VisArts student makes engagement ring for girlfriend + she says ‘yes!’

ring being madeRecently VisArts’ student Johnny Hugel signed up for a metal working class with goldsmith and teaching artist Daniel Eaves with one very special project in mind — creating a one-of-a-kind engagement ring for his girlfriend Molly Szkotak. Taking inspiration from rings that Molly showed him and using his master tinkering abilities, Johnny was able to fashion a beautiful engagement ring for Molly in six weeks. In November, Johnny found a perfect, romantic setting and asked Molly to marry him. Molly said yes. We checked in with Johnny to hear the details of forging Molly’s engagement ring, and how he popped the question.

How did you hear about the VisArts metalworking class?
My friend Kristy Santelli suggested the class after she and her fiance used it to cast their own engagement ring.

Was this an introductory class? And, was it your first time working with metal?
The class seems to be a hybrid; Daniel gave great instruction and one-on-one assistance, which I sorely needed being my first class. But, most of the others seemed like pros, taking it for the tenth time.

Did you take it with making an engagement ring in mind?
That was all that was on my mind.

What did the class entail? What techniques did you learn? And, the end result — how’d it turn out?!
The class was a shorter summer class — so, five or six sessions that were three or so hours a piece. After an intro demo, I was on my own, making my sad wax model match Daniel’s. Luckily, my second model looked much better so refining it, making the mold, pouring the metal and filing and polishing it down amazingly produced something that resembled a real ring. Of course, Daniel helped with the final setting of the diamond, when the ring  became an engagement ring, and not just a shiny element.Processed with VSCOcam with a3 presetWhy did you decide to make an engagement ring rather than purchasing?
I’m a tinkerer, so beyond the humane reasons of not buying something new, when I realized I could have a role in making the ring, and reuse materials I’ve been saving for quite some time, I knew that was the only way I could do it. Molly loves that side of me, even if it  means my projects take over our guest room. So, it naturally complemented our relationship.

How did you propose? Yes, we want to hear the details.
Well, in going to and from the class, I was using an old iPhone box to hold my supplies, figuring they’d have less of a chance to get lost or discovered that way. At some point, I realized presenting the ring in the box was the perfect cover, so I stored it away for the right time. When the iPhone 6 came out in September, and Molly was constantly eying mine, I knew I had to act fast to present her with her new gold ring, under cover of the gold phone.

The phone arrived the day after I ordered it, which had me scrambling to find a good backdrop. Being travelers and explorers, we both had envisioned it happening on one of our trips, but with each one I think it had suddenly became suspect and too obvious. When our friends at Ledbury invited us to their annual Quail Hunt Soiree, I figured it may just offer the perfect setting. I was stressing on our way out to the reserve, searching for a spot and trying to act natural. As soon as we got there, I suggested we get away and explore, knowing it might be our only chance alone.

The setting was perfect, and we were giddy from the fresh air and environment, taking photos of each other and generally being goofs, but I still hadn’t pictured how I’d do it. When she made me pose in front of the pond, I realized I had my chance, and suggested she do the same as I fumbled in my jacket for the iPhone 6 with the extra special accessory.

I had my camera out filming, as I handed it over, suggesting it would add to her enjoyment of the weekend. She was so surprised that I’d given her a gold phone that she didn’t look close enough. When she realized I was being extra weird she took a second look in the box. Luckily it’s caught on video, so we can confirm that I asked her and she answered “Yes.” The next hour is a blur for both of us. We had to sit down before joining the party just to figure out what we’d done.johnny and mollyWhat was her reaction when she found out you forged a ring for her?
She was overwhelmed by the whole thing, but couldn’t believe it. It was modeled in the style of some that she’d shone me by Anna Sheffield, but I didn’t have anymore than a glimpse. I don’t think she believed that I could have made such a thing myself.

Congratulations, Johnny and Molly!

To learn more about our metal working and jewelry classes, click here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Mindy Tanner

mindy tannerWe love when our students want to spend more time with us here at VisArts! After taking classes from digital design to glass, Mindy Tanner decided to become a VisArts volunteer. Thank you Mindy for sharing your time with us. We appreciate you!

