Always tasteful

Ashland's finest gourmets, vintners and artists will present their respective handiwork this weekend at the 22nd annual A Taste of Ashland.

The annual food, wine and art celebration will be from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, April 30 and May 1. Twenty restaurants and caterers with 18 wineries, breweries and distilleries will offer food and beverage tastings at 16 galleries and venues in downtown Ashland.

The event, established in 1988 by Ashland Chamber of Commerce, was originally a showcase of local food, wine and art at Ashland Hills Inn, later at the former Mark Antony Hotel. In 1994, the event was turned over to the Ashland Gallery Association, who moved it from the hotel into individual galleries "in order that people could experience the art," says Judy Howard, a member of the first A Taste of Ashland committee and co-owner of Hanson Howard Gallery.

One enduring component of the event was the yearly poster featuring a piece of art by a local artist. At first these posters were merely collectors' items, but their purpose has since evolved into an advertising medium, says Howard.

Every winter, Ashland artists are invited to submit a food- or wine-themed work to AGA. This year's featured piece is "Who Wants to Blister the Peppers?" a watercolor painting by artist Lynda Hoffman-Snodgrass.

The painting was completed in the mid-'90s as part of Hoffman-Snodgrass' annual "Food From the Farm" exhibition at Geppetto's Restaurant. In 1995, it won the Bradley C. Barnard Award at the 14th Annual Adirondacks National Exhibition of American Watercolors in New York. Hoffman-Snodgrass, who now prefers abstract over representational paintings, couldn't find anything suitable to submit for A Taste of Ashland's contest until she remembered this painting.

"I decided at the last minute, 'What the heck, I'll enter this one,' " she says. "It's Ashland-grown food painted by a local artist."

The painting showcases an eggplant and several peppers, gleaned from Eagle Mill Farm on the north end of Ashland.

"I just loved the colors," says Hoffman-Snodgrass, who admits she ate the peppers as soon as she had photographed them for the piece.

Giclées of the painting and the 2011 A Taste of Ashland poster will be available for purchase at Art & Soul Gallery. Hoffman will be on hand Saturday and Sunday to sign posters.

On Saturday at Art & Soul, Smithfields Restaurant chef Neil Clooney will serve tastings of chicken-liver pâté, roasted-vegetable terrine and hot beef meatballs topped with smoky blue cheese from Rogue Creamery; South Stage Cellars will pour samples of its 2007 Syrah and 2009 Savignon Blanc. On Sunday, Standing Stone Brewing Co. will provide food bites, and Plaisance Ranch will pour 2007 Merlot and 2007 Syrah.

Other eats include a mulligatawny soup by Talent's Arbor House served Sunday at Bohemia Gallery and Framing; grilled-vegetable sandwiches and chocolate-dipped, gluten-free macaroons by Munchies Restaurant and Bakery at Gallerie Karon; and organic soups by Grilla Bites at American Trails.

Participating galleries are within easy walking distance of each other. A shuttle also will be provided, and visitors may catch it at any of the stops on the art walk.

Tickets to A Taste of Ashland cost $40 for Saturday, $30 for Sunday or $55 for both days. They are available at Illahe Studios & Gallery, The Crown Jewel in Ashland and the chamber's information center on Ashland Plaza. Tickets also are available at until 5 p.m. Friday. For more information, call 541-292-2302.

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