Creativity nurtures the mind and soul in a barn in the woods down a dirt road in Culpeper County. Willow Circle Art occupies a brightly-colored studio in Rixeyville, providing a hands-on outlet for self-examination, team building and reflection away from the noise of everyday life.

“The art is always part of the conversation,” said 41-year-old Sara Bywaters-Baldwin, creator of the new, creatively inspired business endeavor. “I love it because it’s something that comes directly from us. Making art gives people a chance to say, ‘I want to know what I really care about and what matters to me.’ When we slow down, that comes out.”

She opened Willow Circle Art last summer in the barn located on the grounds of Verdun Adventure Bound, a sprawling wooded campus off Route 229. On site and in the community, Willow Circle delves into “Reflective Art Experiences” and “Creative Critical Thinking” through hosting mini retreats, team building, vision casting, personal courses and home school studio hours.

Former local coordinator of the YoungLives program for teen moms, Bywaters-Baldwin holds a Master of Divinity from Regent College and a post-graduate degree in art therapy from the Vancouver Art Therapy Institute in Canada, where she worked for eight years in that field.

Since moving to Culpeper nearly nine years ago, Bywaters-Baldwin has used her skills with art as a form of communication to serve local adults and families in therapeutic settings through a variety of community groups.

“I am made to do this,” she said. “My strength is my quiet voice and gentle spirit.”

Using those attributes, Bywaters-Baldwin leads groups through the various programs always with a focus on creating something with your hands. Willow Circle Art—named for the fertile willow tree—is where people can come to be together as a group to do activities that promote self-reflection and growth, she said.

Culpeper resident Chris Miller participated in a Vision Board workshop, thinking she would use the time to reflect on things like getting physically and financially healthy. The internal outcome was much different, however, she said.

“Through the exercises that Sara had us do, I found myself thinking about things in a different way,” Miller said. “When it came time to pick my images, it was more about creating a fuller life for myself outside of my work, which feels very full and rewarding.”

Shari Landry with Culpeper Wellness Foundation participated with other management and administrative staff in a “Brown Bag De-Stress” experience offered by Bywaters-Baldwin at their place of business. The group chose to pursue the “Rock It Out” activity, which focused on recognizing the origin of personal strengths and the role those strengths play in their everyday lives, Landry said.

“It involved taking the time to be reflective and appreciative of the paths that have led us to where we are today,” she said. “We did a fun art activity to leave us each with a reminder of what we learned through the experience. Besides being a rare opportunity to sit and reflect, we had a great time together and learned more about each other.”

Learning and growing together in a physical, 3-D gathering is key, said Bywaters-Baldwin.

“It’s about relationships. We really need to see each other eye-to-eye and do our healing together,” she said, noting that being in the warmth of others promotes a desire to open up to deeper ideas.

Creating art physically lowers one’s heart rate and blood pressure, resulting in healthier breathing and an overall sense of relaxation and well-being, Bywaters-Baldwin said. When you stop speaking, she added, an emotional connection can be forged with what you are creating, allowing new words to arise about what you are actually feeling.

“The key word is awareness. I facilitate people becoming aware of their life goals, what they want and honoring themselves,” Bywaters-Baldwin said. “It’s about appreciating where they are in life because of what they have gone through.”

Besides customized art programs for people from all ages and backgrounds, Willow Circle Art, in partnership with Hope Water Wellness counseling, provides presentations about emotional awareness and self-care, including a recent program for new recruits of the Fairfax Police Department. Willow Circle hosts open studio time for preschoolers and home school students while tackling adult issues such as managing chronic pain or anxiety.

“Art is a vehicle for communication and transformation,” Bywaters-Baldwin said. “It’s the process where the transformation happens. The awareness piece is the heartbeat of it—how your thoughts affect your feelings and your body.”

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A free art show of work by home school students—including donuts and warm drinks—will be held 9 to 11 a.m. on March 2 in the Willow Circle Art studio at Verdun. The community is welcome.

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