Where is Shrine Mont? What is Shrine Mont? How is it connected to the arts? Some readers may have heard of/attended the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival (SVMF) held each summer since 1963, in the pavilion of Shrine Mont’s Virginia House (formerly the Orkney Springs Hotel). The SVMF is the longest running music festival in Virginia. Shrine Mont has another arts connection: the Art House and acclaimed artist John Douglas Woodward.
Shrine Mont is now a retreat and conference center located in Orkney Springs, at the foot of Great North Mountain in Shenandoah County and bordering the George Washington National Forest. The four-story Virginia House (once the Orkney Springs Hotel) is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and was purchased along with 1000 acres surrounding it by Shrine Mont in 1979. The Virginia House was renovated in 1987. In 1948, Wilmer E. Moomaw was appointed as Director of Shrine Mont and under his tenure, the property was improved and renovated, adding new facilities and attracting more visitors. Today, his grandson Kevin Moomaw is the Director of Shrine Mont; Kevin’s wife Mary is the Director of Programs at the center.
The Orkney Springs Hotel and other hotels were built in the village of Orkney Springs, Virginia, at the foot of Great North Mountain in Shenandoah County and bordering the George Washington National Forest around 1875. A short distance from the hotel are seven springs, where visitors traveled to “take the waters” of the springs believed to healing powers. Native Americans earlier had built a settlement near the springs.
In the late 1800s, Episcopal church services were held in the hotel, often by the Sixth Bishop of Virginia, Robert Atkinson Gibson. The bishop bought Tanglewood Cottage for his summer residence and decided to establish year-round worship at Orkney Springs. Bishop Gibson died in 1919. Gibson’s son-in-law, the Reverend Edmund Lee Woodward, purchased land with his wife and built Gibson Cottage, a log cabin finished in 1928, and moved to Orkney Springs year-round. The Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration, an open-air cathedral of the Diocese which Woodward had built was concentrated in 1925. Later, the Woodwards deeded the property including their cabin and the shrine to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Dr. Woodward was appointed pastor of the Shrine for life.
John Douglas Woodward, the Rev. Woodward’s uncle, was born in Virginia in 1946 and became a famous artist in New York in the 1870s and 1880s. The artist Woodward traveled often to draw landscapes and cityscapes which were reproduced as wood and steel engravings. His art was shown in international publications such as Picturesque America (1872-74) and Picturesque Palestine, Sinai, and Egypt (1881-84.) In the 1880s and 1890s, Woodward began oil painting of seasonal changes around his home in New Rochelle, New York. When he died in 1924, his widow donated his works to Shrine Mont, and built Art Hall as a memorial to him. Shrine Mont used the Hall as a meeting space. Art Hall has 85 paintings hung in the French salon style (one above the other. Shrine Mont also has hundreds of his works on paper including sketches, magazine illustrations, pastels, water colors and studies for oils in storage.
According to Kirk Gibson, Director of Development at Shrine Mont plans to renovate Art Hall as part of its Centennial Celebration in 2025, so that the Woodward collection has a proper home, and the hall can be used as a vibrant culture center for artists, students, and art enthusiasts. The Shrine Mont Art Committee, chaired by Sue Rainey since 1990, has overseen the cleaning and restoration of the paintings funded primarily by individuals’ contributions and fundraising.
In July, 2023, the Valley Educational Center for the Creative Arts (VECCA) featured John Douglas Woodward as the Artist of the Month in their gallery in Woodstock, Virginia. Sarah Elizabeth Nichols Kohrs, President of VECCA, explains that VECCA is “an educational non-profit dedicated to connecting the community with the creative arts.” The non-profit is completely run by volunteers like Kohrs who are passionate about the Arts. During a reception on July 22, 2023, Kirk Gibson gave an illustrated talk on the life and works of Woodward, as well as Shrine Mont’s future plans to renovate Art Hall. Kohrs notes that VECCA welcomes artists to apply for the Artist of the Month designation and exhibition. VECCA plans to start art camps and artist retreats in the future, possibly collaborating with Shrine Mont.
Kirk Gibson has already done outreach to the community to share the art of John Douglas Woodward, and to get ideas for the renovation and future use of Art Hall. He reached out to Shenandoah County Public Schools prior to the pandemic, and hosted the art teachers in Shenandoah County on a professional development day so that they could see the art, learn about the artist, and share their thoughts on how Art Hall could have an impact in the future. He continues to work with the art teachers. Shrine Mont also sponsors art camps for students. How wonderful it is to have art preserved and shared and artists encouraged at a place like Shrine Mont!