Stone Ridge Farm Country Inn
Stone Ridge Country Inn in Bucks County, Pa.
New Mexico artist Ann Templeton stepped softly across the spotless concrete floor, careful not to break the concentration of the eight painters in the art studio. We were painting landscapes from photographs clipped to mahogany floor easels. Apart from the ping of raindrops hitting the window -- the reason we were working indoors that morning -- the only noise I could hear in the Bucks County, Pa., studio was the scratching of paintbrush bristles on canvas.
Until Jackie Walker arrived.
The owner of the Stone Ridge Farm Country Inn burst through the studio door like a lit bottle rocket. "All right, everybody," she said in her booming, sandpapery voice. "Coffee break."
I paused. Did I, a city dweller living near an always-busy firehouse and late-night bars, really want to drift away from the rare silence I'd found inside the art studio on Walker's farm? Then I remembered from the day before what was waiting in the kitchen of the 19th-century dairy-barn-turned-inn just across the gravel driveway: Oversize, moist muffins, just plucked from the oven and exploding with fat blueberries. Ramekins of creamy butter. Hefty mugs of perfectly brewed coffee.
Easy decision: The creative process could wait.
Once the dairy barn of Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck, the inn sits within walking distance of the historic estate, outside the town of Perkasie, where Buck penned many of her 1,000 writings. Creative inspiration is ingrained in these surroundings -- one reason Walker decided to turn an old machinery garage into an art studio and offer workshops seven months out of a year.
"The scenery around here really inspires you," said Walker, a Chicago transplant and accomplished oil painter who shows her work at area galleries. "The stone farmhouses, the barns, the Delaware River. I think if I were still living in Illinois, I wouldn't be so inspired."
Walker purchased the 1818 farm a quarter-century ago. After renting out the double-story barn for years, she and her husband plotted a major renovation to convert it and the adjoining horse stables into a bed-and-breakfast, which opened in 1999.
"I was afraid someone would want to buy it one day and would tear it down," she said.
It's a good thing no one did, as I learned during a five-day stay there late last summer, when I participated in a Templeton-led plein-air painting workshop, looking to expand my painting subjects beyond the ubiquitous fruit-and-napkin still lifes I set up at home.
The inn's walls are of coursed fieldstone, and original hand-hewn beams cross the soaring ceiling in the parlor. The building is filled with the requisite overstuffed chairs, antiques, Oriental carpets atop planked floors and coffee tables piled with art books and magazines.
The 10 guest rooms are similarly decorated, with simple furnishings and an inviting, well-worn feel. Most rooms have access to a deck that runs the length of the building and face either an English-style garden filled with whimsical sculptures or the pasture, where six horses graze.
As true to character as the inn and its rooms are, however, the studio is the picture of modernity. Walker designed it to be top-notch. It's the only art studio I've ever been in where all the easels are functional, the taborets don't wobble and the shelves of still-life objects aren't covered in dust. Walker's art adorns the walls. Perfectly positioned windows pull in natural light.
The inn is not just a respite for those who sign up for three- or five-day workshops with such nationally acclaimed artists as Templeton. It's also a great base for exploring Bucks County's small museums, historic mills and many covered bridges.
We spent several days traveling to picturesque outdoor painting spots within 30 minutes of the inn. One day we drove, caravan-style, along curvy country lanes and across the Cabin Run Covered Bridge before arriving at the historic Stover-Myers Mill. On the National Register of Historic Places, the mill dates to 1800 and at various times produced flour, livestock feed and lumber. Its textured stones and burnt-red walls made a lovely subject for a painting, but it was just one of many to choose from here.
Most of my fellow artists staked a claim on roadside spots within sight of a massive red barn across the street. I found a nook along Tohickon Creek, set up my easel and spent hours dabbing away at an acrylic-on-canvas rendering of the water and surrounding trees.
Later, a few of us took a late-afternoon outing to visit art galleries in Lambertville, N.J., and have dinner along the canal in New Hope, Pa. No matter where we went, we were surrounded by art.
Once I returned home, though, I relegated the five paintings I'd done that week to storage under my bed. I'll be the first to admit that they're not my best work. But as is the case in so many creative pursuits, the process, not the final product, was the point.
Leibowitz Poma works for the World Wildlife Fund and paints in her spare time.