Lynchburg Art Club & Gallery Continues to Preserve—and Make—Local Art History
As I toured the Lynchburg Art Club & Gallery’s headquarters on Rivermont Avenue, I was struck by the balance between tradition and innovation and by a sense of nostalgia alongside a sense of excitement about what the future of art could look like in Lynchburg. Founded in 1895 and still going strong today, the Lynchburg Art Club is both a steward of Lynchburg’s rich visual arts history and a leading player in building its future.
LAC’s permanent collection, which currently consists of over 90 paintings, features the work of LAC members past and present and serves as an account of Lynchburg’s visual arts history. “We have the responsibility of restoring, preserving, and protecting that incredible body of work,” says Jennifer Staton, Manager of the Lynchburg Art Club. “The way I see it, we are the ones who get to tell the stories of the brilliant and forward-thinking founders who, really just as the Civil War was ending, recognized that it is the arts that bring communities together. Lynchburg truly was so far ahead of its time and an arts and culture mecca of sorts then.”
The oldest pieces in the permanent collection are those created by the founders: Bernhart Gutmann, Louise Jordan Smith, and Georgia Morgan. Gutmann was the first supervisor of art in the Lynchburg Public Schools, Smith was once head of the art department at Randolph-Macon Women’s College (now Randolph College), and Morgan was once chair of the art department at Lynchburg College (now University of Lynchburg).
“The permanent collection is used as a teaching tool for our members and the community to study, appreciate, and learn from these accomplished pieces of original art from our talented members,” says Kelly Mattox, President of LAC. “To be featured in the collection, a work has to be an original piece of art, it has to have been done by a member of the club, and it has to be in good to excellent condition. We also need the artist bio, any accolades they accomplished in their medium and artistic career, and information about the donor if they have a connection to the artist.”
The permanent collection is one of many things that found a permanent home when LAC purchased the 1011 Rivermont Avenue building and became incorporated in 1961. “We finally had a permanent home for monthly exhibits, lectures, large classroom space, special events, dinners, receptions, and First Fridays openings for the community to enjoy,” Mattox notes. “It became a destination to experience the arts in Lynchburg.”
Monthly exhibits are organized by an exhibition committee. This committee creates an annual calendar that highlights a wide variety of styles and mediums and features the work of a diverse group of artists. Exhibits often have overarching themes; for instance, a STEAM-themed show happening this September will highlight Lynchburg’s long history as an engineering and design hub.
LAC’s classes and workshops are selected by the volunteer education committee, which is led by Carolyn Prince. This committee chooses the classes, instructors, and formats based on feedback and requests from LAC members and from the general public. Both member artists and guest artists are invited to teach. “One class that has a very loyal following is Ron Boehmer’s ‘Theory and Practice of Drawing and Painting,’” Staton notes. “The class sees new students join each eight weeks or so but there is definitely a core group. I love to be in my office on Tuesday mornings when they are meeting. Ron is incredibly gifted and has created a great atmosphere where everyone is so encouraging of each other, and the works that his students produce are just spectacular.”
Additionally, the club’s event calendar, which can be found on LAC’s website, is always full of exciting options. On May 14, LAC will hold an event called “Plein air painting of a landscape with roses in oil” at Old City Cemetery. The roses will be in full bloom, and artist Julia Lesnichy will demonstrate the technique of painting these delicate flowers. On June 6, Georgia Morgan Civic Art Show winner David Eakin will be conducting a special gouache workshop. A date for the 49th autumn Lynchburg Art Festival at E.C. Glass High School will be announced in June.
For more than 20 years, the Lynchburg Art Festival has funded four scholarships for rising high school seniors from Lynchburg who major in the arts for their four academic college years. LAC also works with Beacon of Hope to help students in need. “As part of our outreach mission to the community, we have partnered with Beacon of Hope for their ‘Art for Achievement’ fundraiser for a few years,” says Mattox. “Lynchburg Art Club members paint over 100 paintings to be auctioned at their gala event. It is such a rewarding experience to generate the funds that will assist students in need with their future education.”
Mattox, who moved to Lynchburg from Richmond, believes that Lynchburg is a can’t-miss art destination for several reasons. “I was so impressed with the large number of artists who are so incredibly talented in Central Virginia and who were so helpful to me when I arrived,” she says. “I think Lynchburg stands out in Central Virginia because it has colleges that have degrees in visual arts programs and their own collections: The Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College, the Daura Museum of Art at University of Lynchburg, and Sweet Briar College’s Art Gallery.”
LAC has also helped make the Rivermont area a hub of creativity. “Along with Point of Honor, Lynchburg Art Club serves as the arts and culture anchor to this area of town,” says Staton. “LAC has shown that lower Rivermont is a safe and beautiful area that is worthy of preservation. We are excited to be the visual arts center of this up-and-coming pedestrian and biker-friendly area of town.”
Lynchburg Art Club & Gallery is undoubtedly an integral part of Lynchburg’s art culture and history. Its staff’s dedication to growing and evolving while also honoring and preserving the past points to another century—at least—of esteemed service.
“We are one of the oldest nonprofit volunteered membership art clubs in America,” notes Mattox. “This history is so valuable. Of course, we always need to change with the times and add more diversity of classes, develop more outreach programs and partnerships, welcome new members, and embrace all social media outlets. We encourage everyone to visit and celebrate our past and experience our future.”
By Emily Mook | Photos By Ashley Glen