Alexandria, VA – ‘Tis the season to be shopping. What better source for all your gifting needs than the diverse local art gallery scene here in Port City? From the making mecca of the Torpedo Factory to the creative corner of Del Ray Artisans Gallery, and all the awesome spaces in between, art is all around.
Once the holiday gifting has passed, a wealth of engaging exhibits on view and historic halls decked with boughs of holly are guaranteed to entertain family and friends.
The Torpedo Factory Art Center is not to be missed. Three floors of working artists’ studios are open seven days a week—price points to suit everyone on Santa’s nice list. For the naughty, there’s jewelry, hand-made artisanal wearables, and wall art to give—certain to get you back in generally good graces with family and friends, if not Santa. Eight days of Hanukkah means eight days of gifts. Why not make original artwork and artisans fare an extraordinary present to those you love?
The Del Ray Artisans Gallery devotes its exhibit space during December to the popular Holiday Market. Now in its 28th year, the weekends-only event has been named one of the top twelve holiday markets in the DMV by Washingtonian Magazine. Each weekend, Friday-Sunday (with a bonus extra two-day market added this year) features different exhibiting artists and artisans. Come early each Friday for first dibs on unique holiday gift finds. There’s no regifting when you buy art!
Looking for some artful activities to enjoy with the fam? When most museums in DC are free of charge and open every day save Christmas, it’s nearly impossible to have nothing to do. It’s a lot easier these days to visit the National Museum of African American History – a personal favorite. The newly reopened National Museum of Women in the Arts is an oasis of artfully inspired serenity amid the madness of downtown DC. Admission is charged, but the first Sunday and Second Wednesday of each month are free for all, with online reservations recommended.
Loading up the car for a quick trip to the Udvar-Hazy Dulles extension of the Air and Space Museum is a great idea. Parking is $15 before 4 pm, but admission is free. Treat yourselves to an IMAX film while you’re there.
Staying closer to home in Alexandria, there’s a cornucopia of culture, art, and history. Everyone knows about George Washington’s Mount Vernon. They pull out all the stops to make the holidays extra special. Candlelight tours are held December 1-2, 8-9, and 17. Holiday Illuminations (fireworks) over the Manse on December 15 and 16 are an annual event that delights throngs of holiday revelers braving winter’s chill. The gingerbread Mount Vernon Mansion returns along with Aladdin the camel, making for a very Mount Vernon Christmas. Mount Vernon is open daily, including Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The Washingtons didn’t celebrate the holidays with excessive decor. The dining table in the Green Room, the largest space in the mansion, is brought out for the holidays. It’s set with fine china and crystal, showcasing the traditional treats of the season, such as the savory Yorkshire Christmas Pie. The feast finale, Martha’s Great Cake, one of the few surviving recipes used by Martha Washington, served as part of the grand Christmas feast celebration on Twelfth Night. You can pick up a Great Cake recipe card during your visit or online.
Don’t worry about the spartan holiday hoopla among colonial gentility. There’s plenty of modern holiday cheer and decor in the Visitors Center and the Education Center and Museum entrance. Stay for lunch or dinner at the Mount Vernon Inn, always festive to the rafters for the holidays.
The lesser-known Lee-Fendall House and Garden on Oronoco Street in Old Town was the home of Revolutionary War hero and friend of General Washington, Lighthorse Harry Lee. He was the father of Robert E. Lee, who grew up in the now private residence across the street. Other famous and lesser-known occupants included the AFL-CIO Union leader John L. Lewis and the Fendall family, whose descendants own Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame.
The storied home is decorated in the Victorian style for the holidays. A family-friendly Victorian Christmas event is held on December 9. Enjoy holiday decor, music, seasonal crafts, and a toy exhibit from Victorian times. Celebrate the season in splendor with evening candlelight tours and learn how the Victorian era kickstarted many of our contemporary traditions. There will be a holiday candlelight tour on December 15 and 16. Tickets for holiday special events and tours can be found on eventbrite.com
Across the moat at National Harbor is a new experience, Titanic: The Exhibition. The self-guided audio tour takes you on a timeline of Titanic’s origins, from the ironworks and shipbuilders in Belfast, Ireland, to a memorial honoring the 1,517 souls lost. Tickets are on sale through January 7, 2024. Adult admission is $30 on weekdays and $37 on weekends; $25 on weekdays and $28 on weekends for ages 4-12.
The comprehensive exhibition is diverting and sure to entertain Titanic enthusiasts, young and old. Children under 8 aren’t as likely to enjoy the informative aspects of the curation. Nonetheless, plenty of kids were touring the exhibit, which took about 90 minutes to view. There is only one hands-on display, a frozen panel of a simulated iceberg giving visitors the sensation of the frigid temps of the North Atlantic. Kids of all ages loved it.
Shop for art ‘til you drop this season between revisiting Christmases past and touring the jolly sights and sounds of holidays present. You’ll thank us later.
The Art League Gallery at the Torpedo Factory Art Center: See the December Open Exhibit juried by David Culpepper. Also, from now to February 5, Gallery 75—the gallery within the gallery—displays work by artists who were juried into three shows during the year. Lots of unique, affordable artwork perfect for holiday gift giving and beyond.
