By Glenda Winders
On any first Friday of the month — warm or cold, rain or shine — downtown Fredericksburg, Texas, is alive with people carrying cups of wine and moving among the city's 13 full-time galleries. They come here for the Hill Country scenery, outdoor recreation and much more, but mostly they come for the art.
"This city is a hotbed of artists who want to live in a beautiful place," said Ernie Loeffler, director of the local convention and visitor bureau.
Much of the art they produce is museum-quality, and it runs the gamut from Carlos Moseley's whimsical pieces fashioned from rocks found in a river near his home to George Northrup's sculptures of people, animals and birds that grace the offices of two governors.
The best part is that among these artists is a spirit of cooperation and esprit de corps. They support one another's efforts, and many of them teach others what they know. While Nancy Bush paints oils in her studio, for example, her husband, Bill, runs the Fredericksburg Artists' School, bringing in professional artists from all over the country to teach classes that range from beginner to pro. Marie Wise, another local artist, credits Bush with being her mentor and teaching her to crop her expansive landscapes.
At the Barons Creek Art School mixed-media artist Jill Holland offers Art and Vino classes where individuals or groups can go for an evening of painting instruction that will result in a finished piece to take home. Holland is one of the original founders of the First Friday Art Walks and also a founder of the Good Art Company gallery. Niki Gulley, who exhibits at Good Art, sometimes teaches at Barons Creek and also leads painting treks to places such as Italy and Greece — and so it goes.
Many of the artists welcome guests into their studios for visits that can be arranged through the gallery representing the individual's work. Anne and Barry Bradley own the Artisans at Rocky Hill gallery, so that's where I went to arrange a visit to Barry's wood-filled workshop.
"I'm a scrounger," he said during my visit. "If a tree is falling, I'm there with my chainsaw."
Bradley worked for years as a shop teacher in Houston, and that experience has served him well in his career as a full-time artist. His school was in a manufacturing area of the city, and he recalls "dumpster-diving" for found items to use in his work. When a countertop company threw away their sink cutouts, he rescued the pieces and turned them into cutting boards.
Today his work is considerably more sophisticated. One colorful table called "Smoke Signals," which ripples like a Navajo blanket, is for sale at $5,500 — not bad considering that he spent some 200 hours making it. He has won several awards at recent Texas Furniture Makers Shows, and he makes commissioned pieces such as fireplace mantels, dining tables and wine racks, but his work also includes nature-based wooden sculptures of everything from fish to animal skulls.
Holland — the Art and Vino instructor — also has a studio that makes for a fun visit.
"I believe in no rules," she said the day I was there. "I use drywall paste, house paint, acrylics — a wide range of materials."
She sometimes paints on the floor and then takes the canvas outside to let the sun create unusual effects in the paint. Or she spray-paints several backgrounds at once, pours as many as 10 layers of paint onto a canvas, paints on slate and uses reclaimed items for an architectural salvage warehouse.
Jack Terry, a real-life former cowboy, has turned a guesthouse behind his home into the studio where he uses impressionistic techniques to create Western pictures owned by the likes of former President George W. Bush and former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. Not far away, John Bennett's studio is in the back room of the Agave Gallery, which he operates. Here he shows visitors how he fashions sculptures from clay and aluminum wire armature to prepare them for future bronzing. His figures often twirl in full skirts and play musical instruments.
"I love motion and music," he said.
On any day of the month a visit to the galleries that display these artists' works is a feast for the eyes. Offerings range from paintings and sculpture to mosaics and mobiles. The elegant Whistle Pik Galleries even have an original Norman Rockwell portrait for sale.
A good way to end a day of art-crawling is to drink the local wines. Winemaking is the primary focus of agritourism in Texas, and "Wine Road 290" runs right through town. One of my favorites was Grape Creek Vineyard. Owners Brian and Jennifer Heath bought the property in 2006 and converted it to a Tuscan villa where today they pour in two tasting rooms so that their visitors can have a relaxed experience.
"We feel like we're opening our home," Brian said. "We try to create an emotional experience. I believe what people drink comes down to the way they're treated. Are they having fun and learning about wine?"
The winery offers cellar tours and music on the weekends, and guests are greeted personally at the door as they come in.
"There's a really good feel to it," Jennifer added.
Down the road is Becker Vineyard, created 20 years ago when Richard and Bunny Becker were looking for a log-cabin getaway. Because they were avid travelers who appreciated the wine and cuisine of other countries, they decided to plant some vines and the rest is history. Their wines are also very good, and the special touch here is labels created by artist Tony Bell, who was a college friend of Richard's.
Looking at art, meeting artists and sipping wine is not a bad way to spend a weekend, but there's much more to do here, too. The town was settled by German immigrants, so there's lots of history and heritage to explore and learn about. President Lyndon Johnson's ranch, now a national historical park, is just 16 miles out of town, and not to be missed is the National Museum of the Pacific War, located here because Fredericksburg is the hometown of Adm. Chester Nimitz. The museum contains so many artifacts and exhibits that the price of admission includes entry for two days.
WHEN YOU GO
For general information: www.visitfredericksburgtx.com
How to get there: Fredericksburg is located 70 miles west of Austin and 65 miles northwest of San Antonio. Fly in to either of those cities and rent a car.
Where to stay: Sometimes the hotel can be a part of the experience. I stayed at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm, where the individual cottages are reproductions of the Sunday houses built by the original German immigrants for their weekly forays into town. A spa and bistro are located right on the property: www.fredericksburgherbfarm.com. The same owners operate the Hangar Hotel at the airport, which has an aviation theme and is perfect for visitors who fly in on small planes: www.hangarhotel.com.
For a romantic getaway, try Barons CreekSide, where owner Daniel Meyer has recycled his Swiss farmhouse into a village of eight rustic cottages: www.baronscreekside.com.
What to do: For information about the galleries, visit www.artwalkfbg.com
For information about the wineries: www.wineroad290.com
To visit the war museum: www.pacificwarmuseum.org
Glenda Winders is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.