Williamsburg City Culture

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Williamsburg City Culture
Welcome to centuries of American culture! Whether you’re interested in colonial arts and history or in contemporary culture, Williamsburg can cater to any era that interests you and has a range of performing, visual, and experiential arts.
By Kerry McGee, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
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    Historical Art Museums
    Two fantastic historical art collections are located on the grounds of Colonial Williamsburg. The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum features a wide range of folk art by untrained artists, from colonial musical instruments and weather vanes to modern-era folk paintings. Follow the evolution of colonial culture at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, which houses an extensive collection that includes pewter mugs, porcelain china, furniture, pianos, and one of the largest exhibits of British ceramics outside of the United Kingdom.
    Photo courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
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    Contemporary Art Museums and Galleries
    As both a thriving tourist destination and home of the prestigious William & Mary College, Williamsburg puts a premium on cultural activities. Stop by campus to pay a visit to the Muscarelle Museum of Art, a comprehensive art museum that includes work by O’Keeffe, Picasso, and Matisse. Even the outer wall of the museum is a functional work of art: The tubes of color serve as a solar panel during the day and light up at night. For a look at the local art scene in Williamsburg, check out some of the galleries around town, such as Quirks of Art, Black Dog Gallery, A Touch of Earth, and Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center.
    Photo by Kerry McGee
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    Living Archaeology
    Archaeologists started excavating Jamestown in 1994, trying to locate some remains from the first settlement. They discovered that much more of the site survived than previously thought. Now, visitors can explore the ongoing dig at the Jamestown Rediscovery archaeological site, and get tours and lectures from on-site archaeologists. Observe the original site of the nearby Jamestown Glasshouse, where settlers created glassware for the entire colony. The 17th-century settlement being unearthed at the Freedom Park archaeological site is worth a visit as well.
    Photo courtesy of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
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    Performing Arts and the Shakespeare Festival
    You can enjoy year-round theater in Williamsburg, with fantastic stage productions from the William & Mary Theatre Department or the local community theater, the Williamsburg Players. The action really gets going in the summer when Williamsburg hosts the Virginia Shakespeare Festival and professional actors come from all over the state to participate. See Shakespeare and other classical productions performed in either traditional or more modern forms. Keep your eyes peeled for festival tie-ins around town; in 2013 the Williamsburg Winery released A Midsummer Night’s White (wine) in conjunction with the local production.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Film throughout the Year
    The Film Society at William & Mary hosts the William & Mary Global Film Festival every year, bringing modern and classic films from all over the world to Williamsburg during February. Part of the global festival is a 24-hour speed filmmaking competition open to students and alumni. During the festival, the Kimball Theatre hosts the Mug Night Series, where a cult classic film is screened alongside drink specials. Also check out the theater’s schedule of themed films, such as a Pilgrimage series about self-discovery on the hiking trail and retrospectives like the original SPECTRE Bond movies. During the summer months, look for weekly outdoor screenings of popular films on Prince George Street. Find a schedule on the Blue Talon Bistro website.
    Photo by Lothar Steiner/age fotostock
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    Artisanal Colonial Gifts
    When in Colonial Williamsburg, shop how the colonials shopped! Check out the Post Office for stationery, quill pens and ink, sealing wax, and (of course) stamps. The Prentis Store carries high-quality leather, pottery, and iron goods made by the park’s skilled artisans. At Golden Ball, find period-inspired jewelry from Colonial Williamsburg’s silversmiths. For a more modern experience, head over to Merchants Square, an area of local shops and restaurants adjoining Colonial Williamsburg. The Silver Vault Ltd. has stunning silver dishes for the home. Find your family tartan at the Scotland House, or stop by the gift shop in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum for reproduction pieces from its collections.
    Photo by Kerry McGee
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    Explore the Plantations
    After immersing yourself in the colonial lifestyle for so long, it may be nice to visit another period in history. Take a scenic drive west from Williamsburg to discover some remnants of Southern living at Berkeley Plantation, the former home of President Harrison; at President Tyler's Sherwood Forest Plantation; and at Shirley Plantation, the first plantation in Virginia and America's oldest family-run business. All three estates allow a tour of the house and gardens, but you should call ahead to make sure they’re open to the public because they are popular for weddings. If you like to cycle, the scenic, bike-friendly Virginia Capital Trail connects these major plantations and can take you all the way to Richmond.
    Photo by David Lyons/age fotostock
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    Spas and Wellness Centers
    Combine your historical immersion with a little bit of relaxation at Williamsburg's spas. The Spa of Colonial Williamsburg mixes together 17th-century healing techniques like hot-stone massage, 20th-century water therapy, and plenty of modern advances at their state-of-the-art facility. The Kingsmill Resort Spa offers holistic services like reiki, reflexology, and aromatherapy, all of which have long traditions in Eastern medicine. The Williamsburg Salt Spa is modeled after the famous Wieliczka salt spa in Poland. Guests recline in a custom-built salt room while breathing in the minerals, a practice designed to help with relaxation and respiratory concerns.
    Photo courtesy of Williamsburg Salt Spa
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    A Musical Tradition
    A trip to Colonial Williamsburg would hardly be complete without hearing the Fifes and Drums perform. The band of teenage musicians plays historical military music while in period dress, paying tribute to the revolutionary tradition of the young corp of musicians that worked with the soldiers in the field. The Williamsburg Symphonia has been performing classical music in Williamsburg for over 30 years, and has regular concerts and classes for aspiring young musicians. Stop by Merchants Square when the weather is nice for their Summer Breeze Concert Series. Bands play a rotating selection of jazz, swing, oldies, and other popular forms of music every Wednesday evening for large crowds of locals and tourists.
    Photo by Jeff Greenberg/age fotostock
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    Classes and Apprenticeships
    If you find yourself inspired by the local culture, you can always find a way to participate. Take a dinner class with A Chef’s Kitchen and you'll eat a delicious meal while learning how to prepare it at the same time. The Williamsburg School of Needlework teaches the delicate traditions of embroidery. For dedicated students, the Jamestown Glasshouse offers highly competitive apprenticeships in the art of glassblowing. Colonial Williamsburg runs a Teacher Institute for U.S. history and government teachers to study on-location. It's also worth checking out classes at the College of William & Mary.
    Photo by Constance Toms/age fotostock