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A Talent Takes Off

xgbesxt.gifThe following was published in the summer issue of All About Her, a regional newspaper insert.

When Gretchen St. Lawrence and her husband David moved from the Charlottesville area to Floyd in January 2006, they were looking to escape the traffic and congestion of city life. The couple, who had previously worked high tech jobs in the Silicone Valley of California, found Floyd through "Fragments of Floyd," the blog writings of Fred First. Upon visiting the area, they discovered they loved it and were especially impressed with Floyd's strong arts community, which would ultimately prove to be fertile ground for St. Lawrence's own creative talent to take off.

St. Lawrence grew up on the South Shore of Boston, Massachusetts, and then Canada where she studied Fine Arts at McGill University in Montreal. Over the years she made attempts to pursue her art seriously but was sidetracked with work and raising two children. Once in Floyd, she knew the timing was right to freely explore her artistic aspirations.

"It wasn't hard to find out where the action was," St Lawrence says about the one stoplight town of Floyd. With the traffic of Charlottesville far behind her, she signed up for classes at The Jacksonville Center for the Arts. She took a watercolor class with local artist Rick Cooley and followed that with pastels with Cheryl Sweeney. "I got hooked on pastels," she remembers. Cooley and Sweeney suggested she join the Floyd Figures Group, an artists group that has been drawing informally together for 25 years. grdav.jpg

With the encouragement and support of the Floyd Figures group and other area artists, St. Lawrence's pastel skills rapidly progressed. At the request of her son, she painted several portraits of his cats and was surprised at how well they turned out. Soon she was doing pet portraits by commission, and her husband, who had a woodworking business when the couple first came to Floyd, began providing the wooden frames. As demand for St. Lawrence's portraits grew so did interest in her husband's mat cutting and framing skills and Floyd Custom Framing was born, a studio shop that David St. Lawrence runs out of the couple's home.

After drawing with Floyd Figures for more than a year, St. Lawrence joined with five other women and co-founded The Floyd Artists Association. The group opened a gallery downstairs in Winter Sun building, appropriately called "Art Under the Sun." At the gallery, the artists began putting on painting demonstrations for the public, which allowed St. Lawrence to further develop her pastel techniques and branch out to incorporate still-life and landscapes into her body of work.

St. Lawrence's ability to capture a likeness and make it shine has drawn attention. Her art has been exhibited in Jacksonville Center's Hayloft Gallery shows and in local coffee houses and restaurants. It has appeared in The Floyd Press newspaper and hangs in the Hotel Floyd, a green-lodging boutique hotel that showcases Floyd art and culture. ggroupgall.jpg

As a member of the Floyd Artists Association, which has grown to include nine members, St. Lawrence welcomes the opportunity to utilize her skills as a business woman. She's worked in the past as a program manager, an office manager, and for advertising agencies. She's been active in Floyd's Friends of the Library and has experience writing copy. Most recently she helped author Fred First edit his second book, What We Hold in Our Hands, and worked with others on the map for Round the Mountain Artisan Trail, which will link visitors to creative points of interest in Floyd and throughout Southwest Virginia.

With a Grand Opening in early July, the Floyd Artists Association's gallery has relocated to "The Station at South Locust," a newly renovated building across from the Floyd Country Store that was at one time the location of an Amoco gas station. The new gallery name, "Blue Ridge Art Connection," reflects the group's commitment to attracting new artists and fostering them. Classes will be held at the gallery and a different guest artist will be exhibited every First Friday, St. Lawrence says. As part of the group's outreach they will also be hosting drawing sessions in a country setting along the Little River for non-members the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month.

Currently, St. Lawrence is excited about her latest pen-and-ink class with Ron Campbell at the Jacksonville Center, which has inspired her art in a new direction. She speaks enthusiastically about the enriching benefits of the arts in the community. Carrying on the Floyd tradition of encouraging new artists, just as she was encouraged, St. Lawrence says, ""I love being a mentor to other artists. I don't think you have to be a teacher or give classes. I think just listening, encouraging them, showing them where they can get supplies, where they can take classes, or helping them shop online is important." ~ Colleen Redman


You're making me want to move to Floyd again!!

Colleen, to answer your question, no, I am not in the Galapagos, just sharing my daughter's photos from her recent trip.

So much talent in Floyd!

It's funny, I would think I would love living in Charlottesville if not here. Especially out in horse country. The traffic seemed so minor compared to other places of that population and the town has such a nice late back relaxed charm to it. And then so many big groups, restaurants, shops! But I bet the university life would get on your nerves if you liked it really quiet.

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