1 of 4
2 of 4
Photo by Chris Smith
3 of 4
Photo courtsey Jason Marks
4 of 4
Catty-cornered from the site of Virginia Commonwealth University's future Institute of Contemporary Art is a Domino's pizza. In its place at the beginning of the 20th century stood a rattletrap house requisitioned by Maj. James Dooley for the Art Club of Richmond. There, his niece Nora Houston and her partner, Adéle Clark, taught artistic techniques to Richmonders. Theresa Pollak came under their tutelage from 1912 to 1917.
Among Clark's papers in VCU's Special Collections and Archives is an undated, six-page handwritten essay lamenting Richmond's lack of art education and a suitable place to exhibit contemporary work. The writer describes how some wealthy residents traveled to experience culture abroad while they couldn't be bothered to support it at home.
"If Richmond seeks to represent the culture it claims to desire, shouldn't its prominent figures rally to build a safe, modern and up-to-date art school building, so that Richmond can turn out geniuses to the world as well as other cities?"
The name written on the upper right corner of each page: Theresa Pollak.
Pollak and her mentor, Clark, elevated Richmond's cultural awareness. Clark and her colleagues paved the way for the development of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts. Pollak started what evolved into both VCUArts and the University of Richmond's School of the Arts.
In the span of a century, the arts here have traversed the road from improbable to indispensable. Pollak couldn't have imagined from circa 1912 the transformative import of her life's work.
Since 1998, when the Pollak awards started, cultural institutions and artistic endeavors often have occupied public discourse. The legacy of Pollak includes a wonderful and newly expanded state art museum that exhibits pieces created by Richmonders; First Fridays brings thousands to downtown; a bit of magic called InLight happens once a year; there are more music and film festivals than can be seen; and on the city's walls — inside and out — art is almost everywhere.
Theresa Pollak's youthful enthusiasm remains relevant, and her work continues.
Film: Patrick Gregory
The selectors said: He's worked for almost two decades in the Virginia film community to which he's given his support, and he serves on the board of the James River Film Society. Dedicated and driven to create images, he has put in the work as cinematographer, his visuals being part of films of past Pollak winners. His camera has taken him the world over.
He bribed his film crew's way out of arrest by the KGB in Red Square. He spent 10 days shooting at a Hindu pilgrimage festival called the Kumbh Mela in Ujjain, India, where a city of 500,000 for a month grows to millions of faithful who engage in ritual bathing.
But film wasn't first for Patrick Gregory — he started in music.
His father, Kirk, played trumpet. Growing up in Bon Air with two sisters and a brother, Gregory studied music theory and played in various garage bands. He graduated from Monacan High School. At Virginia Commonwealth University, he almost studied music, but he seemed directionless. The feeling frightened him. "My career picked me," he says. "I sort of found the [VCU] film department through taking everything and anything I wanted to take and not worrying about fitting into any mold."
The nudge came in a 1989 course called "Media Arts Survey," taught by Richard Moore, Joan Strommer and Cliff Dixon. Seeing the work of Stan Brakhage, Michael Snow and Bruce Connor revealed the artistic power of film. Gregory shot as much as he could and made several short, experimental films that earned him a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts fellowship in 1992 and another in 2008. He freelanced, working on commercials as a production assistant, while continuing to make short documentaries.
He also worked as an electrician on Hollywood films such as The Day Lincoln Was Shot and on the short-lived Legacy horse-country drama series. While working on these productions he met local lighting professional Jay Kemp and Twin Peaks lighting director and cinematographer Ron Garcia. These professionals inspired him. Gregory traveled the world shooting music videos for Nashville groups, Sparklehorse and GWAR.
Gregory's early music training keeps him in good creative stead. "When editing and/or shooting, I often hear music in my head that creates a rhythmic cadence for pacing." Today, he often collaborates with Richmond sound designer Lincoln Mitchell on film and art installations.
His recent projects include a film about Richmond's i.e. program. That introduced him to Samantha Marquez, a brilliant teenager who already holds six patents and is now the subject of a documentary he's filming. Also on the way is a documentary about the challenging life of a Northern Neck fisherman and a film about Richmond architect Lothar Pausewang.
Theater: Jason Marks
The selectors said: The native Richmonder has spent most of his life on the stage. After receiving his BFA in musical theatre from Shenandoah Conservatory, he entered the professional world working with Theatre IV and Swift Creek Mill Playhouse. His passion for musical theater has been shared with School for the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC) as he was the resident voice and musical director for several years and has appeared in a number of their productions.
