Upon hearing that spots were available in a beginners’ weekend oil session at Nimrod Hall, I didn’t even think. aLe and jCb have rhapsodized about their experiences there over the years, so I quickly checked my calendar and signed up. Then life got very crazy, and I pretty much forgot about it.
Occasionally, though, when I needed a mental escape, I would remember this real life escape hovering on the horizon and smile. My focus was on the escape that painting provides when my mind fully engages in the process and I physically feel synapses make new connections across my brain. I was not prepared for becoming reacquainted with the joys of summer camp and embracing the charm of Nimrod Hall and the beauty of its cool mountain surroundings.
Armed only with a Yeti filled with drinks (including adult beverages) and some old clothes, I headed west and eventually found myself driving past Camp Mont Shenandoah, where many a RVA girl has embraced summer camp. The twisting two-lane road eventually leads to the Nimrod Hall turnoff and the first glimpses of this red-roofed retreat. From the moment I spotted its fences, I was captivated.
Feeling like I’d stepped back 50 years, I turned off my cell phone while unpacking. The un-air-conditioned cabin painted a beautiful shade of aqua and filled with vintage linens, shared bathrooms and a commodious front porch facing the western mountains were straight out of an Appalachian novel. Unplugged and open to new experience, the time had finally arrived to immerse myself in this unique retreat.
As at any summer camp, meeting new friends, especially my cabin-mates, and getting to know some acquaintances from Richmond better was first up on the agenda. Family-style dining in the commodious dining room facilitated interaction among the attendees of the two different classes that weekend. Many were moms who quickly bonded in our delight to be free of meal planning, shopping and preparation for two whole days.
Post-dinner class instruction began along with the opportunity to get to know our instructor, Richmond artist Anne Walker. A student herself of Nimrod Hall’s owner, artist Laura Loe, Anne’s engaging and encouraging style soon had everyone warming up by painting a piece of fruit in at least three hues to give the subject of our canvas dimension. Though, as typical art students, everyone downplayed their own work, the old post office building where we worked was filled with the joy of creating.
Though painting continued past 9:30, the night sky still held a bit of dusk from the late setting sun. My cabin-mates and I sat on our porch enjoying glasses of wine until we could no longer tell the mountains from the sky. The fireflies dancing over the small meadow below our cabin served as our campfire while we shared stories of our lives, bonding like young girls away at their first sleep-over camp.
Sleeping with the screened windows open and the fans on was a revelation, and I cocooned in the comfy bed until the late for me hour of 6:15 am. I couldn’t wait to see what was in store in this magical setting made more so by the fog lacing the valley and mountains in the wee hours.
As the fog burned off, the birds sang while I swayed in a blue bench swing enjoying an early cup of coffee. Gradually folks emerged from their cabins and shared greetings in whispers so as not to wake the others. Nimrod Hall rises slowly. Breakfast isn’t served until 8:30, so there is plenty of time to hike, read or simply dream before the real activities commence.
During morning and afternoon art sessions, Anne provided subject suggestions and quick demonstrations. First we would paint one of the building landscapes at Nimrod. While leading us on a tour of possibilities, she discussed lighting and color and distinguishing features.
Fortunately Anne also had photos for our reference as most of us were a little too green to try en plein air painting, the focus of the other class taking place that weekend. I found a cozy spot on the old post office porch, though, and got to painting my attempt at it.
The afternoon session found most of us painting flower arrangements taken straight off Nimrod’s dining tables. Plucked from the gardens and pots that Laura lovingly tends, these casual designs gracing Ball jars were a natural subject. Such a simple garden arrangement will now always remind me of Nimrod Hall.
While the art class was the camp focus, my favorite highlight was the cocktail hour inner tube float down the Cowpasture River. The water was the perfect temperature after a short hike from Nimrod to the Heaven’s Gate bridge where we put in. With the river running low after a few dry weeks, our float lasted for a lazy half-hour or so under a canopy of trees that dappled the clear water. Recalling the joy of river inner-tube floating in my youth, I realized with a pang of regret that my own children have not experienced this pleasure and vowed to make that happen.
After another evening enjoying the company of fellow campers in this mountain setting that has served as a summer artists retreat for over thirty years and a rustic resort long before that, I woke up early Sunday eager to complete my paintings before heading back to reality. While Nimrod now focuses on creating art, this retreat that Laura and her husband have been updating since they purchased it three years ago is the quintessential summer camp for grown-ups, containing all the requisite elements. As the newly-beloved sound of a slamming screen door faded in my ears, I departed with the belief that everyone deserves the chance to attend a summer camp that focuses on a favorite hobby or new interest, as well as the hope of returning next summer for a five day session. Why should kids have all the fun?
August 3, 2017