Up Close with Kendal’s Working Artists: Success at the Studio Tour


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The spotlight shown on four of Kendal’s working artists last month at the Lexington Rockbridge Studio Tour. Now in its seventh year, the Studio Tour offered the public a behind-the-scenes look at artists and their creative processes. This year’s event took place April 21-22 at 11 different studios around Lexington and Rockbridge County, featuring the work of 36 artists. Kendal’s Sunnyside House showcased the artwork of Jo McMurtry, John Winfrey, Nelson Potter, and Ruth Tafel. Kendal was a sponsor of this event.

Jo McMurtry
A retired Professor of English Literature, Jo McMurtry has always had an affinity for sketching animals. Armed with sketchbook, pencils, inks and watercolors, she will frequently visit the Virginia Horse Center, local zoo, or wildlife center to sketch her subjects face-to-face – or “paw-to-paw.” She explains, “I’ve always just loved drawing horses and animals.” Some of the animals are so familiar with her that they will come up and pose for her. Many framed drawings come right out of her sketchbook, but other times she creates composites of several animals at the drawing board of her brightly-lit home studio.

Ms. McMurtry enjoyed connecting with the public at the Studio Tour, and had “wonderful conversations with people about memories of their favorite horses.” She added, “It was a lot of fun. I was glad that a lot of people found out about where Kendal is and that lots of good things go on here.”

John Winfrey
Painter John Winfrey showcased the scenery of Rockbridge County at the Studio Tour. He finds inspiration just looking at the mountains you can see from a nearby field. Sketching the scenery in person, Mr. Winfrey later brings paintbrush to canvas in his home studio or in the large Kendal art studio.

“I had an interest in art since I was just starting in nursery school, taking lessons here and there,” he says, continuing to paint over the years. He came to Kendal for retirement living 13 years ago following his career at Washington and Lee University.

Mr. Winfrey, who has previously participated in the Studio Tour, shares that “it is a great thing for Kendal to let people know that there is a lot of art going on here.” He is pleased with the quality of the art lessons offered by the senior living community. Check out John Winfrey’s artwork at the Nelson Gallery in Lexington.

Nelson Potter
Nelson Potter has been a wood sculptor for the past 45 years. He is self-taught and focuses primarily on birds. Over the years he has given some lessons and talks, and shares that “you learn a lot working with your hands.” He finds birds to be very interesting and complex artistically: “the coloration and the feathering is what attracts people to birds.”

Mr. Potter utilizes the wood shop at Kendal to do the big cut outs of wood. Basswood is his wood of choice as it has a very straight grain, very little knots, and is reasonably soft. He meticulously carves the birds with his tools to bring them to life. You may find him applying epoxy on the bird’s bill, creating eyes out of putty, and painting the feathers.

Originally from the Albany, NY area, Mr. Potter has been at Kendal for 2.5 years. This was his first time participating in the Studio Tour. His career in the Coast Guard did not afford much time for carving, but retirement in Virginia has allowed him time to work on some bigger pieces, including a red-tailed hawk which took two years to complete!

Ruth Tafel
Weaver Ruth Tafel is a member of the Sunnyside Weavers, a group of weavers from Kendal and the outside community who meet monthly at their Sunnyside home base. Ms. Tafel was the only weaver from Kendal in the tour; the others were from Rockbridge and Bath counties. The Sunnyside Weavers offered a weaving and spinning demonstration, and also brought awareness to the non-profit Project Horizon.

Ms. Tafel, who joined Kendal four years ago, first became interested in weaving after learning about it years ago from a neighbor in Delaware, but it wasn’t until she retired that she was able to devote more time to her art.

“I love texture, and I love color,” she says. “To me, a lot of times as I’m weaving they make a story. I can lose myself in it. I’m making something out of thread, and that pleases me to no end.” At her loom in her living room, surrounded by colorful spools of thread, she weaves the colors into beautiful blankets, table linens, scarves, ponchos, and other apparel.

She adds, “All four of us were pleased with how the tour went. We would all like to do it again. We appreciated everything Kendal had done for us.”

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