Saturday, December 16, 11 am – 12:30 pm is the Holiday Craft Brew — a crafting coffee break. Participants make ornaments from wire trees and stars (provided), which they can embellish with beads and wire to add colorful touches for gifting or keeping. This activity is free of charge. All ages are welcome and it’s beginner-friendly!
The Art League Annex ~ Save the date for the Annual Student Holiday Ceramics Sale in the Annex at 305 Madison Street. The popular event is back December 8-10. The Early Sale and Raffle is on Friday, December 8, with clay-throwing demos, food, drink, and a chance to win a piece by an Art League instructor. Admission is $10 and includes one raffle ticket. On Saturday and Sunday, admission is free with complimentary hot chocolate served.
Athenaeum ~ 202 Prince Street, Alexandria: Leanne Finks | National Parks on exhibit from November 30- January 7, 2024. Home for the holidays? Fink’s vibrant, evocative oil paintings depicting scenes of our great national parks will transport you to engaging locales near and far.
Del Ray Artisans ~ 2704 Mount Vernon, Alexandria: The 28th Annual Holiday Market returns on weekends, from Friday, December 1 through Saturday, December 23, with a bonus weekend new this year. Both members and area artists are represented in all media. Each weekend presents new vendors, so shop early and shop often! Check the DRA website for the schedule of participating artists and artisans.
Galactic Panther ~ Where Art Takes Center Stage at 1303 King Street, Alexandria: The coolest art space in the DMV where a percentage of all sales goes to charities that feed people in need. Your gift of art purchased here counts as two presents – giving back to others as well.
CIRCUS ORBUS – SEE TO BELIEVE continues until December 9th with Highways and Haunts: Prints by Emmett Merrill. On the 9th there will be an opening reception for WONDER WOMEN: An International Exhibition of Art by Women. The opening reception will be held on the 9th from 2:30 to 6:30 pm and will feature live music by Chieflow and EazyDoeziT. The opening is free and open to the public. The exhibit features prints, paintings, drawings, mixed-media, photography, and sculpture including affordable gifts made by 11 women from around the world. There’s lots of super cool artwork in all price ranges and gift/merch options certain to please the hardest people to gift on your shopping list.
Multiple Exposures Gallery ~ Studio #312 of the Torpedo Factory: A Touch of Red, a new fine art photography exhibit juried by East City Art founder Phil Hutinet, on view through December 31. The work of 14 photographers who expressed “not only the intrinsic quality of red but also adeptly positioned the color within an expertly shot image,” as Hutinet explains. What expresses the joy of the holiday season more than the color red?
Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, 1909 Windmill Lane, Alexandria. In case you missed it last month, the holiday shop and artist exhibit in the commons and the fireplace alcove have been extended through December 29th. Featured artists include: Lisa Blair, Pete Bloom, Bonnie Brandt, Karen Delmonico, Steven Halperson, Jeanne McIntyre, Carey Milne, Lyn Millett, Jeanne Tifft, and Nina Tisara. Art makes a unique holiday gift for all.
Nepenthe Gallery ~ Mark your calendars for another month of artful activities and events chez Nepenthe!
- December 7: ART + WINE + CHEESE Derek Aday, Dean & Director of VIMS (Virginia Institute of Marine Science), will talk about the work at VIMS, and David Turner will open an exhibit of his exquisite bronze nature sculptures.
- December 14: ART + WINE + CHEESE Spotlights the painting “Afternoon in the Adirondacks” (c.1849). Patty Owens, curator of Nepenthe Gallery and a former docent at the National Gallery of Art for 40 years, will lead a discussion about this masterpiece painting on loan to the gallery by the second-generation artist of the Hudson River School, John Frederick Kensett.
- December 21: ART + WINE + CHEESE Holiday Art Blitz: Everything on the walls at the gallery, upstairs and down, is 20 percent off. You can’t buy wrong with the gift that keeps on giving—ART!
Potomac Fiber Arts Gallery ~ Studio #105 of the Torpedo Factory: Celebrations is the featured holiday theme on exhibit in the first fiber arts gallery in the DMV, now through January 7, 2024. The artwork is juried to maintain a standard of highest artistry throughout the 11 themed shows annually, spotlighting every aspect of fiber artistry from quilts and garments to jewelry and sculpture in all fiber media and even the more unconventional materials such as metal, glass, wood, and clay. The perfectly unique gift for your special someone or someones is waiting here for you to discover.
Principle Gallery ~ 208 King Street, Alexandria: The Principle Gallery opened in 1994 in the former historic Gilpin House gift shop and is the premier purveyor of fine Contemporary Realism art in Alexandria and around the DMV. Great gifts come in small packages!
Printmakers, Inc. ~ A nonprofit print-making workshop and gallery in Studio 14 of the Torpedo Factory presents Farm Fresh Memories, a two-person show featuring print work by Pamela C. Day and Avis Fleming, on exhibit through January 31, 2024. A closing reception will be on January 28 from 1:00 – 5:00 pm. Pam and Avis’s “down on the farm” motifs pull the curtain back on pastoral days of both artists’ farm-life memories and reveries. Prints make marvelous and affordable gifts. They also create a solid kickstart for a lifetime of art collection.
Happy Holidays and Happy Arting to all!