WINCHESTER — A 21-year-old artist is being lauded for creating the year’s hottest book in Winchester.
Abigail MacKnight, a Winchester resident about to start her senior year as a communication arts major at Virginia Commonwealth University, illustrated a coloring book that the city is distributing for free to celebrate its 275th anniversary.
On Monday, MacKnight said her first professional job as an artist was in 2017, when she collaborated with Piccadilly Printing in Winchester to create a graphic promoting First Night Winchester.
That brought her to the attention of the city’s communications director, Amy Simmons, who was looking for someone to do the illustrations for a 275th anniversary coloring book that was being proposed as a joint effort of the city and the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.
“She asked me if I would be willing to come up with designs for the coloring book so kids could be a part of the celebration of Winchester,” MacKnight said.
Winchester Planning Director and local historian Timothy Youmans provided information to MacKnight about the people and places that were key to the city’s establishment and growth.
“I learned new things I didn’t know before,” she said.
MacKnight decided to use Charles Broadway Rouss, whose estate provided money for the construction of Rouss City Hall and the Rouss Fire and Rescue Company, as a guide to help children learn about the city’s history.
Rouss introduces kids to the Shawnee tribe of Native Americans who lived in the area before Winchester existed, city founder James Wood, young surveyor and eventual President of the United States George Washington, benefactor Judge John Handley, renowned baseball player and World War I hero Spottswood Poles, polar explorer Adm. Richard E. Byrd, country music singer Patsy Cline and more local figures.
The book tells children about the significance of Fort Loudoun during the French and Indian War, the first school built to serve Winchester’s African-American students, the arrival of the Winchester and Potomac Railroad, the construction of Handley High School and Shenandoah University, the establishment of Winchester Memorial Hospital, the start of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival and so on.
The coloring book’s child-friendly text was written by Youmans and Simmons to provide context for MacKnight’s historical drawings.
Ever since its publication earlier this spring, the 275th anniversary coloring book has been a hit. MacKnight said about 400 copies were handed out during downtown’s KidzFest celebration in May, and they’re hard to keep in stock at distribution points like City Hall and the Winchester-Frederick County Visitors Center.
As she enters her final year of college, MacKnight is hoping the coloring book will help open doors to a career in the arts.
“I’m looking to do something similar to this, maybe even a step further with full illustrations for a children’s book,” she said. “Anything is possible.”
“Abby has that ‘X’ factor, and she’s known what she’s wanted to do since she was probably 5 or 6,” said her father, Corey MacKnight of Winchester.
“I could go into product design, advertisements,” she said. “I’m exploring all my options.”
To learn more about Winchester’s 275th anniversary, or to print a copy of the coloring book, visit winchesterva.gov/275th-anniversary.