An Artsy Weekend in Williamsburg

Market Square in Williamsburg, VA. Photo by Casey L. Higgins.

History lovers know where to go when they want a huge helping of the past: Virginia’s Historic Triangle. Coincidentally, that’s the same place art lovers should also be headed. Surprised? Don’t be. Families, couples, and solo travelers can get a healthy dose of a wide range of art in both time and media when they know where to look. I invited my Mama for a girls weekend during the Williamsburg Fall Arts Festival to do just that.

We stayed in a condo at Kingsmill Resort, a beautiful AAA four diamond destination that is an affluent reprieve and host to notable events like the LPGA Kingsmill Championship. The spacious condominium was comfortable and inviting with a fireplace, balcony, and fine appointments. Without a specific timeline, we arose somewhat late and made our way to The Mill, the resort’s bakery and coffee shop, and filled up before catching the shuttle for Colonial Williamsburg.

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Photo by Casey L. Higgins

Disembarking at the corner of Nassau and Francis Streets, we were in perfect position to take in a bit of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg at the same location. The banner promoting the African-American Quilt Exhibit caught my eye, and we made a beeline for the door.

The Art Museums are The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. Housed within the same space, visitors seamlessly move between them.

The Museums are a glorious trove of finds from the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, as well as unearthed artifacts from Colonial Williamsburg. Rooms full of precious china and walls lined with fine furnishings make you want to bargain to take a few pieces home. The DeWitt Wallace Museum claims to have “the world’s largest collection of southern furniture,” and we believe it. In fact, that is exactly what Mama wanted to see.

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Photo by Casey L. Higgins

Before we found the first quilt or even a single piece of furniture, however, we found George Washington. The portrait by Gilbert Stuart, the “Athenaeum Portrait,” was the model for the GW we so easily recognize on our $1 bill. The unfinished original of the painting was used 75 times to create head-and-shoulder replica pieces like the one pictured above.

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Photo by Casey L. Higgins

As a family rooted in farming and hunting (and in honor of our husbands), we took a few minutes to admire the impressive collection of pre-1800 firearms. Mama proclaimed the long guns to be from a time “when men were men.” Especially after finding the 18 3/4-pound .82 caliber Fowling Piece. It’s a brute of a firearm crafted from ash, iron, and steel. The beast is attributed to 17th century England, and the description admits hunting with it would require “the gun supported on a bank or the gunwale of a boat.” No doubt.

Finally, we found the African-American quilts that initially drew us in. One dozen delicate, hand-stitched cozy creations are carefully displayed behind glass in a room with low light, which makes their colors pop. The labor of love each one emits is obvious to anyone taking the time to examine the stitches and carefully pieced fabrics.

The quilts date from 1875 to about 1975 and some may be considered crude by today’s master quilter standards. I call them beloved and deserving to be cherished. One of the most most intricate quilts is also anonymous. It is believed to have been created in 1936 and was acquired from an African-American family in Baltimore, Maryland. Of utmost intrigue is the unfinished state of the quilt. It has no batting nor a backing, but was painstakingly crafted with great detail.

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Though I did not have my three children with me, I was happy to spend time in the “Down on the Farm” room. Presented in a storybook fashion, Prince the dog introduces young ones to works of art in the whimsical space. It’s also a great area to let kids unwind for a few minutes before moving on through the museums. I know mine would have probably enjoyed a quick coloring sesh had they been there.

We did not cover every square inch of the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, but you will want to. There are dollhouses and miniatures, textiles, instruments, folk art, and a great deal more to see.

If You Go:

  • Admission is $12.99 for ages 13 and older; $6.49 for ages 6 through 12
  • The Museum Cafe makes spending a couple of hours doable.

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Our next stop was Merchants Square, the bustling hub of the historic area. The Saturday farmers’ market was wrapping up on Duke of Gloucester Street as people ducked in and out of shops and restaurants like bees to a hive. More than 40 establishments are nestled into this shopping destination created to blend in with Colonial Williamsburg. It’s where we found our next artsy stop: Williamsburg Art Gallery.

