Art Lover’s Williamsburg: Museums, Galleries and Festivals

Sample the eclectic array of world-class museums, specialty galleries and lively art festivals in this cultural hub.

An Occasion for the Arts
A Touch of Earth
Yorktown's Art at the River
Black Dog Gallery
Muscarelle Museum of Art

Virginia may be for lovers. But Greater Williamsburg is definitely for art lovers.

The area’s museums and festivals have long been enduring attractions offering everything from contemporary to folk to decorative art.

It’s only going to get better.

Art lovers will get more of a good thing with the $40 million expansion and upgrade to the building that houses two world-class museums, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum and the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. Construction of the new wing begins in the spring of 2017 and will add 65,000 square feet to the museum and will create a new entrance and museum store and add a cafe. Both the museums remain open during their expansion.

But there's no reason to wait to explore the wealth of museum, special exhibitions and arts festivals in the area.

The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum

Stop by and say happy birthday to the Abby Aldrich Folk Art Museum, celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. It's the oldest continuously operating institution in the United States dedicated to the collection, exhibition and preservation of American folk art.

Among the ongoing exhibits at the museum are “German Toys in America” featuring 19th-century wooden dolls, soldiers and animals and “A Century of African-American Quilts” dating to 1875. Fans of the high seas will want to check out “American Ship Paintings,” showcasing five ships, including the first winner of the America's Cup. For landlubbers, there’s a walk through “Sidewalks to Rooftops: Outdoor Folk Art.” It examines signboards, storefront figures, marine carvings, carousel animals and other pieces from the 19th and 20th century.

The DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum of Colonial Williamsburg

Enjoy the finer things at this museum, including the world's largest collection of southern furniture and one of the largest collections of British ceramics outside England. Among the special exhibitions this year are “Lock, Stock, and Barrel,” featuring early British weaponry (runs through Nov. 5); “The World Made Small,” showcasing dollhouses dating to 1820 (runs through February 2018), and “Birds, Bugs, and Blooms: Observing the Natural World in the 18th Century,” which explores the growth of interest in natural history through 18th-century period illustrations (runs through August).

The Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary

The Muscarelle’s revolving permanent collection is eclectic and varied. It has more than 5,000 works, including English and American portraits from as far back as the 17th century. You will find European and American prints, drawings and paintings from the 14th to 21st centuries, Japanese prints, African art and Asian ceramics. Among the ongoing exhibits are “The Rise and Fall of the Dynasties: 2000 Years of Chinese Antiquities” and “The Art and Science of Connoisseurship,” which explores the creative narrative behind six paintings attributed to masters including Agnolo Bronzino, Peter Paul Rubens and Paul Cézanne (runs through Aug. 13).

Galleries

When you've finished your museum tours, keep on walking through the many galleries in the area.  

The American Art Awards named the Williamsburg Art Gallery as the best in the state and one of the top 25 in the nation for exhibiting artists ranging from celebrated local landscape traditionalists to international artists from Italy, Turkey, France, Panama, The Netherlands and Russia. “This is a warm, poignant, timely crossroads for art,” wrote the president of the awards.

Colonial Folk Art in Williamsburg is an eclectic place to find work by local artists as well as vintage works by the Rev. Howard Finster and modern pieces by French artist Max Papart. You’ll also find classes in mixed media and handbuilding ceramics.

The Black Dog Gallery in Yorktown is home to a variety of products including historically accurate floor cloths and furniture; the gallery worked on the movie, The Patriot, as well as the HBO series, John Adams. You will also find antique and contemporary maps, prints and landscapes.  

At the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center, explore classes for youth and adults as well as ever-changing exhibits featuring regional and local artists.

For something different, there’s Quirks of Art in Williamsburg, one of the area’s sources for handcrafted works from 400 artisans, ranging from jewelry to pottery to clothing.  The long-standing — 34 years and counting — A Touch of Earth is an American craft gallery in Williamsburg with prints, paintings, metal works, jewelry and other collectibles.

Festivals and Outdoor Events

Museums and galleries are just the start of the fun for art lovers in Greater Williamsburg. Be sure to mark your calendar for the spring and fall arts festivals.  Williamsburg's Spring Arts celebrates art, music, food and so much more with more than 50 events from March through the first day of summer in Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, James City County and York County. Among the events are the annual New Town Chalk Art & Family Fest for pros and amateurs of all ages; the Second Sunday Art Show by Culture-Fix with more than 100 artists and craftsmen; and Art on the Square, featuring more than 100 artists and fine craftsmen in Merchants Square, all in April. In May, Art at the River showcases more than 100 juried artists, live music and food vendors on the York River at Riverwalk Landing in Historic Yorktown.

In the autumn, don’t miss the arts and crafts events of the Fall Arts Season. Highlights include the Yorktown Art Stroll at Riverwalk Landing, when the shops, galleries and restaurants in Historic Yorktown Village host Virginia artists and artisans in late September; the 50-year-old An Occasion for the Arts, a national top-20 art show on Oct. 7-8; and the Art Escape Weekend in early October.

If your love for art tends towards the musical note, check out the extensive festivals and concerts in Greater Williamsburg highlighted by Sheryl Crow and LeAnn Rimes, both performing in June, as well as shows throughout the year. To experience more culture in Greater Williamsburg, check out these fun cultural activities and plan your visit today.

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