Art in the Halls exhibit

Posted: April 27, 2013

The Winchester Star

Clarke County artist John Burns displays his painting for the cover of the 2005 Free Medical Clinic's Taste of the Town event program. The painting is among his works for nonprofit agencies on display at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in the Art in the Halls section. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
Winchester artist Julie Read shows "Winter Joust" from her African wildlife series of paintings on display in the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
John Burns created this piece for the 2008 Shenandoah Valley Music Festival.

Winchester — Two local artists and graphic designers have taken over the halls of the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

The works of John Burns of Clarke County and Julie Read of Winchester are hung in the first-floor hallways used for the museum’s Art in the Halls exhibits.

Both displays are free and open to the public in the museum at 901 Amherst St.

John Burns

Burns’s colorful display of oil paintings is on view in Glaize Hall through June 16, while Read’s exhibit, “The Africa Series,” is on display in Lewis Hall through July 14.

Burns is no stranger to the Art in the Halls program. He frequently designs materials and logos for the museum through his company John Burns Illustration and designed the Art in the Halls logo.

For his exhibit, Burns chose nine oil paintings that are almost all illustrations he created for nonprofit organizations — First Night Winchester, Free Medical Clinic of Northern Shenandoah Valley and the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival.

Six of the pieces are works he created for the music festival, carrying a bird theme through each year’s illustration. He has drawn the series for 12 years, but in the last five, a character he calls “the Eagle Guy” has become a popular fixture and is pictured singing center stage, playing the piano and driving a convertible.

“The one where the guy is singing in the microphone, that was the first time we used the Eagle Guy, and he struck a chord with people, no pun intended,” Burns said.

In a painting he did for the 2009 First Night Winchester theme art, he tried to evoke the warm feeling of a Norman Rockwell creation with three bundled-up musicians performing outdoors.

“Sometimes it is fun to see the original artwork from things you have seen in print,” Burns said. “It is usually a lot more colorful.”

Although Burns does graphic design work of all kinds, he especially likes working for nonprofit groups because he tends to get more creative freedom.

Especially with the works where he donated his time and efforts, he has found that “when people are not paying you, they give you more freedom.”

“I like anything with the creative process, whether it is music, graphic design or illustration,” he said. “It is all about solving communication problems for people.”

Burns has been a graphic designer since 1979, when he graduated from Shepherd College with an associate’s degree in commercial art. He started his business in 1998.

Julia Read

Read’s exhibit was inspired by a 2012 trip she and her husband took with their two 11-year-old grandchildren to South Africa, Bot-swana and Zambia.

She has been a graphic designer for 25 years and teaches intermediate watercolor at her studio, Back Lot Studio in Winchester.

The show depicts the African animals she saw and photographed while on safari, painted in watercolor on handmade paper from elephant dung, said Read, graphic designer and co-owner of Wisecarver Communications in Winchester with her husband Bob Read.

The paper, which also contains rags, newspaper and other materials, was made by a wildlife guide who escorted them. What started as an experiment with the paper turned into a series as Read continued to work with it.

“It is totally different than machine-made paper. The paper is soft; it is very absorbent,” she said. “It takes the water faster than a machine-made paper would because there is no sizing in it, and it dries really light because the paper is so absorbent that you have to put down a lot of layers in the painting.”

The roughness of the paper lends itself to paintings of a rhinoceros and elephants.

In one painting, she depicts a kudu (a species of antelope) she saw in South Africa. She said the beauty of the animal took her breath away. “I like the setting he was in. He was concealed in the trees. I love the horns and the way they curve.”

The hardest animal to photograph was a leopard the group spotted in Botswana, hiding in a tree. The only hint of his live presence came from the twitching of his tail, she said.

“We sat there for a long time and watched him but he did not move except his tail,” she said. “We were probably 10 to 15 feet away.”

A certain measure of safety is afforded when spectators are in a game vehicle because the animals don’t see all the people inside — they see a large moving thing and don't attack it, Read said. The elephants don’t feel that way because they are bigger than the game drive vehicle. The group learned so much about the animals from their guide, and it was a fascinating trip, Read said. “The paintings are wonderful memories.”

Giclée prints of the paintings in “The Africa Series” are available for sale in the Museum Store.


The Art in the Halls program in the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, at 901 Amherst St., features John Burns’s oil paintings in Glaize Hall through June 16 and Julie Read’s exhibit “The Africa Series” in Lewis Hall through July 14. For more information, call the museum at 540-662-1473, ext. 225, or visit

— Contact Laura McFarland at