Walking into Franny Kansteiner's art gallery and boutique, The Studio, on Middleburg's Federal Street is like stumbling into a candy store, temptations beckoning at every turn.
The 2,200-square-foot space, a former laundromat, showcases paintings, sculpture, objets d'art, soaps, jewelry, cards, vases and unusual gifts for sale. It is also a venue for writing workshops, courses on such topics as digital photography and drawing, lectures on architecture, historical preservation and land conservation, and exhibitions that feature local artists, designers and artisans.
"Franny has single-handedly revitalized the Middleburg art scene, raising the bar to a new level in quality and craft," said Nani Power, a writer from The Plains who has conducted several writing workshops at The Studio. "She has been incredibly supportive of local artists by organizing workshops and events which support the artists and encourage public recognition."
Middleburg artist Dana Volkert, who exhibited her botanical paintings at The Studio last year, said Kansteiner has "exposed Middleburg to a different level of art -- much more like New York [than a small town] and a more eclectic mix."
Kansteiner, 46, said she opened The Studio in 2002 because she has always had an interest in the arts "and Middleburg seemed to need something culturally to match the incredible talent we had living here."
"Many talented people live and create their work in the wonderfully pastoral acres of Loudoun and Fauquier counties, then show and publish it elsewhere," she said. "I wanted a place to celebrate and experience some of the work being made here."
Many people are lured through the doors of her yellow stucco building one block north of Main Street by the window displays of red-and-black African Namje dolls, African metalwork and beaded dog collars. Inside, they might find crystal-and-bead necklaces by Middleburg jewelry designer Cassie McGettigan or Courtney Gillen's earrings, necklaces and bracelets of sterling silver and freshwater pearls. There might also be heavy crystal bowls, delicate perfume bottles, mint-infused candles, amusing cards and colorful ceramics -- all artistically displayed on long wooden tables.
Others come for The Studio's courses, which generally cost between $125 and $200. Warrenton photographer Nemo Neiman taught a class called Digital Photography as Fine Art in January; tile maker Joan Gardiner offered American Art Tile Workshop in winter 2002. Two years ago, Washington, Va., storyteller Julie Portman had students produce autobiographies in Writing Your Life Story, and David Leavitt inspired would-be decorators in a Faux Painting Workshop this past winter.
"The Studio has opened up a whole new world to me," said Middleburg resident Michele Trufant. "This winter I applied to documentary film school at [George Washington University] and didn't get in, so I was at a loss. The day after, I got a flier about the Amy Gerber documentary film course. It was one of the best experiences I've had in Middleburg. Two months later. Franny offered a writing course with Nani Power. It's just been wonderful."
Kansteiner, who has lived in Africa, Chicago and Washington, said she finds Middleburg ideal for artistic, literary and intellectual pursuits. It also supports her other interests: show-jumping, fox hunting and, most important, raising her two children: Chalker, 12, and Beverly, 18.
"Middleburg is a unique town. It's a wonderful place to live, and rife with talent," she said. "Best-selling novelists are your next-door neighbors."
Woven into this fabric of exhibitions and workshops are Kansteiner's efforts to raise money for the African causes close to her heart and that of her husband, Walter Kansteiner. Walter Kansteiner is a founding principal of the Scowcroft Group, a firm that helps clients pursue business opportunities in Africa, and was assistant secretary of state for African affairs from January 2001 to October 2003.
After they married in 1980, they moved to Kyalami, South Africa, where her husband finished his thesis on international economics. Five years later, when he decided to pursue a master's degree in theology from the Virginia Theological Seminary, the Kansteiners moved to Loudoun.
But the couple's ties to Africa remain strong. During their 20 years in Loudoun, they have made frequent trips to that continent, where Franny Kansteiner picks up crafts such as candlesticks, wooden bowls, thick-beaded necklaces, pottery and silverware.
Kansteiner's last fundraiser, at her Gum Tree Farm outside Middleburg, benefited the African Wildlife Foundation, which protects mountain gorillas; Imbewu, which sponsors wilderness excursions for poor youths led by retired game wardens or other rural community leaders; and an African parks foundation.
"Franny is a very active force in the community," said Jimmy Hatcher, an Upperville real estate agent, who said he regards The Studio as a "living museum" akin to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, which has integrated visual and performing arts. "With the gallery and live theater, The Studio is a place you can participate in."
Kansteiner's lineup for the fall includes a course on the Italian Renaissance, a writing course, and a lecture, called Art in the Landscape, by Sheila Brady, a partner in the District landscape architecture firm Oehme, van Sweden & Associates. Peter Power of the Art Institute of Chicago will hold a show of his hard-edged abstractions.
"I think The Studio is a wonderful hub that strengthens and expands the community." Upperville resident Lydia Strohl said.
"Franny does the legwork to suss out artists that live among us and give us regular joes an opportunity to meet them and to peek into their studios."