Where are you from originally?If you’re not a local, what brought you to Richmond?

I was actually born in Richmond. I lived here and in South Carolina when I was younger and mainly grew up in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. After graduating from James Madison University and working in Northern Virginia for a while, I relocated to Richmond.

Tell us your volunteer story! How did you end up becoming a VisArts volunteer?

Over the years, I’ve taken several different classes at the Visual Arts Center, from glass to encaustic painting to creative nonfiction. I’ve loved them all. The Visual Arts Center has a welcoming atmosphere, fantastic teachers, and great classes and workshops. I decided I wanted to get more involved in the community and began volunteering at the Visual Arts Center, because I was familiar with the organization, what it does, and the value it brings to the community.

Tell us a little about yourself! (Where do you work? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Where are we likely to find you on a Friday night?)

I’m in communications. In my free time, I love to read. I also teach yoga and have been serving on the marketing and branding advisory group of an emerging nonprofit, IT4Causes, which provides stable, secure, and sustainable IT solutions to small and medium size nonprofits.

Are you an artist or a maker? If so, what do you like to make?

I’m not a professional artist, but I love to take classes and learn new things. Right now, I’m working on some ideas for homemade holiday gifts.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering at VisArts?

The energy of the Visual Arts Center — there is always something interesting going on, and I love seeing what people are making.

Volunteer Spotlight: Gerry Nixon

GerryVisArts is lucky to have Gerry Nixon. One of our longest-running volunteers, Gerry has been with us for the past few years, helping out with our big events (Collectors’ Nights and the Craft + Design Show), along with other events . Gerry is a talented seamstress and has spent her time in VisArts’ studios exploring other realms of the visual arts. She is also a former SOHO mentor and comes by weekly to help us with a variety of tasks in the office.

In April, during National Volunteer Week, we recognized Gerry as our exemplary volunteer through The Spark Mill’s Power of Good event. In honor of all RVA’s hardworking and giving volunteers, The Spark Mill, in partnership with artist Tiffany Glass Ferreira, created Shrinky Dink Selfies for volunteers.

Thank you, Gerry, for the time, dedication and kindness you have given to VisArts! Screen shot 2014-10-16 at 10.31.51 AM

Tell us your volunteer story! How did you end up becoming a VisArts volunteer?

As retirement approached, I talked to some folks about working with nonprofits, and someone mentioned VisArts, so I went to a volunteer orientation and ended up sewing banners that same day.  I was really interested in the SOHO program, and was able to serve as a mentor one year.  Besides helping with major events, I usually stop by about once a week and do whatever is needed.

What do you enjoy most about volunteering at VisArts?

It’s such a fun place to be — really nice staff, beautiful things to see, lots of activity, variety of tasks/ways to help.  My husband doesn’t understand why I am willing to clean out closets at VisArts, but don’t enjoy doing that at home.  I told him that VisArts has fun stuff in their closets.  I enjoy handling the materials that go into making art.

Are you an artist or a maker? If so, what do you like to make?

I have known how to sew since I was a child, and grew up making most of my own clothes, then things for our home, then prom/homecoming dresses for my daughter, but hadn’t really tried other things.  Since coming to VisArts, I have used my volunteer credits to take classes in weaving, stained glass, glass fusing and slumping, glass bead making, steam punk jewelry making, and clay (mostly hand-building).  Twice, I have taken the Pottery for Everyone class with a teenager that I met through SOHO or Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT).  As more than one teacher has told me to do, I enjoy the process of making things, regardless of the outcome.

What’s your favorite local Richmond haunt? 

We recently moved from Chesterfield to Church Hill, so we’re looking forward to trying all the great restaurants in the neighborhood.  My husband had a major heart issue a few years ago, so our eating habits changed drastically after that, but he gets one splurge meal a week, so it will take us years to try all the possibilities even once!

Tell us a little about yourself! (Where do you work? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Where are we likely to find you on a Friday night?)

