More on Clifton Forge School of the Arts

The first part in this pair of stories introduced us to Helen Kostel and Henrieeta Crandall, the two wonder women behind the Clifton Forge School of the Arts. They described how just the right instructors showed up to offer their expertise, shortly after the old Cook Tire Company building was given to the school. This collaboration between the City of Clifton Forge, The Allegheny Foundation, The Clifton Forge Company, and Mr Cook started an institution that not only improves quality of life in the area, but is also a big plus for economic development.

The long list of class offerings in everything from blacksmithing and botanical illustration, to yoga are now available to all ages. And as to how those classes came into being? Many of the stories are similar to when Georga Ayars visited the school one day and asked Helen and Henrietta a question.

“Had we any interest in offering class classes? Yes, so that building across the way, the Wholesale Grocery Company, Hall Transfer, we made it for Mr. Ayars to conduct his stain glass classes, so it was a little serendipitous, you know?”

By now the school was outfitting some multi–use classrooms and the Mill with four forges and anvils, and a ventilation system. I asked Henritta, as the one who facilitates buildings and grounds decisions, what a challenge that must have been.

She said, once again, the right balance between delegating and teamwork made it possible.

“And that’s how it’s worked with all of our instructors. The person takes charge of their particular thing.”

Getting the pottery studio set up was a stroke of luck too, in that a local retiree, who needed to pass along kilns, a wheel, and bisqueware chose to donate to the school.

Yet the ongoing need for large gifts, and growing enrollment require more than artistic experience.

“We also seek grants. We’ve sought grants from the Allegheny Foundation, The Richard Reynolds Foundation, the William Reynolds Foundation, a charitable foundation from Richmond. The town of Clifton Forge gives us a small grant by way of the Virginia Commission for the Arts so that we can do some instructional programs and some scholarships. We have people giving us gifts for scholarships, which we’re very grateful. We have the Community Foundation of Rockbridge, Bath and Allegheny County giving us a wonderful scholarship, which is about to expire this year. We mete out those scholarships carefully and economically so that we get the most advantage from them.”

Like many non-profit groups, Clifton Forge School of the Arts also makes its Mill and Garden available for a fee for special occasions. There was a wedding n the garden last summer and three more booked already for this one. Concerts are held quite regularly, and there is a “Blugrass Jam” every third Friday beginning at 7:00. All local musicians are warmly encouraged to come join in, and as with any true “jam” session, these are free.

But fundraising is never far from the directors’ minds. Helen continued.

“We rent our teaching spaces too, on the street level of our school, for you know, people with smaller crowds, fifty or seventy-five, or whatever the need is.”


By spring and summer the pace picks up, and The Clifton Forge School of the Arts is a busy place to be for both residents and visitors. Henrietta Crandall would like to see as many youth show up this summer as there is room for.

“Well, we have a ‘Fun Friday”, and this happens all the time that public schools are closed. So that’s like eight or nine weeks from ten o’clock in the morning until noon. Anyone, and everyone, is invited to come to the school, and participate in many different things that go on.”

So, to become a student, or a much-appreciated volunteer, or to learn about hosting an event, in this historical, albeit industrial chic corner of town, please contact Clifton Forge School of the Arts at 540-862-7275, or e-mail :



Story By

Bonnie Ralston

Bonnie Ralston is the Assistant Station Coordinator at WVLS and a Highland County news reporter. She began volunteering at Allegheny Mountain Radio in the fall of 2005. In 2006 she became an AMR employee and worked in Bath County for eight years as the WCHG Station Coordinator and then as the news reporter there. She began working in radio while in college and has stayed connected to radio, in one way or another, for more than thirty years. She grew up in Staunton, Virginia, while spending a lot of time on her family’s farm in Deerfield, Virginia. She enjoys spending time outside, watching old TV shows and movies and tending to her chickens.

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