Virginia Blackstock, a Creative Life

By Kathryn R. Burke

Talented? Indubitably. Creatively gifted? Absolutely. And both are barely adequate expressions to describe a woman who has made creative endeavor a lifetime achievement and been richly rewarded for doing so. Virginia Blackstock has excelled in all manner of visual and movement arts. And, it began early. She learned to dance standing on her father’s feet as he danced her around the room, later dancing with her brother, an Arthur Murray instructor. Later she taught dance.

Art started early, too. “I told my kindergarten teacher I was going to be an artist,” she laughs. Today, Virginia Blackstock is the signature member of 13 watercolor societies, a founding member of the Western Colorado Watercolor Society, listed annually in Who’s Who in American Art for nearly a decade, and honored in 2018 with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Marquis Who’s Who. Her work is being featured this month at the Montrose Center for the Arts. It’s her 64th solo show. What she told that teacher when she was five years old has come to full fruition. Please visit her show at the Art Center and see how her early prophecy has become reality.

Virginia’s kindergarten picture was of a maple tree. “You could even tell what it was!” she said. Today, that maple tree has morphed into a series of masterpieces. You can recognize one of her paintings from across the room—her mastery of color, light, and composition is unparalleled.

Many articles have been written about Virginia’s careful craftsmanship, unique technique, and how she uses elements of design, light and shadow in her compositions. However, we wanted to learn more about who this fascinating woman really is and how she came to be the award-winning artist she is today. Her path to visual and movement arts perfection is full of twists and turns—that led to dance, theater, art, even cake-baking.

“My father supported my love of art, but said my college work had to lead to making a living.’” So, Virginia studied dance with Martha Graham in New York City, and chose Wisconsin Univ. to do all the work for her Master’s degree. “It was the best Dance department in the nation at that time.” Virginia taught many varied classes, dance and sports, during her years at three universities. She also taught Liturgical dance at the University of The South, Sewanee, Tennessee, where she formed a group of young men and women who performed hymns, psalms, and prayers in motion for churches.

Spiritual creativity was also involved when Virginia, and her late-husband, Ross, an Episcopalian priest, spent 12 years leading Marriage Encounters all over the country. “We were a clergy couple,” she explains. “It was a wonderful program for making good marriages better, and to help couples, who were struggling, learn to communicate better. We taught ‘dialoguing.’” This and other travel allowed her to visit many interesting places, take photos and make sketches—some of which eventually became subject matter for her prolific paintings.

Virginia Blackstock painting

Before taking up painting full time, she helped her husband with the Blackstock Pharmacy and their adjoining bakery in Gunnison. Why a bakery? “So we would have nice aromas flow into the pharmacy,” she says. When the baker had to leave, he graciously taught Virginia most of the bakers’ skills and work routine. ”We had a 5-foot glass front, rotating oven, and I made wedding cakes this high”—she gestures; it must have been about 2 feet high. “It was a work of art!”

During this period, Virginia spent 10 years in Webster Players community theater in Gunnison. “I acted in many of their plays, choreographed musicals like Brigadoon., and even directed a few, like Rainmaker, and Bus Stop. The first time I directed a play, I was starring in it, when the director became ill, so I became both.”

The Blackstock family moved to Rogers Mesa in 1971 and became orchardists, which worked out well, because Virginia has always loved gardening. “I started when I was about eight years old, gardening with my father.” She’s still at it. And all those lovely fruits and flowers eventually became the basis for many of her award-winning paintings.

Virginia, who had been painting for herself all along, became a professional watercolorist in 1983. “I reached that through competition,” she explains. “When you decide to be a painter, you have three choices: paint for yourself, paint for galleries, or paint for competition.” She chose competition, because “I didn’t want to just paint as a ‘home decorator.’” She wanted to paint for a wider audience that would view her work for its artistic qualities.

Competing broadened her circle of artist friends. At the 2nd International Water Media Symposium in San Diego in 1993, she met and worked with a lot of nationally known artists from across the country, whom she also studied with before or after the event. “During those years I taught Watercolor workshops in Colorado, New Mexicio, Arizona, and Alaska,” she adds.

“We traveled a lot, and I always took my camera and sketchbook looking for new and interesting subjects to paint, sometimes in a series.” These include: early American; pictographs, petroglyphs, and ruins (which meant backpacking into remote wilderness areas);  wheels (anything that had a wheel on it, like old farm equipment, vintage automobiles, and broken down wagons); florals; fruit; people; music; and dance (“of course!”). Although Virginia is known for her extraordinary floral paintings, things like her Utah and Colorado Grandeur series have also won awards.

Virginia’s work is not only perfection from an artistic and technical aspect, but also prolific. Her work hangs in many places in SW Colorado, including St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, Delta Hospital, DCMH Medicine in Hotchkiss, (Ecuador, Paris) and Montrose Center for the Arts (where she is a member and volunteer).

Virginia Blackstock

Virginia Blackstock. Photographed at reception at the Montrose Center for the Arts. ©Kathryn R. Burke

Virginia Blackstock is a work of art, herself, as much as the highly recognizable art she creates. “Art and dance are the music of my soul,” she often says.

Visit the Montrose Center for the Arts, 1 S. Park Ave., Montrose CO, to see Victoria Blackstock’s work in her 64th solo exhibition. Learn more about her and peruse her portfolio at http://www.wcwsociety.net/oldsite/portfolios/Blackstock_Virginia/

Virginia Blackstock paintings.
Column 1.  Top: “Luscious Trio.”  Below: “The Guardians.” Photographs of both original paintings, courtesy of the artist.
Column 2. Top: 
“Dahlia’s Grace and Dignity,” Original painting, photograph courtesy of the artist.