On any first Friday of the month — warm or cold, rain or shine — downtown Fredericksburg, Texas, is alive with people carrying cups of wine and moving among the city's 13 full-time galleries.
They come here for the Hill Country scenery, outdoor recreation and much more, but mostly they come for the art.
"This city is a hotbed of artists who want to live in a beautiful place," said Ernie Loeffler, director of the local convention and visitor bureau.
Much of the art they produce is museum-quality, and it runs the gamut from Carlos Moseley's whimsical pieces fashioned from rocks found in a river near his home to George Northrup's sculptures of people, animals and birds that grace the offices of two governors.
The best part is that among these artists is a spirit of cooperation and esprit de corps. They support one another's efforts, and many of them teach others what they know.
While Nancy Bush paints oils in her studio, for example, her husband, Bill, runs the Fredericksburg Artists' School, bringing in professional artists from all over the country to teach classes that range from beginner to pro. Marie Wise, another local artist, credits Bush with being her mentor and teaching her to crop her expansive landscapes.
At the Barons Creek Art School mixed-media artist Jill Holland offers Art and Vino classes where individuals or groups can go for an evening of painting instruction that will result in a finished piece to take home.
Holland is one of the original founders of the First Friday Art Walks and also a founder of the Good Art Company gallery. Niki Gulley, who exhibits at Good Art, sometimes teaches at Barons Creek and also leads painting treks to places such as Italy and Greece — and so it goes.
Many of the artists welcome guests into their studios for visits that can be arranged through the gallery representing the individual's work. Anne and Barry Bradley own the Artisans at Rocky Hill gallery, so that's where I went to arrange a visit to Barry's wood-filled workshop.
"I'm a scrounger," he said during my visit. "If a tree is falling, I'm there with my chainsaw."
Bradley worked for years as a shop teacher in Houston, and that experience has served him well in his career as a full-time artist. His school was in a manufacturing area of the city, and he recalls "dumpster-diving" for found items to use in his work. When a countertop company threw away their sink cutouts, he rescued the pieces and turned them into cutting boards.
Today his work is considerably more sophisticated. One colorful table called "Smoke Signals," which ripples like a Navajo blanket, is for sale at $5,500 — not bad considering that he spent some 200 hours making it. He has won several awards at recent Texas Furniture Makers Shows, and he makes commissioned pieces such as fireplace mantels, dining tables and wine racks, but his work also includes nature-based wooden sculptures of everything from fish to animal skulls.
Holland — the Art and Vino instructor — also has a studio that makes for a fun visit.
"I believe in no rules," she said the day I was there. "I use drywall paste, house paint, acrylics — a wide range of materials."
She sometimes paints on the floor and then takes the canvas outside to let the sun create unusual effects in the paint. Or she spray-paints several backgrounds at once, pours as many as 10 layers of paint onto a canvas, paints on slate and uses reclaimed items for an architectural salvage warehouse.
Jack Terry, a real-life former cowboy, has turned a guesthouse behind his home into the studio where he uses impressionistic techniques to create Western pictures owned by the likes of former President George W.