A new way to experience the artisan culture of Virginia
I was browsing through the regional travel brochures at the Occoquan Visitors Center recently, when I came across a series of trails that I knew nothing about…the Virginia Artisan Trails. I had to learn more.
As members of the Virginia Artisan Trail Network, various communities have combined their artisan resources to provide a number of highly-interesting destinations throughout our Commonwealth. Currently, 17 artisan trails and an oyster trail are listed on the website for the Artisans Center of Virginia, although some are so new that they are still under construction.
Artisan Trail Network
Each trail is composed of craft artisans, agri-artisans, agri-tourism businesses, art-related businesses, venues, and supporting site sponsors such as lodging, restaurants, and cultural points of interest. Each trail features a theme. For example, the theme for the Top of Virginia Artisan Trail that illuminates Clark and Frederick Counties and the City of Winchester, is “Mountains & Valleys, Venues & Alleys, Music & Hue, Always Something to Do.”
Visit each individual trail listing and click on any category to uncover a complete list of member sites, along with a convenient map highlighting their specific locations along the trail. For more detail, click on the individual site listings to read an interesting profile of the location, the people, and the art they provide, along with their addresses and hours. No chains are allowed to join; all businesses must be independently and locally owned.
The site also lists a number of juried artisans, each of whom has undergone a rigorous standards review process recognizing the high quality of their work. The jury process is held twice a year with judges who review that the work is handmade, reflects technical excellence and is the artisan’s unique vision. It must illustrate the artisan’s commitment to originality and/or historical merit.
“The artisan industry in Virginia has become a huge contributor to the Virginia tourism economy, it is a job creator, creates tax revenues that are returned back to our local communities, and attracts tons of visitors to our state,” said Caroline Logan, director of communications for the Virginia Tourism Corporation. In fact, the economic impact of the Artisan Trails to Virginia last year was $572.2 million, providing $15.6 million in state tax revenue and nearly 12,000 full-time jobs. Visitor spending totaled more than $250 million, with the average visitor spending $260 per person, per trip.
“Today’s travelers are looking for an authentic experience when they come to Virginia; they want to hear the stories behind the places they are visiting, meet the farmers, and winemakers. It gives them more of a complete sense of place when they feel that connection,” Logan explained. “The artisan spirit is coursing through the veins of Virginia, and we can shine the spotlight on these storytellers and producers that make Virginia a more vibrant and wonderful place to live, work and visit.”
The Virginia Oyster Trail has been a tremendous success. “Watermen have been oystering along coastal rural Virginia for centuries, but facing economic depression and downturn. This is a creative way to bring travelers to the area to discover Virginia’s oyster history and heritage, especially with the rise of oysters as a trendy, hot item for foodies and travelers,” she said. “The project goes as far west as the Sunny Slope Farm in Charlottesville, and includes wineries, restaurants, farms, festivals, dinners, and anything that touches oysters. It is a holistic way to connect these regions, waterways and communities for a collaborative partnership.”
A Trail in Our Neck of the Woods
Closest to us is Washington’s Backyard Artisan Trail that currently features nine artisan studios, three art-related venues, 12 agri-artisans/farms, two restaurants, three lodging options, and eight points of interest throughout Prince William, Fauquier, Stafford, and the city of Manassas. A cluster of artisans in Manassas include KO Distilling, Little BadWolf Brewing Company, Brewhouse, and Okra’s Cajun Creole. Another cluster near Woodbridge includes VanEch Studio, Edgemoor Art Studio, ImageWerks, Water’s End Brewery, and Kim S. Joy Stained Glass and Jewelry. Most locations have retail hours; others are by appointment only.
“We have created an experiential tourism initiative that visitors from far and near will want to explore,” said Ann Marie Maher, President and CEO of Discover Prince William & Manassas.
“People know our big attractions like Jiffy Lube Live and Potomac Mills, so our main mission with the trails is to promote small businesses that might otherwise be overlooked, and to pull people out of the cities to reconnect with nature,” said Director of Marketing and Communications for Discover Prince William & Manassas Dan Cook. “Our must-see spots are our craft breweries, wineries, distilleries, and art studios. And along the trail, visitors can stay in a local B&B and eat at our local restaurants.”
“Tourists today are looking for that authenticity piece,” he continued. “When you go to Disney World you need a vacation from that vacation. With our trails, people get to slow down, take a deep breath, and carry home art and memories that reflect a piece of Virginia.”
Artisans Center of Virginia
Check the Calendar of Events for each trail and FaceBook for
special programs and events while planning your tour.
Virginia’s Artisan Trail Network
- Bedford Artisan Trail
- Harrisonburg-Rockingham Artisan Trail
Rockingham County with the City of Harrisonburg
- HeART and Soil of the Shenandoah Valley Artisan Trail
Augusta County with the Cities of Staunton and Waynesboro
- Loudoun County Artisan Trail
- Lynchburg Region Artisan Trail
Counties of Amherst, Appomattox and Campbell, with the City of Lynchburg
- Middle Peninsula Artisan Trail
Mathews, Middlesex, Gloucester and Essex Counties
- Monticello Artisan Trail
Albemarle and Nelson Counties with the City of Charlottesville
- Northern Neck Artisan Trail
King George, Lancaster, Westmoreland, Northumberland and Richmond Counties
- Page Valley Artisan Trail
- Rappahannock County Artisan Trail
- Shenandoah County Artisan Trail
- Smith River Artisan Trail
Henry County and the City of Martinsville
- Top of Virginia Artisan Trail
Frederick & Clarke Counties with the City of Winchester
- Virginia’s Eastern Shore Artisan Trail
Accomac and Northampton Counties
- Virginia’s Western Highlands Artisan Trail
Alleghany, Bath, Craig and Highland Counties
- Washington’s Backyard Artisan Trail
Stafford, Prince William & Fauquier Counties
- Artisan Trails of Southwest Virginia
The Counties of Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Floyd, Franklin, Giles, Grayson, Lee, Montgomery, Patrick, Pulaski, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, Wythe, with the Cities of Bristol, Galax, Norton and Radford
- Virginia Oyster Trail
Pictured at top: Painting by Helen Burroughs