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New Project Brings Local Artists Back Into The Public Eye

Calvin Pynn

Artists have been hit hard by the pandemic.  They haven't just lost out on gallery sales, but they've also lost the experience of their work being seen in-person. Several arts organizations in Central Virginia have been working to change that. WMRA’s Calvin Pynn reports.

(Sound inside gallery of McGuffey Art Center)

For some visual artists, it’s been difficult to sell their work during the pandemic.

LEO CHARRE: You can go online and buy a shirt or sweater. You know the materials, you know the cost, you can go and buy something you haven’t touched or seen in front of you before. When it comes to artwork, things are a little different.

Credit Cramer Photo
"Dos Hermanos"

Leo Charre is a painter from Waynesboro.

CHARRE:  Things don’t properly display on a screen as you would see it in person. A work of art has a presence like a living creature. It’s not the same talking to your parents on the phone as you would talking to them in person. Artwork is very much the same.

Jane Skafte has a studio at Charlottesville’s McGuffey Art Center, and has felt the impact too. Many events to support her work have been cancelled.

JANE SKAFTE: I support my art by being a teacher, being a designer, and lately as of March everything has been cancelled.

Charre and Skafte are two of nearly 70 artists nominated by several organizations around central Virginia to feature their work as part of Art Unlocked. It serves two purposes: celebrate regional art and raise money to benefit the artists and organizations impacted by COVID-19.

Sara Miller is one of Art Unlocked’s organizers.

Credit Calvin Pynn
Jane Skafte with her drawing, Dead Forest.

SARA MILLER. We don’t have a large city to bring everyone together for large galleries and galas, so our hope was to be able to bring seven organizations together to form a long-term collaboration where there was a shared appreciation for their artists.

Those pieces are displayed in a Gallery at McGuffey, and features a mix of paintings, drawings, and sculptures.

It was a chance for Charre to experiment.

CHARRE: I like to have a piece that shows you the figure with some realism, with some reality, where you can see there’s a human aspect, but I also like to make an abstract piece so that you have both things – you have an abstraction, and something that’s more figurative.

Credit Calvin Pynn
Robert Bricker spins the turntable to show different sides of his piece, Pantheon Urn.

The result was an oil painting called Dos Hermanos. It features two intersecting bodies - at least that’s how many are visible on first glance.

Charre can spot four.

CHARRE:  If you look on this side, you actually have a shoulder that comes this way, and there’s another one here, another one back there. Same thing on this side, there are various places where the shoulders and other parts come across.

Skafte’s piece is a colored pencil drawing called Dead Forest. It features two suspended islands – one on top being washed away by a wave…

SKAFTE: In this one, you have the whole idea of ocean rise, and it creates a couple of things – the ocean has now overtaken what would have been the solid earth… and the other on the bottom being carried by a giant sea turtle and dotted with what appear to be gravestones... Those little rectangles are actually representative of the tops of trees. There’s this actual place in Oregon on the coast that, because of erosion, they can now see that there was a forest there, but it’s just these little stubs of trees, and they dot the entire beach.

Robert Bricker is a sculptor who also works out of a studio at McGuffey. His piece is an urn molded from plaster, with figures carved all around in a way that gives it an Ancient Greek-style appearance. 

BRICKER: I call the piece Pantheon Urn – Pantheon meaning all the gods. And it’s got a bunch of gods in there, in different situations.

Bricker owns a bronze foundry in Waynesboro that he also uses to create other pieces, including two copies of the urn. But he only uses bronze when it feels right.

BRICKER: I’m very discriminating as to what I make of my own art, and when I do make it, I make it with the intention that it entertains not just our generation, but the next hundred generations. This plaster itself may not make it 100 generations, but my bronzes will.

The pieces featured during Art Unlocked will be on display through the rest of the week and have been also sold online. A hybrid in-person and virtual auction for the artwork was scheduled to conclude the program but was cancelled due to the recent increase in COVID cases.

While there is a chance the gallery could be extended, Miller doesn’t believe the auction’s cancellation will be the end of the program.

MILLER: Maybe one of the things that Art Unlocked as a brand could offer to these artists, locally, is a platform during this pandemic in which we could help facilitate selling their work.

You can learn more and view work from the artists here.

Calvin Pynn is a radio reporter, writer, and photographer based in Harrisonburg, Virginia.