I’m a retired biochemist.  After spending over 30 years in an industrial research and development environment, the only science I do these days is related to tutoring or volunteering to screen projects and judge science fairs through the Math Science Innovation Center. I volunteer with Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT), serving as a tutor and a life skills class sewing teacher.  I also participate in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) and serve as  children’s leader in that program.  We have a 7-month-old granddaughter, so I enjoy spending time with her whenever I can.  Since I’m retired, every day is one for doing something I love, so Friday nights are not really different from any other.

Chili Cook Off Kiln Fundraiser

chili cook off posterJoin us for a chili cook off fundraiser to raise money for a new kiln on Friday, Oct. 3 from 5 to 8 p.m. Help us reach our goal of $2,300 for a SKUTT 1027 kiln!

• Sample and vote for your favorite chili (15 to choose from!)
• $15 donation for a handmade ceramic bowl with chili
• $15 donation for a handmade mug with two beers
• Live music by The Better Not Make Outs
Center of the Universe Brewing
Montana Gold Bread Co.
richmond thread lab sale
AND … our First Friday Sampler classes will be taking place!

RSVP to the party here. And, if you can’t make it, feel free to donate here!

Volunteer Spotlight: Olivia Jones

olivia jonesThis month we are spotlighting VisArts volunteer Olivia Jones, who heads up our First Friday Samplers. We are grateful that Olivia connected with us through HandsOn Greater Richmond. She has been valuable in the success of our First Friday workshops. Thank you, Olivia, for being a wonderful new addition to our VisArts volunteer community. We appreciate your hard work!

Where are you from originally? If you’re not a local, what brought you to Richmond?

I’m truly a Southern gal. I grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, spent some time in Columbia, South Carolina, going to school at USC (go Gamecocks!), and moved up to Richmond more than two years ago for graduate school at VCU’s School of Social Work.

20140801 Community Arts Sampler_Volunteer PhotoTell us your volunteer story! How did you end up becoming a VisArts volunteer?

Volunteering is very important to me. When I lived in Columbia, I volunteered all the time. However, when I first moved to Richmond, I exclusively focused on school and my internship. Once I started my career, I realized how much I missed volunteer work and was eager to start giving back to my community. After some research, I connected with HandsOn Greater Richmond and became a volunteer leader at the Visual Arts Center. I love the Visual Arts Center’s mission to engage community members in the creative process. Everyone is creative; it’s just a matter of finding the best way to express yourself! I really appreciate that.

What’s your favorite local  haunt?

I love VMFA! The atmosphere is so relaxing, modern, and the grounds are beautiful. I often find myself wandering around Carytown, from shopping at Indigo Avenue to grabbing drinks at New York Deli or picking up a doughnut at Dixie Donuts. Other than that, since I’m still fairly new to the area, I enjoy exploring the city’s unique neighborhoods and trying new restaurants.

Tell us a little about yourself! (Where do you work? What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? Where are we likely to find you on a Friday night?)

I work downtown at the General Assembly Building as a Legislative Aide for Betsy B. Carr, who serves the 69th district (part of the City of Richmond and wee bit of North Chesterfield) in the House of Delegates. When I’m not working, I can be found at my apartment hanging out with my 20-plus pound Maine Coon-mix cat named Yoda. I’m part of an active book club of young feminists; we all come from different backgrounds and professions, so we’re always doing something fun! Recently, I became co-chair of the community engagement committee for the Virginia Home for Boys and Girls’ Young Professional Board. On a Friday night, if there’s not a get-together at a friend’s house, then I can usually be found at Amuse’s happy hour or at New York Deli.

Who do you admire most?

My mother. She’s the hardest working, most patient person I know. She taught me to value education, be fiercely independent, work hard, and be true to yourself. olivia and mom

Bob Trotman to show at VisArts + State of the Art simultaneously

Bob Trotman, Invisible HandIn the past year Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s curatorial team has traveled more than 100,000 miles across the United States and visited more than 1,000 artists to find out what’s happening in American art today. After their year-long, cross-country journey, the curators have chosen 102 artists and 200 pieces of work to be a part of the exhibit State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, which opens mid September. (To learn more about the rigorous and selective curatorial process for this art exhibit, read this New York Times story and this blog post.)

What does this exhibition mean for VisArts and Richmond?

