'A living, working art town'

February 04, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Two publications that rank the country's top art towns will be released in the spring, and editors and residents won't be surprised if Berkeley Springs is chosen again.

American Style magazine Editor in Chief Hope Daniels said the makeup of the magazine's Top 25 Art Destinations in America is determined by the readers.

"They used to have to rip out the ballots, but now they can vote online," she said. Feb. 1 was the deadline for this year's Top 25, and the results will appear in the May-June issue, Daniels said.


American Style readers voted Berkeley Springs a Top 25 Art Destination in America three of the last four years. It was number 18 in 2001, and number 12 in 2002 and 2004.

Daniels said Berkeley Springs is "extremely popular" not only for its natural beauty but for its creative arts community. "Berkeley Springs pulled votes from all over the country," she said.

John Villani's fourth edition of "The 100 Best Art Towns in America" will be released in April, according to his Web site. Villani wrote in his last book, "The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America," that "A small art town is the type of community people love visiting on a weekend getaway. They might stay at a gorgeous B&B, have dinner in a great (but undiscovered) restaurant, wander around art galleries, antique shops, and flea markets, or perhaps visit and an annual Art in the Park festival ... A small art town is a great place to buy high-quality art at affordable prices."

Berkeley Springs ranked 63rd in that 1998 publication.

Villani wrote, "A stunning location combined with an irrepressible creative spirit and a steady flow of cultural tourists has made this West Virginia art town a three-time repeater as one of the 100 Best. With a population of 875, Berkeley Springs is one of the nation's smallest art towns, but its local art scene never stops improving."

Jeanne Mozier, who is vice president of both Travel Berkeley Springs and the Chamber of Commerce, said "Berkeley Springs is really unique because most small art towns are built around colleges. This is very significant because Berkeley Springs is a living, working art town."

The Morgan Arts Council, which Mozier started in 1977, is active in Berkeley Springs.

"In most places, the arts are separate from decision-making in the community. The arts have a seat at decision-making tables here in Berkeley Springs," Mozier said.

A lot of people do not know the town is known for its art, but are not surprised to learn it. Many know that Berkeley Springs is noted for its mineral "healing" water and offers a number of spas where one can soak in the water and get a therapeutic massage.

During the Spa Feast promotion last weekend, a few people walking around town were asked if they knew Berkeley Springs was among the best art towns in the country.

One visitor was Steve Peele, who said he was in Berkeley Springs looking for property to buy. He knew Berkeley Springs had antiques stores and was "artsy," but he was not aware it is one of the top art destinations in the country. Peele said it didn't surprise him, though.

Judi Hanzlik, a teacher in Fairfax, Va., who came for the Spa Feast, said she was not aware that Berkeley Springs was an art town, but knew about the mineral springs and the spas. She said she was not surprised that Berkeley Springs was voted as one of the best art towns in the country. Hanzlik said she was impressed with the variety of artists' works, she said, and she hoped the Berkeley Springs Web site would promote it more.

John Sindelar, of Potomac, Md., said he owns two cabins in Berkeley Springs and has been coming here for nearly three years. Sindelar was making a purchase at the Ice House gallery, where many local artists sell their work. He said he decorated one of his cabins "entirely with art purchases from the Ice House and Mountain Laurel," another gallery in town. He said he knew Berkeley Springs was an art town but learned first it was a "spa town."

Local artist Michael Nathan, who moved to Berkeley Springs from Erie, Pa., in 2003, said he learned about the town from his sister who lives in Rockville, Md. She started coming to Berkeley Springs and told him about the great art "shopping," he said.

Nathan said he checked out the Berkeley Springs Web site and read that Berkeley Springs was one of the country's best small art towns. Nathan said that after living in Erie for 20 years, he needed a fresh environment. He moved to Berkeley Springs, where he knew he could sell his art, Nathan said.

"If people come here looking for an art town, they find an art town and that's a true thing," Mozier said.

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