Works by one of the Shenandoah Valley’s foremost twentieth-century artists will be on view at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV) from February 25 through August 6, 2023, in the special exhibition With Lyric Brush: John Chumley’s Valley.
Painting on location and from a studio on his farm in Middletown, Virginia, John Chumley (1928–1984) immortalized the Shenandoah Valley’s natural and built landscape, it’s people, and his growing family. A master of the realist style, John Chumley produced an impressive body of work comprising more than 500 paintings, drawings, and studies, and his work is represented in collections throughout the United States.
According to MSV Curator of Collections Nick Powers, With Lyric Brush: John Chumley’s Valley is the first retrospective exhibition of the artist’s work since the 1990s. Organized by the MSV with Powers serving as exhibition curator, With Lyric Brush: John Chumley’s Valley includes more than 40 paintings and drawings, several of which are on first-time public display at the MSV.
Works in the exhibition range from those created by John Chumley during his years as an art student in the 1950s to Kingfishers—the artist’s final painting—which was completed in 1984, the year he died of cancer at the age of 56. The only known self-portrait of John Chumley, painted about 1974, is among the works on public view for the first time.
Born in Minnesota and raised in the mountains of East Tennessee, John Chumley moved to the Shenandoah Valley in 1962. According to Curator Powers, the artist chose to live in the Valley because he was drawn by the beauty of its landscape.
Visitors to the exhibition may recognize several familiar scenes depicted in Chumley’s landscape paintings, including View of Paris, a panoramic watercolor created in 1982 of the vista around the village of Paris, Virginia. Other works in the exhibition, such as Chumley’s 1971 watercolor Virginia Farmhouse, capture the last days of rural isolation for many of the Valley’s oldest farms and structures before development altered the geography of the region.
The exhibition also includes poignant and powerful portraits, many depicting the Valley’s people, members of the artist’s family, and those close to him. Notable portraits created in the Valley and included in the exhibition include Mister Shipe, a 1965 watercolor of the postmaster of Middletown; Calvin, a 1968 egg tempera of Calvin Gant, a 12-year-old friend of the artist’s children; and Double Wedding Ring, a 1977 egg tempera of Chumley’s wife, Bettye, sitting at a quilting frame he crafted. The quilting frame and quilt depicted in this painting are displayed next to the painting.
With Lyric Brush: John Chumley’s Valley is presented at the MSV with the support of Valley Health System. During its display, a variety of programs will be offered, including watercolor workshops for artists of all ages, an online program about the artist hosted by Powers at 6:30 p.m. on March 28, and a panel discussion at 6 p.m. on May 10 about the life and work of John Chumley that will feature Powers, and Chumley’s children Jeff, Bonnie, and Kathy. Advance registration is required for all programs; details and registration information are available at www.themsv.org/upcoming-events.
A regional cultural center, the MSV is located at 901 Amherst Street in Winchester, Virginia. The MSV includes a galleries building where permanent and rotating exhibitions are on view, the Glen Burnie House, seven acres of formal gardens, and The Trails at the MSV—a free-admission art park open daily from 7 a.m. to dusk. The galleries are open year-round Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April through December). The house and gardens are open April through December. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and youth ages 13 to 18. Gallery admission is always free to youth ages 12 and under and to MSV members. Thanks to corporate partner Howard Shockey & Sons, Inc., gallery admission is free to all every Wednesday. Additional details are available at www.theMSV.org or by calling 540-662-1473, ext. 235. –END–
About John Chumley
A realist painter, John Chumley (1928–1984) was one of the most talented artists to live and work in the Shenandoah Valley. Born in Minnesota, John Chumley moved with his family to Knoxville, Tennessee, before the age of one. In the 1950s, Chumley enrolled at the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. A three-year Air Force stint during the Korean War interrupted Chumley’s studies. Funded by the G.I. Bill, Chumley studied for three years at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia (PAFA). In 1958, Chumley accepted an artist-in-residency position at the Fort Worth Art Center in Texas. Following this, a yearlong sabbatical in 1961 brought the artist and his family to central Virginia. In 1962, proceeds from his first solo exhibition—hosted in New York by Maynard Walker—financed a move to the Shenandoah Valley. That same year, Chumley purchased 200 acres around Vaucluse, an early 1800s house near Middletown, Virginia, making it his home and studio. For the remainder of his life, John Chumley rarely painted more than 50 miles beyond the boundaries of Vaucluse. In 1984 and at the age of 56, John Chumley died of colon cancer. Over his lifetime, he mastered the challenging techniques of watercolor and egg tempera, an ancient medium that is a mixture of dry pigments, egg yolk, and water. His works are in public and private collections throughout the United States.