Arts Faces2017 saw some big changes for many of the performing and visual arts in Fluvanna County, beginning with the departure of Warren Johnson, who stepped down as president of the Persimmon Tree Players (PTP) after nearly 13 years. Beth Sherk took his place and at first was reluctant in her new role, but has emerged stronger with a vision for a new destination for the group that builds on its successes. Always an optimist with a goal, she has teamed up with other PTP members who are looking out for PTP’s best interests in the coming year.

Sherk brings a fresh, energetic perspective to PTP, whereas Johnson was a stabilizing force who helped build the group back up to the well-respected community theater group it once had been. Sherk and fellow PTP member George Gaige are keeping the engine going.

PTP and the Fluvanna County Arts Council (FCAC) have also forged an alliance with 18-year-old theater wunderkind, Jessica Harris, who started the children’s theater group Empowered Players. Both PTP and FCAC see this as a milestone, encouraging young people and training them in the theater arts. PTP is hoping to eventually have some of her students join them and cut their teeth on a larger, more intense production.

Gaige, Sherk and Sharon Harris are working with FCAC on future projects to bring people in and introduce them to the magic of theater and music. With this addition of newcomers and innovative ideas, President Adele Schaefer feels the future is looking brighter for the performing arts.

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Marianne HillA renewed interest in the needle arts, particularly knitting and crocheting, has taken a younger generation by storm. Less in vogue but still practiced by many is the art of cross stitch. Ladies learned cross stitch to strengthen sewing skills, create tapestries and young women used it as a learning tool. Some have a tapestry their grandmother or great-grandmother made, often one of an alphabet with symbolism. These were less elaborate than the detailed crewel work or needlework.

Cross stitch has come a long way over the centuries and women today are experimenting with different ways to express themselves through this art form. Marianne Hill is one of them and has a passion for cross stitch. At the age of 18 she started doing crewel work, then discovered cross stitch and liked its uniformity and layout with its charts.

“The repetitious motion of pulling the thread through the canvas is soothing. I can’t draw, I can’t paint, so thread and canvas are my art,” she said. Her sister has joined her in her enthusiasm for the art. But now she has connected her passion with her Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) position as regent of the Point of Fork chapter.

“Virginia State Regent Judy Surber had to come up with a project so all the chapters are finding ways to support the building of the Claude Moore Hall at Montpelier, James Madison’s home,” Hill said. She described the project and how it fits in with their mission of promoting patriotism, preserving American history and its future through education.

The Claude Moore Hall is to become part of the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at Montpelier. The $4.7 million project will include classrooms, conference rooms, offices for center staff, a media center, and will be equipped for interactive learning. This will allow the center to expand its audience of adult learners, program alumni and constitutional leaders, creating an online community and sharing expertise and information around the globe. Add a comment


TravelFor Forney Shell, a tour guide at Monticello and a travel agent with Globe Travel, there is nothing better than travel – seeing other places and experiencing different cultures. Many never take the opportunity to travel until after retirement when “they have time.” Shell believes that age is irrelevant when it comes to learning about other countries and cultures and that people are never too young to start learning.

“One of my passions is to encourage parents to take their children on educational trips. If they can’t then there are other ways to teach about different cultures and people,” Shell said. Shell appreciates trips within a school context, such as when students visit Monticello, but believes exposing children to educational opportunities outside the school environment has great benefits.
Shell is not alone. Experts agree there are a number of ways that educational travel can benefit children and the entire family by promoting stronger family ties and increasing learning for both parents and children.

“Begin with finding out what the kids are studying in school, what did they study last year, what are they studying this year, and what they may study next year, and tie that in with educational opportunities during vacations,” said Shell.

Not all families have money available to travel overseas or even to various states in the U.S. But Shell said there are other ways to remedy that problem and still give children opportunities to learn. “Take them to an Indian, Chinese or Japanese restaurant if they are learning about Asian cultures, and learn about utensils such as chopsticks and different foods,” he said. “Try taking them on a day trip to a nearby Native American Indian powwow to learn about the different tribes that inhabited Virginia.”