The first Broadway-style show Jason Marks experienced at around age 8 was a traveling West Side Story at the Carpenter Center. His Aunt Lisa bartended there. Marks and his younger brother, Adam, spent many enjoyable hours in the grand old former movie palace watching performances of the symphony and ballet.
He's from a musical family. Elizabeth, his mother, studied voice at Oberlin College, and his father, Michael, studied music at Carnegie Mellon University. Combining their talents, the family didn't need to go out much for entertainment. On an average night, with his mom at the piano, Adam on saxophone and Marks on drums, they'd write songs and make up musicals. "We'd have great family time, that I'm pretty sure not many other families experience in that way," he recalls. Marks was encouraged to go the way his talent and passion led him. He took classes with renowned Richmond acting instructor Una Harrison and participated in summer theater with SPARC that ultimately led to his teaching there.
After Shenandoah University, he began performing on almost every regional stage and winning acclaim. It started in 2003 with Two Bits, a barbershop-quartet musical at the Swift Creek Mill Playhouse, written by Pollak honorees Tom Width and Paul Deiss.
The Staybridge Suites Broadway Bound contest in 2010 sent him to live in a hotel for six months free and absorb Broadway life, with master classes and auditions. "It was like an alternate reality," he says.
After New York he's lived the actor's life of going where the work is: premiering Holmes And Watson Save The Empire (Marks as Dr. Watson); Oregon Cabaret Theater in Ashland, Ore., and in Albany, N.Y., at the Washington Park Playhouse to play Max Bialystock in a summer run of The Producers. This was for 3,000 to 5,000 people a night, and Marks says in his deadpan way, "I lost 24 pounds in three weeks. It was exhausting, but fun."
He's putting his talents and children's theater experience ("I've played every animal and creature known to man.") into developing, with collaborator Deborah Clinton, a show called Croaker based on the Frog Prince.
Marks is again portraying Max Bialystock opposite 2011 Pollak honoree Scott Wichmann in Virginia Rep's production, running through Jan. 13, 2013.
Vocalist: Susan Greenbaum
A Singular Occupation
The selectors said: It's no secret. Richmond absolutely loves Susan Greenbaum. She's our own Carole King and is hands down Richmond's hardest working independent female singer/songwriter. The songstress has help made Richmond's music scene grow into the great community that it is today with her grace, kindness and powerful voice.She's a girl with some "Show Me" attitude, as Susan Greenbaum refers to her Kansas City, Mo., birth, and she can barely remember a time when she didn't sing or pick strings.
Greenbaum first played a Yamaha classical guitar because of its wide neck, "It was just the thing for a teeny, teeny-tiny girl with teeny, teeny-tiny hands."
She credits Steve Ampthauer, her guitar-playing fourth-grade teacher, for setting her on a course. "You don't expect your teacher to burst into song," she says. At age 11, she started attending a fine-arts day camp called the Camellot Academy.
Greenbaum went to Harvard University without a formal plan other than getting through. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in English and American literature.
After holding marketing positions in large companies, Greenbaum became a vice-president of corporate communications for a Fortune 500 firm based in Richmond — a place she'd never heard of. At the second interview before a panel of inquisitors she was asked about her dream job. She replied, "I think I'd be a singer-songwriter." Greenbaum responded to incredulous looks, "But I have a helluva better chance at this job than being a singer-songwriter."
She became the company's first female officer. And some of her colleagues, Greenbaum recalls, didn't think much of it.
Then, her older brother Ron, whose musical tastes had influenced her, died of a brain tumor in Kansas City. After staying home for two weeks, Greenbaum realized three things: Life was short, that the corporate job wasn't for her and that she wanted to play music. So she quit and started playing anywhere that would let her, from the Cedarfields senior facility — where she established her tradition of singing at hospitals and at philanthropic events — to the Starbucks in the Arboretum office park. This led to radio play and forming a band with drummer Chris Parker, whom she married. In 1999, John Morand of Richmond's Sound of Music studios produced her second album, Wake Up! Her third CD, Hey, Hey, Hey!, was released in 2002, and her songs continued to win competitive awards.
At the annual Harvard reunion in 2010, during the alumni talent show, Greenbaum played with Alison Brown, the astounding banjoist, and from that came a recording offer.
