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Arts in the Valley

How many times have you heard that an artist/maker, no matter what they make, is inspired by nature? I have, at least a thousand times. There is nothing wrong with that, we all have our interpretation, our approach to that. And there is the onlooker, who also enjoys that nature inspired art.


You would not have to be told what inspired John Chumley (1928-1984) with his beautiful paintings and drawings now being displayed together, some for the first time, at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia. It’s a gem of a gallery display with over 50 paintings and drawings involving three rooms and several alcoves and displays, including a discriptive video featuring comments by one of Mr. Chumleys sons, Jeff Chumley (a fine painter also, who lives in Charles Town now) and one of Mr. Chumleys fine sitters, Calvin Gant, who posed as a boy for the large canvas featured in the show.


In the mid 60’s, when i was a teenager living in Middletown Virginia, we seemed to be the only “outsiders” settling in this rural town in the quiet Shenandoah Valley. We soon heard of a family that had moved into a lumbering farm house on the outskirts of town several years before us. We heard through the small town grapevine that Mr. Chumley was a painter and had “fixed up the old place” saving it from ruin. My family and I, interested in the arts, stayed aligned with this family as we lived and adjusted to our surroundings. One of the daughters rode the school bus that shuttled us off to Winchester. My brother was friends with one of the Chumley boys. My parents enjoyed seeing some of the egg tempera paintings by Mr. Chumley.


. The paintings are masterful with the muted colors of dried grasses, grey snow clouds, stone, and the wooden floors of old rooms…and then there are people (and animals) of the valley. John Chumley featured his family in his paintings; his wife, Bettye, quilting on a folk art loom, his children skating on the frozen lake, his future daughter in laws’ braid before she cut her hair (his only pastel in the show). There are local residents, (the post master), local cattle, and a local rooster or two.

I remember hearing that John Chumley had died, so long ago, it seemed. I felt in my heart, he was filled with paintings that were not done, Yet, it dawned on me when I saw this show last week-end, that his family carried his art on through with paintings of their own (there are several on display, by Jeff, Kathy and Bonnie) Workshops by the Chumley children were taught through the years to further spread John Chumley’s influence, keeping the steady legacy of their father alive, and building a grand reputation in their own right.

What is it about the Valley, environment, that pulls at the artist? I wonder what each of the present day artists of the Valley would have to say about John Chumley’s work? There is no doubt that there would be some understanding of his images, inspired by nature, as each of us embraces this amazing connection we all have participating as the viewer, the sitter, the painter, the maker.

Recently the Over the Mountain Studio Tour has had some meetings and are busy. The artists and planners are currently gathering what they need to give the web site a make over. There is newness in the air as they move forward. Art is making important progress from the quiet days of the Shenandoah Valley when John Chumley and his family settled between Middletown and Stevens City, Virginia. Those were the days of children in a field of Queen Anne’s Lace and abundant butterflies, out houses, and cistern pumps, grey skies and the filter of light through breezy curtains. Yet the originals on display today have a freshness, a continuation of what the Valley has to offer to todays artist, the importance of seeing what we have in our midst and the realization that way before websites, there was John Chumley painting in the valley.


Please, artists and admirers of art, comment below and partake in the beautiful gallery showing at MSV in Winchester, VA from now until August 6th of this year, 2023.


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