Looking for Rockingham Artisans? Just Follow the Map

Dec 1, 2015

Credit Courtesy Artisans Center of Virginia

Harrisonburg and Rockingham County artisans literally are being put on the map with a new guided network for tourists, and curious locals. It’s called the Artisan Trail, and WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz has the story.

It’s a sunny autumn afternoon in northern Rockingham County, and Jan de Regt and Jim Buckingham from Maryland are in the Old Hill Cider Tasting Room at Showalter’s Orchard outside of Timberville.

[Pouring and tasting cider]

JAN DE REGT: That is completely different. A little more appley immediately.
JIM BUCKINGHAM: Almost smokey.

They were directed to Showalter’s by the Harrisonburg Visitor Center. Next spring, the center will have an additional resource for locating the area’s cultural treasures, including this family farm: a new Artisan Trail Network map for the newly named Harrisonburg-Rockingham Artisan Trail.

Showalter’s Orchard co-owner Sarah Showalter explains the presence of hard cider artisanry on the trail, which bears the tagline The Cultural Crossroads of the Shenandoah Valley:

SARAH SHOWALTER: Usually when people think about art they think about the artist expressing themselves using really traditional things like paint or sculpture or music, but cider, it's nice for us to be able to let people know what our hard ciders are like because they are pieces of art, or they are artisanal. Some of the mass-produced ciders that you find in the grocery store are not so much art. They’re more like a chemical composition and taste the same all the time and when something is the same all the time, that doesn't feel very much like art.

Although registration in the program will be ongoing, artisans wanting to be included in the trail’s printed launch brochure map must enroll by mid-March.

SHERRI SMITH: When you have as much diversity and culture and I mean languages spoken here, university here, you really are a cultural crossroad and you're smack in the Shenandoah Valley, so it's just a perfect fit to have all that wrapped together.

Sherri Smith is the executive director for the Artisans Center of Virginia. She spends her days traveling and working in communities all across the state to establish Artisan Trail Networks now in various stages of development and operation. These trail networks put regional artisans of all sorts--dining, hospitality, arts, agricultural--on a map and on a website so that anyone who wants to can experience the culture and creativity of that region. The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Artisan Trail website is already up and running; the actual maps should be ready by next summer.

And on that map, just north of Harrisonburg on Route 42, sits another Trail site: BrydgeWorks Glass Studio and Warehouse.

[Sound of a cutting machine]

Co-owner Rebecca Brydge and BrydgeWorks manager Key Schimmel stand near their kiln as it cycles back down past 950 degrees:

BRYDGE, SCHIMMEL: Pebbley, cobblestoned, but that's just what tempered glass does. This has a real organic edge, whereas this has a nice rounded... It wants to be a quarter inch. That's as technical as we can get.

An old window frame with a stained glass hot air balloon scene awaits further work on one table; in another part of the shop are racks of colorful sheets of glass. Brydge and Schimmel say that for them the Artisan Trial is an exciting opportunity:

BRYDGE, SCHIMMEL: We are not downtown, so we are not readily visible. We are a destination, but we have other destinations close to us, to say Hey, while you're here, you might want to check out down there.

Farther south, in Dayton, Mama’s Caboose owner Diane Roll fries the day’s last available crab cake.

[sound: “Thank you dear, can’t wait to try it.”]

Her food truck, which she has operated since 2011, is parked outside. Today she is in her tiny deli, where regulars Carl and Sandy Martin eat with their daughter Maggie every week:

MARTINS: The food is just fantastic, out of sight. All homemade, homecooked.

Mama’s Caboose is one of nearly forty destinations already enrolled with the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Artisan Trail.

Artisans Center’s Sherri Smith says that Virginia’s Artisan Trail Networks build community, and that the Center is debt free thanks to a “diverse budget” that relies on public funds but also sponsorships, community and private donations, and membership fees.

The Trail, Smith says, tells the “true fabric” of the community--and just may assist with finding that perfect piece of pie baked with apples from Showalter’s Orchard.