Brown, with husband Garry West, founded Compass Records in Nashville. Greenbaum's This Life was recorded in February 2011; during an intense two-week period, Brown put together a talented array of accompanying musicians who'd played with Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett and Bruce Hornsby. One of the cuts is "Virginia: The Home of My Heart," a candidate for state song.
"I have nothing to complain about," she says. "I get to do what I love to do for a living." Earlier this year, she participated in the School for Performing Arts in the Richmond Community's massive "Live Art" production.
On Jan. 12, her band recreates Carole King's Tapestry album at Ashland Coffee and Tea. She, with and without the band, is in Ashland at least once a month, and she often plays Positive Vibe Café.
Lifetime Achievement: Joe Seipel
The Master Builder
The selectors said: Joe's influence in the city is far-reaching, from his teaching in VCU's Sculpture and Extended Media program to the co-founding of the 1708 Gallery and the much-missed Texas-Wisconsin Border Café (where he met his wife, Suzanne). Today he heads the School of VCUArts with its Institute of Contemporary Art on the near horizon. He's catalyzed ideas into physical reality. This is what the best artists do.
Joe Seipel started building things while a youngster growing up poor in Spring Valley, Wisc. He used blocks and Lincoln Logs to create structures throughout the house. As a mature artist, he's made colossal ceramic objects and tinkered with robotics and multimedia platforms .
Beyond the studio, though, he was present at the creation of the 1708 Gallery. A group of 18 artists in 1978 took on a flood-bedraggled building in Shockoe Bottom at 1708 E. Main St. They wanted to present big, contemporary art, where they'd not get censored, as had happened in a photography exhibit about childbirth at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The founders each threw in about $35 a month in dues to operate the space. Seipel served as first president. The reaction to 1708, where a thousand people attended monthly openings, inspired Seipel. "Here was a town hungry for the experimental, the new," he says.
Seipel's 30-plus years as an artist-educator, including chair of VCU's sculpture department, embraced hiring the best teachers who, in turn, recruited excellent students into the graduate program. VCU's primacy in the national rankings of public art schools and its significant number of alumni honorees of MacArthur Foundation, Guggenheim and Javits fellowships have brought attention to the school and Richmond from a world that might not have otherwise cared. More attention is destined to get directed here.
The Institute for Contemporary Art's concept began, he says, with the late art critic CeCe Bullard and gallery owner Bev Reynolds. The idea marinated for a while. Then art patrons Meg Gottwald and Alan Kirshner organized the Pollak Society to generate funds. The center was intended to be near the Jefferson Hotel. But design differences and the death of architect Charles Gwathmey sidelined the concept. Senior associate dean Susan Roth liked the idea, as did VCU's new president, Michael Rao, particularly as an interdisciplinary arts space to take full advantage of a comprehensive research university.
Seipel sees a direct connection between the studio and administration. He says that making art is problem solving but without exactly knowing where you're going to end up. "I describe being in the studio as hanging onto the tail end of a big dog and seeing where it goes. Sometimes you try to get it here or there, and sometimes it goes that way and sometimes it doesn't. And you have to remain rather fearless about the next step."
Ensemble: The DJ Williams Projekt
The selectors said: The DJ Williams Projekt has built an audience that continues to jam out to the band's infectious mix of jazz, fusion, funk and soulful grooves. The formula is flawless, with DJ's masterful guitar lines, a solid rhythm section and tight horn players. They are Richmond's hometown musical heroes.
The DJ Williams Projekt started organically, as does the jazz improvisation the group plays. At Café Diem in June 2003, the guitarist — Donald J. Williams Jr. ("I went to DJ to prevent confusion," he says) — began his particular brand of room-shaking, body-moving music. Oregon Hill Funk All-Stars saxophonist Gordon Jones joined him, as did drummer Dusty Simmons. Mark Ingraham signed up in 2004. "That's the poster I'm not in," Ingraham says. "And I'm still mad about it."
And the three burst into laughter. This is not uncommon. Their enjoyment of being together, and playing music, is infectious.
The lineup works well. "We got this old-soul stage energy you can't buy," Williams muses. Also in the band are Todd Herrington, who's been around the circuit with Modern Groove Syndicate, and Joey Ciucci, a charismatic keyboard player.
Williams was born in Plainfield, N.J., with parents from West Africa who had musical inclinations. He recalls a magic room of fronded plants and big album covers. He was around 9 years old when he first heard James Brown. "And I said, ‘Who is this and how can I get some more?' "
His parents urged Williams and two sisters to take up an instrument, provided they stick to it. He started classical piano at 4, but at 16, he picked up guitar. "And that's what stuck."
