She Speaks for the Trees and the Paintbrushes

Photo by Randy Litzinger

Dr. Camellia Blackwell-Taffel blends her love of art, forestry, and education at her multi-purpose Camp Camellia in Goldvein

Meet Dr. Camellia Blackwell-Taffel from Goldvein, an accomplished individual with a list of educational degrees, extensive exemplary work history, artistic projects, and professional accomplishments as long as the scrolls used during the Middle Ages. A serious woman with a cool, calm, and collected demeanor, she enthusiastically speaks for the trees by maintaining and preserving the forestry at her massive estate and connecting her land and love of art with children and adults in Fauquier County.

Teacher and student, black and white drawing

Dr. Blackwell’s gigantic estate is Camp Camellia Tree Farm: Art, Nature, Wildlife & Technology Center, a 73-acre expanse comprised of an area used for forestry management and grassy walking trails, giving visitors scenic opportunities “to identify various vegetations, and native wildlife with the guidance of county foresters,” as per its brochure. Visitors may enjoy the three themed buildings on the property, including the log cabin lodge, the art studio with its attached pavilion, and the Quonset hut that houses antique automobiles.

Camp Camellia offers unique things to its visitors, including an educational program that gives insight into the state’s first approved technology to convert collected rainwater into drinking water, technology classes and workshops on the restoration of antique cars, art classes and experiences that incorporate the wild flora and vegetation grown onsite, and diverse walking tours led by forestry volunteers.

Exploring the Hudson, photo silkscreen, 11 x 14

Dr. Blackwell created Camp Camellia to be a division of a larger organization, the International Center for Artistic Development, Inc., which she founded in 1990 in Columbia, Maryland. Born in Baltimore, Dr. Blackwell realized she wanted to be an artist when she was 7 years old and began pursuing visual arts projects and degrees right up until she achieved a master’s degree in fine arts. 

After Dr. Blackwell graduated from college, the mayor of Baltimore commissioned her to paint an outdoor mural at a children’s playground at a public park. This was the 1970s. Her reputation in the art world was quickly spreading, but she remained level-headed with her trademark unwavering coolness. As the years passed, Dr. Blackwell kept up her work in the art world, doing a million things including jewelry, mixed media art, and printmaking, to name a few. 

In 1976, she traveled abroad to exhibit her art in Finland. That same year, she and her father, Clarence Blackwell, purchased an interest in the family farm that once belonged to her great aunt in 1895; she became a 6th generation farmer. Together, the daughter-father team embarked on an aggressive reforestation program to replant and gain new growth in a forest stewardship management plan that would span for the next 36 years. 

“Multiculturalism”, photolithograph, 36” x 30”

Approximately in 2006, Dr. Blackwell and her husband, Dr. Sherman Taffel, moved onto the Blackwell family farmland and began building a homesite  and other buildings for what would eventually become Camp Camellia. In 2009, she opened Camp Camellia to the public by hosting a nature walk, expanding its offerings each year through the present day. To date, Dr. Blackwell has taught intergenerational students in art and nature classes at Camp Camellia, worked with Fauquier High School students to plant vegetation and showcase its forest management plans, and given tours to disabled veterans by creating an accessible trail.

Celebrating 13 years in operation with public offerings, Camp Camellia continues to thrive and Dr. Blackwell continues to win award upon award upon award; she was honored for her leadership in preserving her forest through prescribed burns, an easy process of burning forestland with complex solutions involving heavy machinery, state permission, and the award of grants. 

Beautiful Day, mixed media, 29 x 34

She was also honored in 2016 as a Virginia Century Forest, for her family’s ownership of working forestlands for more than 100 years. Her 2018 award from the Virginia Tree Farm Foundation for Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year for her dedicated work as a certified tree farmer is equally impressive. A tree farmer is a deceptively simple title that doesn’t do justice to the extraordinary amount of work needed to be certified, including implementing the best practices in forest management and adhering to related principles such as healthy ecosystems and wildlife, and soil and watershed.

In the meantime, ICAD continues strong. After fulfilling its groundbreaking mission to be the first nonprofit art organization to create a visual arts exchange with the United States and the Republic of Kazakhstan with the Kyrgyz Republic, ICAD has gone on to host visiting artists, showcase art exhibits, and connect its volunteers and visitors “to help melt cultural boundaries created by unfamiliarity,” as per ICAD’s 25th anniversary video available on YouTube.com. 

A Dutch delegation of biomass engineers from the Netherlands and representatives from the American Forest Foundation visit Camp Camellia.

ICAD continues to offer art classes and connect people from two locations, from Dr. Blackwell’s private art studio in Columbia, Maryland and from Camp Camellia in Goldvein, where Dr. Blackwell integrates the principles of art with the breathtaking landscape of her forest’s native nuts, berries, flowers, and rocks by teaching others to create new art in appreciation of natural beauty.

Dr. Blackwell is a storied visual artist, art consultant, and art teacher with a long and diverse career as a graphic arts designer, photographer, arts administrator, and art curator. She is also active in finding grants to develop her forest and bring new opportunities to the people in Fauquier County. Dr. Blackwell relishes dipping into her whopping 52 years of work with professional arts to develop new projects that blend art and nature. Dr. Blackwell has plans to host an art workshop at Camp Camellia in April and an art festival in September 2021. Dr. Blackwell is also offering ZOOM classes and is figuring out COVID-safe ways to continue her teaching.

Dr. Blackwell is enthusiastic and always ready to share her love of art and nature with children and adults of Fauquier County. She responds to all inquiries promptly. Please visit her website for more information: icadev.org or call: (410) 302-5926.

Amanda M. Socci
About Amanda M. Socci 20 Articles
Amanda M. Socci is an Alexandria-based freelance writer who loves exploring different regions to interview people and write profiles about people, places, and things. Amanda splits her time between freelance writing and writing a manuscript for her first book, a faith-based memoir. Learn more about Amanda at her website: http://www.AmandaSocci.com. Contact Amanda by sending an email to SocciWriter@gmail.com.

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