Located inside the old Courthouse, at the corner of Ballard and Main Street, sits the Gallery at York Hall. Once you step inside, you're immediately surrounded by walls and tables of jewelry, paintings, wood carvings, pottery, stained glass, and more. Each new find pulls your attention in a different direction, making it easy to get lost in the sea of local talent. The work of more than 300 different artists is on display here. Before you know it, you've spent hours browsing (and if you're like me, choosing) some of these unique items to take home.
This community treasure is the brain child of manager Sharon Owen. And 2017 marks the 15th anniversary of the Gallery first opening its doors. Sharon is a full-time volunteer and with the help of an army of 36 other part-time volunteers also dedicated to their hometown—she keeps the place running. It's hard to imagine that when the gallery first opened, the only thing on display was quilts. But Sharon knew they had to start somewhere, and that exhibit of 75 quilts created by the Peninsula Piecemakers Quilt Guild got people talking.
She tells us to this day, the quilts remain the anchors for the gallery. They can run as high as $800-$1,000, but the price tags are a little more understandable when you consider the fact that some of them took more than a year to create from start to finish!
The Gallery strives to preserve dying arts like quilting and basketmaking—rare skills admired by those of us who can barely sew on a button or braid hair, let alone handstitch patches or split and weave white oak.
There are also modern takes on these skills including fabric stuffed animals made from recycled quilting materials, and tiny doll-sized, handwoven mini baskets. Wouldn't these make thoughtful (and unique) baby shower gifts?
York Hall still operates as a non-profit, in partnership with York County and the Celebrate Yorktown Committee of the Yorktown Foundation. To this day, every purchase you make continues to support performing and visual arts in Historic Yorktown. In fact, 70% goes to artists and 30% goes right back into the community. The proceeds are also used by the CYC to help fund the free Virginia Symphony Concert each year at Riverwalk Landing as well as the free Lighted Boat Parade in December.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post, hundreds of local artists are represented in the Gallery. And every single one we talked to couldn't say enough wonderful things about Sharon and all she does for the community. Hazel Camp moved to Virginia in the early 80s and the two women have been working together for more than 30 years. Hazel attributes Sharon's kindness for the longevity of their relationship.
Hazel has painted every day for more than five decades. She draws her inspiration from what she sees—recreating photographs she's taken over the years of real-life people and events. Her beautiful watercolors feature a variety of scenes, though she says her favorites are of people with umbrellas, those featuring tugboats, and any that represent scenes from Yorktown and Williamsburg. Sharon knows the authenticity of those moments really resonates with her customers.
Brenda Marion is both an artist as well as a volunteer. When I asked about how she discovered the Gallery at York Hall, I can't say I was surprised by her answer. Her neighbor knew someone who knew someone who knew Sharon. Everyone involved in community art seems to know Sharon! Once Brenda met the group of volunteers, she says she knew she wanted to donate her time too. "There's a feeling you get when you step inside the Gallery. You just automatically feel happy. That's the best way I can describe it!" she told me. And to see all of the amazing local talent showcased in one building is just the icing on the cake.
Brenda's stained and infused glass art is dispersed throughout the gallery and incorporated into several different displays (including jewelry!). It's absolutely amazing what she can do with the medium. She says she loves testing and pushing the glass to its limits to create truly unique pieces.
When I say there is literally something for everyone, I mean it! Here are pictures of just a few of the items you'll see when you visit. I've broken them down into several categories: American History Fans, Yorktown Enthusiasts, Jewelry Fanatics, and Animal Lovers. And then, for fun, I even threw in some of my top picks!
My Top Picks!
More than 18,000 people pass through the Gallery doors each year. We hope you'll make it 18,001! Hours are Tuesday - Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday afternoons from 1 - 4.
Much like the displays inside, exhibits and featured artists in the lobby change every four to six weeks. Paul Stevens, a contemporary photographer, showcased his impressionistic work in July and August. David Mitchell's wildlife photography is now being highlighted. His pictures will remain up through September. The month will also include a pottery exhibit featuring artist Keith Shamburger, a watercolor art demo with Hazel Camp, and Woodturning with craftsman Tom Duke.
If you stop by today, you'll see that we're already preparing for our annual Fall Arts season in Yorktown. There are pops of autumn (and even Christmas) throughout the Gallery. This year's festivities kick off with the annual Opening Night fundraiser next Friday, Sept. 1, from 5:30 - 8:30 p.m. at the Freight Shed. It will feature live music, food, and an exhibit from On the Hill Gallery. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. You can purchase them from Sharon.
The following night, Saturday, Sept. 2, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra will play a concert at 7:30 under a canopy of stars at Riverwalk Landing. This event is funded by community contributors from organizations, businesses, and individuals along with the following sponsors: York County, York County Arts Commission, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. The volunteer Celebrate Yorktown Committee of the Yorktown Foundation works diligently each year to raise the $24,000 needed to cover the cost of presenting this free-to-the-public evening of music for the enjoyment of the community.
The concert will be followed by two months of celebrating art and performing arts through various events and programs like the Fall Festival, Yorktown Wine Festival, Rhythms on the Riverwalk, Yorktown Art Stroll, and the list goes on! Be sure to follow us at Visit Yorktown on Facebook and Instagram for all your special event announcements and updates!
In addition to offering a broad range of artwork, York Hall also acts as an Information Center for tourists, and houses the York County Historical Museum on the lower level
(Insiders Tip: If you have young children in your party, the museum is a must-see. Have them report back to Sharon with the wackiest thing they saw and she'll reward them with a special souvenir!)