He's honed his skills from Middle Tennessee State to Brooklyn's Bushwick and musical travels around the world. In Richmond, he played an acoustic show with an automated loop until he connected with Jones.
The group creates on its feet. There have been three recordings of their original material, and a fourth is coming in 2013 on Williams' label.
They've opened for Buddy Guy, John Legend and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe. That latter gig led to Williams playing guitar for and touring with the San Diego-based jazz-funk organization.
"This band's sound is changing," Williams says. "It's gone from soft, loosey-goosey jazz improv to a edgier, hard-hitting funk ensemble. I've enjoyed watching this evolution. I want it to happen naturally."
Emerging Artist : Jason Keith
The selectors said: Jason was included by Beverly Reynolds in the "Almost Famous" exhibit his past summer for good reasons. Here's an artist approaching his work from a different angle and possessing a verve that addresses his exploration of the process. It'll be interesting seeing what he does next.
By day, he gives Wolverine and the X-Men their distinctive hues and textures as a colorist for Marvel Comics. Then Jason Keith turns into the mild-mannered fine artist. What some aspiring graphic artists might consider the job of a lifetime, Keith does now as a means to support this abstract-art habit. This summer, his work at the Reynolds Gallery's "Almost Famous" show got snatched up quicker than the Avengers assemble.
As a kid in Wichita, Kan., Keith studied anatomy as a means to draw comic book heroes. "I was less interested in the story lines than the art," he says. He pored over big art books from his mother, Melanie, and later enjoyed trips to art museums with his family. A high school research paper tracing the influence of Picasso introduced him to Cubism and abstraction.
While still in high school, he worked for Hi Fi Colour, a digital color studio for comic books. CrossGen (later purchased by Disney) also employed him as staff colorist. Much of Marvel's top talent came out of that firm after it foundered. Since then, he's drawn many, many heroic torsos working as a colorist with Frank Cho — better known for his "Liberty Meadows" comic strip — on the Shanna the She-Devil and The Hulk titles. And coming in January is Savage Wolverine.
"In the new versions, they made us take out his cigar," he says, shaking his head.
While making a living in comics, Keith lived in New York City and in Florida, where he met his wife, Reneé.
In 2008, he began his undergraduate art studies at VCU, making the deliberate choice to go into painting and printmaking. He explains, "I wanted to be in the department where comics might be laughed at, where they'll say, ‘How will you ever be a serious artist if you worked in the funny books?' "
The decision proved a transformative one.
His first litho print combined a classic image by legendary comic-book artist Jack Kirby along with a newspaper image of a soldier's coffin. "Capt. America Lives Again" beneath the big red star of a Macy's department store newspaper ad. The image took in comics, commercials and reality. Printmaker Barbara Tisserat told Keith that he'd made a political cartoon. "If comics enter into my work, it's as commentary," he says.
His fine art breaks the frame into shards, sending pieces of debris, words and figures flying, as layers of texture often reflect the imagery. But then he's also worked on erasing all but the barest indication of figuration. Richard Roth, a past honoree, gave Keith insight about removal being as important a process as addition.
Keith is graduating in the spring. "I did it backwards," he says. "I had the career before I went to college. Now I'll be out at 30."
Words: Gigi Amateau
The selectors said: She didn't even think she was much good at writing. But her approach to subjects and enjoyment of language equals a passion for the craft. Though her novels are classified as "young adult," the themes are as adult and complicated as anywhere else. She writes of hope that impels people to improve their lot inside a sloppy often painful makeshift of a world.
Sometimes she goes out too deep. Gigi Amateau heard the phrase in her head while swimming at Edisto Island, S.C. On the beach, she began writing in longhand. "My family was annoyed with me," she laughs. "They were saying, ‘C'mon, this is our vacation!' " That sensation became Amateau's first novel, Claiming Georgia Tate, published in 2006. She always starts out writing by hand. "I love the feel of a Ticonderoga No. 2," she enthuses, like a racer excited about a car.
She put away the completed manuscript, as if to say, "Ok, that's done." But her husband, Bubba Sanderson Jr., encouraged her to send it around to friends, one of whom passed it along to David Ethridge of the Key West Literary Seminar, where well-known author Judy Blume was on the board. This led to agent Leigh Feldman and Candlewick Press that has published Amateau's four books to date.
