of hot cider, then “throws a pot” on his potter’s wheel and explains the entire process from start to finish. The spinning clay, almost magically turning into a bowl under his fingers, seems to mesmerize attendees. He places the bowl on his studio’s shelves to dry overnight—upside down—then explains how the bisque firing process leaves each piece nonporous, yet porous enough to take in color from glaze. Oxblood glaze, an earthy, coppery red color, is one of his favorites. Attendees ask questions about Handshaw’s brick kiln located right outside his studio’s doorstep. It was built with bricks recycled from other kilns, he explains, and reaches a temperature of 2,300 degrees.

“I love the tour—normally I don’t meet the people who buy my pieces, and I like to demonstrate pottery as I create,” says Handshaw. “I’ve been making and teaching pottery for more than 40 years…I like to say I’m getting better with age, like fine wine,” he laughs. And, just like vineyard visitors learning about the winemaking process, Foothills Artists’ Studio Tour attendees gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for art.

Visiting the Foothills

Nov. 19-20, 2016
10 a.m.–5 p.m.
FoothillsArtists.net

Tour attendees range from couples, to groups of girlfriends, neighbors, history buffs, fellow artists, and art lovers. While attendance at each location varies, organizers believe total tour attendance is annually around 200-300, which allows the event to be an enjoyable experience—not crowded. Attendees hail from throughout Adams County, as well as the surrounding area including the Chambersburg and Fayetteville area, Maryland, and West Virginia.

2015 attendee Sarah Rohr of Gettysburg, taking the tour for a third year, says it is a brand new experience every year thanks to new works and artists. She described Geoffrey Thulin’s location—added in 2015—as “amazing and inspirational. Overall, I appreciate the area’s artists getting together and sharing their works.”

“The tour takes you on roads you’ve never traveled before,” says 2015 visitor Barbara Braband of Gettysburg. “It’s lovely—it feels like you’re being welcomed into someone’s home. You can see what each artist loves—each home is an extension of their personality.”

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