Taking advantage of vacation destinations can also provide educational opportunities. For example, Shell said, a family that takes its vacation every year at Virginia Beach has many educational activities at its fingertips.
“I’m not saying a family should have the vacation revolve around education for the kids, because the family will want to have fun, but there are many things to do in that area including the Military Aviation Museum and False Cape State Park,” Shell said. There is something to interest any child, including a National Wildlife Refuge with wild horses, loggerhead turtles, bald eagles, varieties of migrating birds, and even endangered species. The entire family can hike, go surf fishing and even try animal tracking. This teaches them about the natural environment and why preservation is important. This form of education leaves behind the confines and structure of the classroom and encourages hands-on learning.

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Beth SherkDrama has been in Beth Sherk’s blood since the first time she hung a curtain in the basement and put on shows when she was a child. She was a community theater actress long before she was a director, and taught drama for 22 years at Fork Union Military Academy. She has always been a writer.

“It is sort of an incurable condition. Theater is somewhat of an addiction for me,” she laughed. She is currently finishing a novel that she started when her son went off to West Point and ended up in Iraq. She has written other novels, including River’s Bend, which is available on Amazon.

Sherk tried to put into words the feelings she has for her love of theater.

“It is a unique, communal experience. Every actor, every crew person is necessary to the final product and even the audience has their part to play, for a play never becomes itself until someone is there to watch,” she said. “Theater has the potential to make people laugh at themselves and to think for themselves. Even if the play is less than profound, laughing and crying together is a bonding experience, a shot of good energy. I think it is a basic human need. Children play act all the time.”

The current president and the main director for most of the shows, Sherk has been with Persimmon Tree Players (PTP) for over 11 years but said she doesn’t feel it has been that long.

She talked about the early days of PTP, including her directorial debut of The Golden Goose. She recalled when they had a cast of children and adults and performed it three times on the hottest day of the summer at Fluvanna County Day in the picnic pavilion at Carysbrook.

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Adele SchaeferLong before Adele Schaefer became president of the Fluvanna County Arts Council (FCAC), she was a volunteer in both civic and political activities.

“Let’s just say that volunteering and taking on projects has been in my blood for a very long time,” said Schaefer. While in Northern Virginia, she was an administrative assistant to a Virginia state senator and held managerial positions in two non-profit membership organizations: the American Psychological Association and the Psychological Association of Pastoral Counselors. Nowadays, she sells real estate and once owned her own real estate company. Currently, she is an associate broker with Monticello Country Realtors. Her experiences through her volunteer and paid work have given her the skills and patience to work though complex problems with deliberate thoughtfulness and to maintain a positive outlook while remaining gracious. A sense of humor helps too.

In late 2011 a friend who was on the arts council asked if Schaefer would like to come to an FCAC meeting since they were looking for new members.

“I had very little knowledge as to just what the council did, so decided to check it out,” Schaefer said. She had only attended two meetings when she received a call that the FCAC president, Bill Anderson, had suddenly died. “At a hastily-called FCAC meeting to determine who was going to take his place, I somehow found myself as the new president.”

Schaefer has exercised her interest in the performing arts as a regular in the alto section of the Fluvanna Community Singers. As a child growing up in Ridgewood, N.J., and Fluvanna County, she was exposed to her mother’s love of the visual arts. Patty Stoughton was one of the original founding members of the Fluvanna Art Association. But Schaefer preferred performing on stage.

“I had graduated from the old Fluvanna High School at Carysbrook in the late ‘50s and had spent many hours on the Carysbrook stage under the fine directorship of Mrs. Eleanor Talley. So, with those memories holding a soft spot in my heart, it isn’t hard to understand how I became involved with FCAC,” she said.

As unexpected as her newfound position was, Schaefer has made a concerted effort to keep the performing arts thriving in Fluvanna.

“The long-time FCAC members were burned out at that point and I didn’t want to see something that was so important to the community come to a slow end,” she said. “It took some time just to figure out what needed to be done and who the players were, but the council members were so very supportive and we all kept moving forward.” Add a comment