Born in Ripley, Miss., Amateau, at age 8, moved with her family to Hanover County. She used her degree in urban studies and planning to work for nonprofits and in health and human services. This background helped her in writing the 2012 historical fiction book Come August, Come Freedom about the uprising led by Henrico County slave Gabriel. "It trained me to see cities as complex systems," she says.
The love of language traces to her maternal grandmother, Audrey Gregg, a schoolteacher in Alabama and Mississippi, and her grandfather Moses, a rural Presbyterian minister.
While at the state Department of Social Services in 1992, she had her daughter, Judith. "I was telling her at 18 months, ‘You can do anything, be anything.' " She realized the same applied to her. Amateau made a plan to write every week — poetry, fiction and for periodicals, including Richmond magazine. She freelanced for several years.
A work colleague, artist Ana Edwards, reintroduced Amateau to the Gabriel story. "In 2004, I remember telling Ana that we should write this as a children's story. Not long after that, I started researching." A visit to Mt. Vernon and a candlelight tour of its slave quarters gave Amateau a glimpse into that world. The subject matter, though, now seemed greater than her ability to tell it. Amateau expressed to her agent how perhaps an anthology of writers could give voice to the Gabriel story. Instead, her editor, Karen Lotz, insisted that Amateau write it herself.
An offshoot of Come August is the story of Pharoah Sheppard, a slave rewarded by officials for his turning evidence against Gabriel. Sheppard works the system to free his children, too, and becomes a farmer. "I like him," she says. "It's a complicated story. He seems really willing as a character."
Dance: Pam England
The selectors said: She is a choreographer, a dancer, a teacher and a co-founder of Ground Zero Dance Company; GZD has enriched and broadened the modern dance scene in Richmond and Central Virginia. She previously co-produced Cooper/England Dance Works. Pam holds a BFA in dance from VCU and an MFA in dance from Arizona State University.
Pam England's introduction to dance came through the legendary Terpischore company of Elinor Fry.
"They'd do a piece with shackles on their wrists," England says. "I don't know what it was about. I was 5 years old, and they were doing these swaying motions with these chains. It impressed me." Dance, intended or not, became a metaphor for freedom of the body and imagination.
England, who grew up in Mechanicsville, received exposure to art and culture from her mother, Philippa, who brought her into Richmond at any opportunity. Her mother, who sang around the house, once aspired to opera, and her father was a self-taught country guitarist.
England attended classes with Marion Mease, then in Carytown, and at the Concert Ballet of Virginia. At Virginia Commonwealth University, like many young dancers, she came under the tutelage of Frances Wessells. "It was my first exposure to modern dance," England says.
England became a quick study for choreography in order to better occupy the place where dance and story merged. "The performance occurs in this mystical space where strange beings live, so I got to be different people outside of myself."
After completing graduate studies at Arizona State, she returned to Richmond in 1994. Then performing was a group of young, enthusiastic dancers known as Steve's House Dance Collective, which ultimately became the seed pod that burst forth nonacademic, contemporary Richmond dance. While working with Steve's House, England met the dynamic Rob Petres. Together they formed Ground Zero, which opened Dogtown Dance Center in Manchester.
A 1998 overuse injury to her hip sent her to physical therapy and introduced her to Pilates. She went on to train in New York City with Romana Kryzanowska, Joseph Pilates' direct successor. "Pilates fixed me enough to dance for another 10 years," she laughs, though by 2008, she chose to step off the stage and focus on the technical aspects of dance. England teaches Pilates today and continues to choreograph.
"I have these beautiful bodies of young people to work with," she says. "They can at this point create these physical metaphors better than me."
Arts Innovator: Ram Bhagat
Drumming the Spirit
The selectors said: We chose Ram because of his dedication to serve our youth community with his programs of emotional healing in classrooms. As founder of Drums No Guns, he promotes youth nonviolence and created the educational program Science and Artistic Perception, which incorporates drumming, drama and dancing with chemistry and science.
Ram Bhagat is a science teacher at Richmond's Open High, but he isn't an ordinary instructor. His inner architecture was constructed with poetry, spirituality and percussion. And he uses these in the classroom.
"I don't want to give the impression it's a substitute for teaching chemistry," he says. "It's a way of learning that can be transferred to chemistry."
