Photo courtesy VCU Institute for Contemporary Art
With her family, Beverly Reynolds moved from New York City to Richmond in 1975 and soon set off on her path as a crusader for contemporary art in the city and beyond.
In 1977, she founded the renowned Reynolds Gallery in the 1500 block of West Main Street, and she helped sow the seeds for what has become a flourishing community of contemporary artists and galleries.
Her long, often intensely personal campaign for recognition of contemporary art in Richmond ended Sunday, Nov. 23, when Reynolds succumbed, overpowered by her battle with ovarian cancer.
At 68, Reynolds’ mind was still sharp, her voice still strong in her final days as she gave a deathbed interview to her daughters, her passion for the arts undiminished till the end.
In an interview recorded shortly before her death by daughters Alice Livingston of Richmond and Margaret Jones of Austin, Texas, Reynolds shared some of her misgivings about moving to Richmond, among other reflections.
Where is Richmond on the art map now and where is it going?
Reynolds: Richmond is poised to take off in extraordinary ways. It already has. There is vitality you can feel throughout the city that I’ve never felt before.
The ICA [Institute for Contemporary Art] is going to put Richmond further on the map as a major center for innovation, for inspiration, for opportunities that nobody ever thought in the wide world would exist.
It’s an opportunity for the entire city from the East End to the West End, an opportunity for people to join together to enjoy extraordinary exhibitions — just to mix and be inspired by what other human beings can do. That’s all going to happen here in Richmond.
How would describe the evolution of the art scene in Richmond?
Reynolds: The evolution of the art scene in Richmond — well, it took a while. But it had some extraordinary people who were so talented and so dedicated to the craft that it didn’t really matter that they were working on a slower basis. They continued to create and break new boundaries and pull people forward with revolutionary ideas.
There always was a great vitality within the artistic scene in Richmond. Then it seemed to take another big step forward when Rick Toscan (former dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts) came.
He was such an extraordinary leader and had such a vision and had an amazing way to work with faculty and students in a very quiet, very meaningful way.
But step by step, he accomplished his goal (moving the School of the Arts from 25th in the nation to No. 1 among public schools of art and design), and then things seemed to really take off.
From your perspective, what has been your most important contribution to the art movement in Richmond?
Reynolds: I feel that if I’ve made a contribution at all, it has been trying to expose and enrich people with the amazing abilities and creativity of the art school here and the artists who live in Richmond. And hopefully to make a city where they can stay and work and have their art supported by the community, so they don’t feel as if they have to go to New York or California to get support.
I think, in turn, it makes Richmond a really exciting city. All great cities have great art and Richmond certainly has that with the Virginia Museum [of Fine Arts] and all the other cultural venues that are available. It’s grown over the years, and it’s really at a stupendous place right now.”
A longer retrospective of Reynolds’ life and career will appear in the January issue of Richmond magazine.