Bath County, VA is known for its stunning natural beauty. Situated west of the Shenandoah Valley—in Virginia’s Western Highlands—Bath boasts spectacular mountain views, hiking trails, woodlands, streams, rivers, lakes, and farms. It’s therefore not surprising that for the past seven years, artists from around the country flock to this idyllic area of Virginia to take part in the annual Bath County Plein Air Festival, which celebrates the tradition of painting en plein air—which is French for “in the open air” or outdoors.
The Bath County Plein Air Festival: A Celebration of Agricultural Bounty
2021 marks the Eighth Annual Bath County Plein Air Festival, hosted by the Warm Springs Gallery. The event runs from September 27th through October 3rd, 2021, and features thirty nationally celebrated artists, painting landscapes firsthand—en plein air. This is a wonderful chance for visitors to witness master artists painting in the landscape. This year the event will extend beyond Bath County, to include the counties of Allegheny and Highland.
A Very Brief History of Plein Air Painting
Plein air painting is the act of painting outdoors in the landscape, as opposed to working in a studio. The high point of plein air painting occurred with the emergence of Impressionism, in the mid-to-late 19th century. Artists like Monet, Renoir, and Cezanne ventured outdoors to paint, a pursuit that was helped along by the advent of pre-mixed oil pigments, as well as the invention of portable easels.
These artists painted directly on the canvas—not to create preparatory sketches that would be finished in the studio—but to capture the transient effects of sunlight and weather on the landscape. Plein air painting is known for its color, loose brushwork, and softness of form.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Barbara Buhr—Director of the Warm Springs Gallery—about the event:
You mentioned that each year the festival has a theme. What is the theme of this year's festival?
This year the theme focuses on celebrating the agricultural bounty of—not only Bath County—but also Highland and Allegheny counties. The artists will be painting at pre-selected farms. They will be focusing on the landscape, the animals, as well as the things that are produced at each individual farm including fruit, vegetables, honey, maple syrup, and more. Some of the artists will be painting still life’s of these products.
How many artist submissions do you get each year?
We generally get around 85 to 100 submissions each year that we pare down to the final 30.
How do you raise money for the event? Do you rely on grants?
The artists are always amazed that the event is funded wholly by private donations from the community and beyond. Many second homeowners are big contributors to the festival. They come from as far away as Texas, Florida, and South Carolina.
We receive absolutely no grant money for the event. The local community has provided so much support over the years—they host the artists in their homes, they sponsor events, guest speakers, awards for the artists, and they volunteer their time throughout the week. The community really helps keep the festival going.
What are some of the events that will be going on during the festival this year?
There are several events during the festival. For instance, a number of the participating farms will demonstrate how they make their products. Back Creek Farms will show guests how maple syrup and apple butter is made, and Thorny Bottom Farm will show visitors how they make their honey.
Another interesting event will be held at Oakley Farm. Sandy Silva from Quebec will perform a percussive dance routine in the farm’s fields, accompanied by fiddler Liz Knowles. The theme of the dance is renewal.
How are the winners determined?
There are several prizes—the Judge, Dawn Whitelaw from Tennessee, selects the top three paintings in the show, and the public votes on their favorite painting. The artists select another artist, and then there are a group of specialty prizes—best farm, still life, vista, river, and some awards are given in honor of people. In total we give away $8000 in prize money.
Where to Stay
This impeccably renovated historic farmhouse has room for 6 guests and is ideally located steps from Hot Springs and the Omni Homestead Resort. Enjoy spectacular views of the valley while lounging on the oversized deck, replete with two outdoor sofas, a large dining table, and an outdoor Roku equipped flat-screen TV.
Donald Ross Trail
Located in the Homestead Preserve's Sheep Meadow neighborhood, stately Donald Ross Trail can easily accommodate 10 guests and is pet-friendly. The home boasts a gourmet kitchen, a cozy living room with fireplace, and a lower level that features a flat-screen TV, wet bar, as well as pool and foosball tables.
Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to witness master artists painting outdoors in some of the most beautiful locations in Virginia. You won’t be disappointed!