His passion for replacing fighting and guns with percussion, education, art and intellect has taken him to training courses at Harvard, Yale and the Kennedy Center. He's organized corner bucket drummers into "Hoodstock" and fostered creative partnerships with groups including the Richmond Peace Education Center.
He grew up in New Haven, Conn., with parents who listened to Motown, jazz and Nina Simone. He developed an interest in Buddhism and yoga.
The 1981 death of his younger brother Lester, who was serving in the military, put Bhagat into a tailspin. After a reunion with the family, Lester was to return to his base in Michigan, but he never arrived. He was found shot in the head. His killer was never caught.
In that aftermath, Bhagat sold his clothes and most of his possessions and returned to Virginia.
"I remember wearing all white," he says. "It was some sort of pilgrimage, a spiritual journey."
The center of his life became the performing and healing arts communities. Following science-teacher certification at Virginia Commonwealth University, he wanted to student-teach at Open, but its lack of a chemistry lab at the time placed him instead at Richmond Community.
There he devised the Edu-Concert concept, integrating dance, rap and music into student presentations. Students addressed their peers "in a way that elevated their minds," he says.
In 1994, Bhagat transferred to Thomas Jefferson High School, which also housed the Governor's School. Bhagat and Aubrey Fountain collaborated on projects designed to promote healthy schools and creative nonviolence. While working "downstairs" at Thomas Jefferson, he began forming what became Drums No Guns, which came to flower in 1997 at John Marshall High. The group organized food drives, and the drumline led a Million Mom March in Washington, D.C.
Bhagat is working on a doctorate in education at VCU, and he recently lost his long dreadlocks in a successful fight against prostate cancer. His mother, Lucy Gooding, underwent chemotherapy at the same time he did. He now has a bare head, "out of tribute to … [he pauses] … to being here." And he smiles.
Photography: Susan Worsham
From Darkness to Light
The selectors said: She's a force in contemporary photography. Her carefully composed large-format color images are illustrative of her dedication to her craft. Her exquisite attention to light, gesture and her tender portrayal of her subjects demonstrate the importance of her work.
Driving around in my car, I follow light," Susan Worsham says. "It leads me to a beautiful place. I'm following the light. It hits an overgrown backyard. There's a rusty swing set, then a girl holding faded roses."
It's a contrast to the darkness, though, that interrupted her idyllic childhood on Bostwick Lane amid the woodsy environs of the University of Richmond. While she gazed out her home's big picture window, she remembers, birds hit the glass and fell.
Her father, who taught chemistry at UR, came for show-and-tell to Worsham's school and dipped roses in liquid nitrogen. He then smashed the roses on a desk. When Worsham was in fifth grade, however, her father died while away on a trip. Some years later, her older brother, a former paratrooper paralyzed in a motorcycle accident, killed himself in his upstairs room. Her mother died in 2004.
Remaining on Bostwick Lane, however, is neighbor Margaret Daniel, a retired Collegiate School science teacher. Her image, her Smoky Mountains, N.C., voice, and her stories wend their way through Worsham's art.
One day, 20 years ago, Worsham, who sought a worthy subject, rolled down the window of her mom's car and with guileless forwardness asked to take Lynn Crounse's picture. "I had a few contact sheets to show her that I wasn't a total crazy person," she recalls. Worsham says she learned her art by photographing Crounse. While serving as a muse, Crounse's life — including her children — has been recorded by Worsham's 4-by-5 camera.
Worsham studied graphic design at Virginia Commonwealth University. She attended a view-camera class, but Worsham preferred to be out making photographs. Instructor George Nan gave her a D, "Which was brilliant," she says. "He should've failed me."
This past year, the Oxford American magazine anointed her as one of 100 "Superstars of Southern Art." This paired well with Photography District News' 30 "New And Emerging Photographers to Watch." Despite these and other accolades and anthologies, numerous Richmonders know her as a restaurant server. Her first enthusiasts, and critics, were bartenders, cooks and dishwashers.
Her friend Michael Braden urged her to embrace the Internet and post her work. Worsham began entering contests that soon garnered praise, and in 2010, she became an artist-in-residence at the renowned Lightwork. Her book, Some Fox Trails In Virginia , won first runner-up in the fine art category of the Blurb Photography Book Now International Competition.
Her work will be on view the Candela Gallery, 814 W. Broad St., Jan. 11-Feb. 23.
This article has been corrected since publication.
