By Jennifer L Prince
Nancy Lewis, potter
Many of us long for creativity in our everyday lives by fancying something that is both functional and beautiful. The pottery designed and created by Nancy Lewis of Lynchburg fits that bill. Lewis found her love for creating beauty from earth while she was managing an art gallery and pottery studio ten years ago. Constant access to tools and the opportunity to take classes helped hone her skills, which fostered her desire to learn more advanced techniques. Through her involvement in the Blue Ridge Potters Guild, Lewis has been able to attend conferences and take classes from famous artists, which has enriched her decade of experience as a potter.
Lewis enjoys constructing practical pieces such as plates, bowls and mugs, along with decorative pieces such as business card holders and outdoor garden accents. Her line of finished pieces, called Blue Star Pottery, bears a star and her initials as her distinguishing marks. Lewis devotes three to four afternoons per week to fashioning her earthenware, which enables her to complete about 40 pieces in a week. The complex design process includes many steps—forming the item, two separate firings (for a total of 20 hours in the kiln), and glazing, all of which fulfill her desire to be creative.
Designing in her home has been an asset for Lewis, as she has her work station, potter’s wheel, glazes and kiln centrally located in her workspace. Lewis finds inspiration in the world around her, with nature playing a big role in her thought process. One of her designs, a chip and dip set, is made using a mold she formed using lily pads that came from the pond at Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg. Lewis explains, “What I like about pottery is that the clay starts out wet and soft, and I like the pieces to look like [the clay] it once was.”
Modifying traditional pieces into something more unique is a technique Lewis has claimed as a signature style. “One thing I like about pottery is that I do not have to just make a round bowl; I can alter it,” she says. Many of her creations start out as a symmetrical piece on the wheel, but she enjoys taking those perfect pieces and giving them a more natural, free-form appearance. Her work can be found in several local shops including The Little Gallery at Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, Art on a Mission in Roanoke and the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville.
Betsy Burton, gilded
decorative art pieces
Betsy Burton, who also hails from Lynchburg, has always had a creative streak. Burton’s home shows her love for the eclectic and unique, and that she isan avid collector of interesting things,
including heart-shaped rocks, and natural items like butterflies and bird nests that her sons have gathered over the years. Her ornamental painting peppers the walls, mirrors and even floors of her home—a veritable feast for the eyes.
Burton graduated from Mary Baldwin College with a degree in art management, and has been designing for over 20 years. Following her love to express herself creatively, she started out by painting unique items for her own space, such as floor cloths and ceramic tiles. It was not long before Burton’s friends noticed her flair for design and requested that she replicate her artwork in their homes. Her art even caught the eye of interior designers, who also encouraged her to “keep going and do more,” she explains.
Since those first beginnings, her keen sense of design
inspired Burton Designs, her line of uniquely gilded, decorative art that includes lamps, mirrors and flower runners. Her work can be found in several local stores including Silver Thistle in Lynchburg and RSVP in Roanoke, as well as other design galleries in Richmond, Charlottesville, Raleigh and Rocky Mount, North Carolina. According to Burton, each geographic area has its own unique sense of design, so some stores “request more subtle colors, and others want brighter color schemes.” This variety keeps her work exciting as she keeps up with the styles and trends in each particular area, she says.
Burton Designs has its own distinctive style, featuring a technique that Burton has perfected over the years. She has a skilled carpenter do any woodwork necessary to start the product; her pieces then go through many different steps— plastered, sanded, stenciled, painted, gilded, antiqued and polyurethaned—before they are completed. The entire process takes up to four days from start to finish. During the stenciling process, Burton sometimes uses ready-made templates, but many of her designs incorporate stencils that she has designed herself.
The newest statement piece is a “flower runner,” which shows that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Burton lives in a stately, older home, complete with fireplaces with beautiful yet slender mantels. “I needed something that would fit on a thin mantel,” Burton says, explaining the history behind creating this vessel that makes quick work out of a gorgeous floral arrangement. While they add panache to fireplaces, they are also
a stylish addition to tables, buffets and even windowsills. The design comes in 5-, 10- and 20-hole styles, which range in length from 11 to 44 inches, but custom lengths are also available. Each hollow is fitted with a glass vial, which is made in Lynchburg by glass blower John Baker. Candles, which perfectly fit into the vials, are produced by the Beeswax Candle Company of Lynchburg.
Burton Designs is constantly evolving as Burton finds new sources of inspiration. Ideas for up-and-coming pieces include gilded pedestals, tables and cubes, which will be stackable and appropriate for extra seating. For more information about Burton and her work, visit her online at www.betsyburton.com.
Nancy Kane, painted pillows
Owning original artwork is a just dream for many, but Nancy Kane’s painted canvas pillows make genuine art affordable for those who crave elegant, decorative touches in their homes. Art
has always held an interest for Kane, who has been painting since she was a child. “I think if you have a passion for anything, it is more than likely going to work,” she shares. Indeed, her
creative edge has worked for her as she learned to adapt to the growing needs of her family while maintaining her identity as an artist.
Kane has a long history of designing and painting, which started by decorating wooden pieces made by her husband, such as fire screens, jewelry boxes and other accent pieces. Her line was sold at well-known amusement parks and card stores, which gave her business an immediate, overwhelming success. After several years of painting, Kane decided to take a short hiatus, which was halted when word spread that she was a talented painter. “A Roanoke designer got hold of my name, and it was then that I started doing faux finishes,” Kane explains. Kane still works with that designer along with several others, and boasts a full portfolio of trompe l’oeil, murals and paintings. Several businesses in the Smith Mountain Lake area, such as the Blackwater Café, Mango’s, and Red, Wines and Blues, feature her art murals, and her work is also featured in schools, a library and many homes, including her own.
Kane’s newest venture, her painted pillows, adds a wonderful, botanical touch to any room. “I found a pillow that I absolutely loved, and I thought ‘I could paint that,’ ” says Kane, who has been able to make her designs much more economical than that original inspirational piece. Kane enjoys painting flowers and fruit, and will also offer lakethemed pillows for the upcoming season.
Kane often takes her inspiration from nature. “Whatever I think will look pretty on a pillow, I will paint it,” she says. Living on the lake has also brought about a unique set of circumstances for this artist. Her studio overlooking Smith Mountain Lake provides a serene, tranquil environment, which is one reason Kane finds her work relaxing. Her love for art has also inspired her daughter to pick up painting as a hobby. Kane’s pillows retail for about $70, and they are very durable, which alleviates a lot of the fear of having original artwork on such well-used surfaces. A local seamstress makes the pillow cases out of canvas, and Kane uses acrylic paint, which is very resilient, for the design. Pillow forms are inserted once the paint is dry, and the pieces can be dry cleaned if they ever become soiled. Kane is “always thinking of new things,” and attests to having many such things in
the works. She mixes her own paint, so her pillows can be custom-ordered to match any color scheme to add that truly unique touch to a room. Kane’s pillows can be found at The Little Gallery at Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta, and she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for consultations about murals and faux finishing.
Art is a part of life for these women, and finding time to design is a delight that fulfills their need to express themselves creatively. These designing women have incorporated their creative gifts into their daily routines,
home decorating and careers, and take pleasure in sharing their craft with Central Virginia and beyond.