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Extending a hand in full color

The donor list for art reads like a “Who’s Who” in the regional arts scene: Brandon Newton. Dan Finnegan. Trista Chapman. Lorie McCown. Lynette Reed. Patte Ormsby. Barbara Hall. Carol Josefiak. Steve Griffin. Mirinda Reynolds. 

Nearly 100 artists have contributed works to be auctioned at “Toast of the Town,” the Sunday fundraising event to support local publisher Rob Grogan, whose Front Porch magazine has appeared monthly, and free, at regional venues for 17 years.

Grogan, 61, was diagnosed earlier this year with carcinoid cancer and complications within his lymphatic system.

His treatments in Fredericksburg and at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore are yielding positive results, but at great cost. Although insurance defrays a portion of the expense, Grogan’s personal debt for medical care has been as high as $10,000 a month.

To help, several of Grogan’s family, friends and fans have formed “Rob’s Army,” chaired by Grogan’s niece Brynn Pacitti. Gabe Pons, owner of Caroline Street’s PonShop, heads up artists’ donations for the group.

Pons explains why he’s eager to help. When he and wife Scarlett “rebooted” their careers and moved to Fredericksburg in 2005, “Rob became one of our biggest cheerleaders. His genuine enthusiasm gave us encouragement. He helped us become who we are today.”

It’s not unusual for local artists to contribute to silent auctions. What’s unique about this effort is its quantity and quality.

Take Betsy Glassie’s “Perhaps Bonnard Will Come.” At 40-by-30 inches, it is a major work and was juried by Joseph DiBella, art professor at the University of Mary Washington, for inclusion in “Uniquely Fredericksburg,” the annual art exhibit mounted at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

When Grogan chose Glassie’s painting as the June Front Porch cover, the artist did not know he was ill. When she found out, she considered the work a “natural fit” for the fundraiser. Even more fitting, she said, “the setting of this painting is my own front porch.”

Another such serendipitous crossover comes in the collaborative “Ed’s Cows” (34-by-50 inches) by Bill Harris and Ed King. Complicated and clever, the composition features King at his easel, completing his cow close-up. The setting—Harris’ studio—is Harris’ contribution to the canvas. Harris’ paintings line the studio wall in the background.

“The arts community has long had a champion in Rob,” said Aby Bethem, of Bistro Bethem, a downtown restaurant whose walls serve as a de facto gallery for local artists’ works. “Front Porch focuses on all forms of art. Musicians, painters, sculptors, weavers—they all have a presence in the paper. Helping him now is the right thing to do.”

But Bethem goes beyond the arts connection. Grogan also served as bartender at the restaurant, and Bethem notes that “Rob has never met a stranger. Newcomer or regular, he’d have engaging conversations, and remember an interesting snippet that he’d follow up on later on. He listens to local, ordinary folks,” she says. “They all have a voice.”

While visual artists often support worthy projects, the outpouring of the creative community to back Grogan’s cause is extraordinary. Local musicians, writers, woodworkers, weavers, potters, jewelers, chefs and collectors have also rallied.

Beyond the creative community, Grogan’s efforts to promote other interests—including antiques, wines, recipes, holistic medicine, exercise, history and the outdoors—have spotlighted quieter stories that help give readers a sense of place. But Grogan also profiles worthy causes. His support of others in need has touched many. Bethem cites Grogan’s role in helping to raise funds so a disabled boy could finally have an aide dog.

Grogan and wife, Virginia, have also extended their home and friendship to nurture and mentor those who’ve come into their lives. Bistro Bethem co-worker Jessica Sutton observes, “He didn’t just tend bar; he tended to the hearts and minds of the young staff around him. Both Rob and Virginia urged so many to pursue their dreams.”

Along the way, Sutton recalls, those fulfilled dreams included joining the Peace Corps (Ben Peck), moving to Colorado (Sutton herself), and becoming a newspaper editor (Ruth Cassell). Sutton met her future husband through Bistro Bethem connections, and, she recalls, “When Jeremy proposed to me in 2005 we immediately decided to ask Rob to become ordained so he could perform the ceremony.”

Grogan’s role as connector of diverse local communities “links folks who might never know one another,” says Kathy Harrigan, a friend and Rob’s Army organizer. “He’s a giving soul, always looking for ways to empower people and to build relationships.”

Even those with little or no personal connection with Grogan have become involved. Linda Sviland, a relative newcomer to the local arts scene, donated “Flight over Misty Mountain,” a hand-painted silk kimono.

“I don’t really know him but the magazine’s in-depth articles on the arts provides exposure to a wider community. It’s important to focus on those community connections,” Sviland explains.

Fellow Rob’s Army organizer Cissy Nelson echoes those thoughts. “Beyond the magazine’s good influence, beyond being a genuinely nice guy, Rob Grogan has rarely passed up the chance to help, to nurture, to give.”

“Whether people know him personally or just by way of seeing what he does, without a thought of return on his investment in so many lives, they respond by giving a part of the best of themselves,” Nelson says. “How else to explain the flood of response to this call to help?”

Kathryn Willis is an arts advocate and teaches composition at Germanna.

WHAT: “Toast of the Town”

WHEN: Sept. 22, from 6 to 9 p.m.

WHERE: The Inn at the Olde Silk Mill, sponsored by owners Ed and Anna Sanborn

FEATURES: Cocktails and food contributed by several area restaurants; music by “The Skiffle Lounge Sound”

TICKETS: $30 for individuals or $50 a couple. Available at Bistro Bethem, Beck’s Antiques and Books and online at


OTHER ITEMS: Nearly 100 non-art items have also been donated, including antiques and collectibles, tickets (including Redskins), hospitality packets and lessons.

FACEBOOK: Rob’s Army


“Flight over Misty Mountain” is a furisode-style kimono because of its long sleeves. Traditionally, a furisode kimono commemorates a girl’s 19th birthday, her coming of age, and symbolically, this one does too; It is something of an autobiography.

“The Misty Mountains are in Pennsylvania, and while I love my home state, growing up I longed to leave it far behind and soar to fame and fortune on far grander heights. So I left at 19 and headed west, then south, anywhere but back, but I think a little piece/peace of Pennsylvania is still in me (and a lot of silk; it is, after all, my family name).”



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