Visual Art: Matt Lively
Out of the Barn
The selectors said: Matt approaches his art with the same trepidation of any in the discipline: A blank rectangle must become a window into another, alternate universe. Beecycles, piles of sheep and the Rube Goldberg machines are whimsical, but taken in context of a large body of work, there's a sense of urgency. He manages the dynamic balance of a joking juggler. He doesn't always know what's coming next. And we don't, either .
Matt Lively's world begins where the Powhite ends. On a rolling swath of Chesterfield County, amid fields and woods, and facing a 3-acre pond, he creates underneath massive ceiling joists of a 130-year-old barn that look like the keel construction for a ship. Here, he sails to other realms of light and dark.
The place, attached to the property of his father, Ron, gets quite hot and cold, and he says in a deadpan way, "I admit there is an advantage to that, but I'm not able to put my finger on it. I'm close to the seasons, that's for sure."
As a kid, Lively constantly drew, and his first art galleries were record stores, where he studied album covers, especially ones by Frank Frazetta. The illustrations of hulking barbarians wielding bloody axes appealed to his teen sensibilities. "It didn't seem as if he erased much," Lively says. "He seemed to work quickly. I liked the idea of working quickly and violently and getting it done."
From age 17, he intended to make a living through art. He explains, "And I stuck with the plan until it worked, and then I realized that it shouldn't have worked — but it was too late, and I have to keep going."
He studied sculpture at Virginia Commonwealth University. Lively says he didn't excel, though he wanted to learn about using other kinds of materials. The Bee Cycles, one of Lively's artistic idiosyncrasies, started as a sculpture that wouldn't stand up. He later used the image to patch a blank spot in a canvas. Swarms of bee cycles appeared. And piles of sheep.
He grew accustomed to an artist's hours while in Atlanta, prior to the 1996 Olympics, when he worked for his uncle's fire and water-damage restoration company.
A hospital blaze damaged a $40,000 model of the building, and Lively, with his sculpture degree, was put to work cleaning. "It was just foam board with little people you get at the hobby store. So I took it to my apartment. They said, ‘Bill us your hours.' And I got hooked on being my own boss." He'd work two hours, go to the studio for two hours, and the arrangement proved productive. At 22, he was selling paintings. By then, he'd married his wife, Wendy.
Lively has a mural at the Yapple yogurt shop in Carytown. You can see new work based on the James River at Quirk Gallery in May 2013.
Applied Art: Andrea Donnelly
The selectors said: Andrea's large and intricate works are imbued with a psychological depth that alludes to deep personal and cultural meaning in her labor-intensive craft. We are impressed with her dedication to weaving and her ability to push it to such an impressive and affective scale, and we are glad that she has chosen to live and work in Richmond.
Growing up in Raleigh, N.C., Andrea Donnelly consumed the series of small-town animal surgeon books best known for All Creatures Great and Small. Despite an enduring interest in art, she thought that the life described matched her ambitions. But there was little in the biology building at North Carolina State University to lead the way.
"That side of campus was paved over, no grass, no trees," she says. The woodsier, older brick buildings side of campus held psychology classes. While interesting, this didn't satisfy either. Home for Thanksgiving 2003, in her sophomore year, Donnelly told her father, "I think I missed the boat. I think I should've gone to art school."
He replied, "Why don't you?"
She took classes in painting and photography, and then in textiles, not out of great desire, but because it was next. Like falling in love, however, she discovered what she wanted without really looking.
Professors Vita Plume and Susan Brandeis encouraged her, as did painting instructor Lope Max Diaz, who considered Donnelly's weaving a form of painting.
She first saw Richmond on a gorgeous Ash Wednesday in 2008. She decided to pack up her looms and move here for graduate school. The devices she uses in art making are individual, like a musician's instrument. "I refer to them as if they're creatures," she explains. "They have personalities. That one's squeaky. This one's temperamental with the braking device."
When preparing for a show, she spends hours in front of the looms. "I made myself sick putting the Visual Arts show together," she recalls of her solo exhibition earlier this fall. While she loves the work, she adds with a laugh that she doesn't always like it, nor could she do without it, nor the support of her partner, Jordan Matthews.
The human figure will for the time being remain a motif, though she'll be experimenting with motion in the veiling, blurring and using denser cloth. One piece titled Peer is 13 feet long. But she doesn't want to lose the sensation of the handmade. "It's not a banner," she says. She's also planning smaller, abstract pieces
Donnelly's work can be seen at Page Bond Gallery, March 1 to April 1.
NOTE: This article has been corrected since publication.