For the past 20 years, a group of female artists going by the name Vale Arts has presented art shows in a schoolhouse and worked to unite their community.
By Sophia Rutti
In 1884, when the Vale Schoolhouse was built, there was hardly anything in Oakton. The schoolhouse was built to unite a rural community and to serve as a meeting place for the area’s residents, which it has been doing since its inception. In 1995 it began to unite the community in a different way.
For the past 20 years, Vale Arts has been meeting twice a year to put together art shows in the schoolhouse that not only bring together local artists but also expose the community to local art. The group, made up entirely of women, has been a consistent force in the art world.
“Initially, we were all people who did something else and did art in our spare time,” says Diana Eichler, one of the original group members. “We all planned on how we were going to put together our first show with such excitement. There was a movie and in it Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney look at each other and go, ‘Oh! Let’s have a show!’ and so they get together this show. That is the kind of ridiculous enthusiasm that we had towards our first show,” Eichler says.
At the heart of Vale Arts is the diversity that comes with it. It is this same diversity in both group members and art that keeps the excitement alive for every show.
“We have a group of women who do very different art. There are traditional artists alongside mixed media art, so if you walk into the show everyone will see something that tickles their fancy,” explains Meredith Hannon, the newest member of Vale Arts.
“Some of the women in the group are professional artists, while others do art as a side focus after their 9-to-5 job. We have women who work as nurses, graphic designers or even material engineers. We also have a wide age range in our group, which brings a different perspective of what subject matter people paint,” Hannon says.
The Northern Virginia area that all these women call home brought the group together, but Lorrie Harman, a group member since 2012, explains that it is the artwork and the shows that keep them together. “The diversity of the group doesn’t really affect the way we interact. The common thread is that we are all artists and share a common interest to have the shows,” she says. “I admire their persistence to have the shows, to share their work with the community and to give local artists a venue to sell their work.”
The group’s 2015 fall show, from Sept. 25-27, is themed to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The group has invited back all previous members of the group to present their work once again in the community-centric Vale Schoolhouse.