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The Williamsburg Art Gallery is tucked away on Heather Walk, a quiet, shady lane at the east end of DoG Street. Local and regional artists display various media in the space directed by Gulay Berryman, who is a prominent artist herself. We found her in a light-filled corner of the gallery – her office with french doors. She invited us in to see the art there as well. Mama noticed the dominate portrait in the room and inquired, “Is that you?” Ms. Berryman confirmed that it is, and that her daughter posed for it to get the body correct. Ms. Berryman completed it by painting herself while looking in a mirror. It’s an accurate representation hung carefully on the wall behind her.

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If you’re as fortunate as we were (or perhaps it’s the norm), another artist may be manning the desk at the Gallery. We were pleased to meet Bob Mandala, especially after admiring his wire tree sculptures. Mama even bought a pack of note cards bearing stylized images of his sculptures. I think she’s given me a gift idea.

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Through the alleyway we spied lunch. Berret’s Seafood Restaurant and Tap House Grill has been on my list of places to try for a while now, and it was not a disappointment. Mama had the crab and shrimp quesadilla. She savored each bite, noting repeatedly how good it was. I had the club with strawberry-basil jam and a side of potato salad. The meals easily exceeded our expectations.

Carefully watching the clock, I knew we’d miss an exhibit at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News if we didn’t catch the shuttle back to Kingsmill Resort and to our car. I’ve known about Turner Sculptures for years now but had yet to see a finished piece in person. I was determined to make it in time.

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David Turner of Turner Sculptures

Mr. Turner masters exceptionally precise, life size, bronze wildlife sculptures, and they take my breath away. I was glad to find his artistry exhibited on this side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel; his gallery is in Onley on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

With David Turner was fellow wildlife artist Jim Wilson, who works in ink and Prismacolor pencil. His sketches are ran in a series of 100 to 500 giclee or offset lithograph. The choice to exhibit these two artists together in such a space as the Virginia Living Museum was brilliant.

Though not on the official roster of things to see on our trip, Mama and I knew how close we were to the beach and the lure was more than we could ignore. Mountain gals need to sniff the salt air and have their hair windswept every once in while, and for giving in, we were rewarded with a group horseback riding on the beach. It’s not something a summer beach-goer would see, which made it special for us.

My usual Virginia Beach “must eat” is Bubba’s. I was not disappointed with my blackened Yellow Tuna, and Mama loved her huge fried shrimp. I think she’ll go again, but earlier to catch the sunset over Wolfsnare Creek.

Sunday mornings are best for sleeping in, and that’s especially true for travelers, as many attractions aren’t open early on Sundays. As much as I wanted to head back to the College of William & Mary to visit the Muscarelle Museum of Art when it opened at noon, the trip back to western Virginia could not wait. Rather, we had a good greasy spoon breakfast at Shorty’s Diner and spent about an hour at the Williamsburg Pottery. Mama had not been there in years and was pleasantly surprised to see the new space (as of 2012). We scooped up a few seasonal items and gifts before hitting the road, but Williamsburg is definitely in the cross-hairs for another visit from us soon. Muscarelle, I hope to be back for Botticelli in spring 2017!


whc_2015_logo_color-01Those travelers looking for a fall foliage excursion for late leaf peeping and good eating will want to keep the annual Williamsburg Harvest Celebration in mind. It’s a two-week event that celebrates the bounty of the harvest, the history of America, and award-winning wine and craft beer.

The Celebration kicks off November 4, 2016 with 30 culinary events, a pop-up Prohibition era speakeasy, a sommelier challenge wine dinner, a Williamsburg Tasting Trail Craft Brewery tour, and more. Get the full schedule and tickets at www.WilliamsburgHarvestCelebration.com.


This article was sponsored by Williamsburg Area Destination Marketing Committee.

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