Art of the River
The unique and natural beauty of the River Country draws visitors and travelers from across the country, and this is one of the main reasons why many folks decide to call it home. So it’s no wonder that the Rappahannock River Waterfowl Show continues to be one of the most frequented annual attractions, now celebrating its 35th year!
According to director Pat Bruce, it began at the Windmill Point Yacht Club on March 1st, 1980, when Pat’s husband William (a local decoy carver) was contacted by the club’s manager at the time, Phil Cross. William was a regular participant at previous shows in the mid-Atlantic region and was asked by Cross to help him with the first show. That year, thirty-five exhibitors made it to Windmill Point despite a whopping fourteen inches of snow! With such a large turn out and positive feedback from both exhibitors and patrons, plans were in place to make it an annual event, but to move it a couple weeks later in March.
In January of 1981, the Yacht Club moved out of Windmill Point and was unable to host the show. At that time, William was a member of the White Stone Volunteer Fire Department, and the fire department was asked to use their facility as the display area. It has taken place at the White Stone Volunteer Fire Department ever since, with Pat handling the majority of the details, while William oversees the contest.
Beginning with thirty-five exhibitors that first year and peaking at ninety-three several years ago, the show now has just over eighty! This growth expanded the displays and exhibits from the firehouse into the former White Stone school building until 2004, when the school building was sold. A large tent attached to the fire department now houses many of the displays.
How does one become a participant in the Rappahannock Waterfowl Show? It is in fact a juried show, meaning that exhibitors must first submit photos of their work along with a biography. Following their submission, a selection committee chooses new exhibitors based upon the quality of the work, as well as whether or not their art will enhance the show. Artists, carvers, and photographers who create waterfowl art are obviously the most sought-after, and nautical and wild game themed work is also considered.
Pat says there are six faithful exhibitors this year who attended the first show: Art LaMay, Ned Ewell, William Bruce, Bill Bolin, Lewis Shelton, and Dick Cook. LaMay lived in Great Falls, Virginia when the show first began, but now lives in Palm Coast, Florida. This is his thirty-second year. Ewell of Cockeysville, Maryland is here for the twenty-ninth year, Bolin of Midlothian, Virginia is on his thirty-fourth year, Shelton of White Stone is on his twenty-first year, Cook of Topping, Virginia is on his twenty-fourth year, and Wayne Baker of Richmond is on his thirty-fourth year. And celebrating their thirty-second year with the show include Diane Jackson of Montross, Jane Dashiell of Suffolk, Jane Partin of Petersburg and Mathews, and Curtis and Wayne Waterfield of Virginia Beach. (And William Bruce, the only thirty-five-year participant!) Well worth mentioning as well is Bea Berle, former resident of Duck, North Carolina, now of Faber, Virginia, who is the oldest exhibitor at ninety-one years of age, and on her thirty-third year!
Not only do the artists themselves come from near and far, with exhibitors from ten states this year ranging from Vermont to Florida, but patrons also come from as many as ten to twelve states, including from the Midwest. For such a small show, the attendance is high. “I think the reason we draw a broad group of visitors is that they like the charm of coming to this area. We know we have many who attend this show because some of the really large shows are just too big, and we have some of the same artists (like Art LaMay, David Turner and Chuck Robertson) and are easier to actually see and talk to.”