One of State of the Art’s 102 chosen artists — Bob Trotman — will have a solo exhibition here at VisArts right as the Crystal Bridges exhibit opens in Bentonville, Arkansas. VisArts is honored to show the work of one of America’s top contemporary sculptors at a pivotal moment in his career.

About Bob Trotman’s exhibit at VisArts:

September 5, 2014 – October 31, 2014

Trotman creates sculptural installations that comment on corporate America through an ongoing series titled Business As Usual. Trotman states, “as a contemporary artist I am fascinated by a noir narrative of life at the office. My wooden people, often surprisingly posed, evoke both humor and anxiety and, taken together, offer an absurdist vision of an imaginary corporate purgatory.”

For decades Trotman has crafted life-size wooden sculptures, but his installation at VisArts will include new and ambitious studio experiments created specifically in response to the VisArts’ gallery space and exhibition opportunity. These experiments include kinetic sculpture, illuminated fiberglass and video. The exhibition will also feature a comprehensive selection of his terra cotta maquettes and preparatory drawings.

About State of the Art:

September 13, 2014 – January 19, 2015

•    The exhibition features 102 artists from across the country, selected for inclusion as a result of Crystal Bridges president Don Bacigalupi and assistant curator Chad Alligood’s travels and visits (mostly in person, some via Skype) with artists from every region of the U.S.

•    Works in the exhibition include photography, video, ceramics, action/interaction, glass, fiber, installation, paper, painting, and sculpture.

•    There are more than 200 total works in the exhibition

•    The exhibition will reach beyond the boundaries of the Museum’s temporary exhibition spaces, extending into the permanent collection galleries and activating public and community areas indoors and out. Gallery spaces will total 19,000 square feet.

Two of Bob Trotman’s sculptures, Journey and Shaker, will be included in the State of the Art. To learn more about the State of the Art exhibit, click here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Kate Martin

KateMartin_ArtVenture[1]This month we are recognizing our volunteer Kate Martin who has dedicated her time to helping us with our summer ArtVenture program. Thank you, Kate, for your hard work and awesome attitude!

Tell us your volunteer story. How did you end up becoming a VisArts volunteer?

While I was a teaching assistant at my alma mater, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts and Technology, I took classes at VisArts and was invited to help with Summer 2013 ArtVenture. I loved it so much I returned this summer.


What do you enjoy most about volunteering at VisArts?

Although any job where you wear an apron may not appear glamorous, volunteering at VisArts is awesome; everyone at VisArts wants to be there. When I spend time in the classroom with the ArtVenture campers, it’s rewarding because they’re loving what they’re learning. It’s fun seeing their faces light up when they realize how much they’ve accomplished in five days.


Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time, where are we likely to find you after hours?

I’m a rising junior at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, Penn.), majoring in Industrial Design. During the school year, I volunteer as a mentor for freshmen, offering advice like a big sister. This summer, I’m enrolled in a stained glass course at VisArts on Monday nights.

What would most people be surprised to learn about you?

Harp has been a part of my life since I began lessons in second grade. Once I discovered Celtic music, I signed up for competitions, placing a little higher in each one. Eventually, when I was in high school, Clan Currie awarded me the highest honor, “Harper of the Day,” at the Richmond Highland Games and Celtic Festival.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Near the end of spring semester, my poetry professor selected me to design covers for new and reissued books published by the Carnegie Mellon University Press during 2014-15. I’m looking forward to this challenge.

Could you share something funny or surprising that has happened to you while volunteering with us?

After finger-paint portraits, students in the Art Start course enjoyed lunch on the playground. The shyest, a 5-year-old boy, walked up to me and asked for my hand … in marriage.

 To see my portfolio, please view

Q+A with Lora Beldon on Creative Healing + Military Families

Family Portrait, Us_beldon[1]Interview by Emily Fox

Lora Beldon grew up in a career military family that was heavily influenced by the Vietnam War. As a family they traveled the globe. They moved to a new home almost every year. In high school her family moved but allowed her to stay and graduate with friends. She had Virginia residency at the time of graduation and so chose Virginia Commonwealth University for college. After graduation she worked for 1708 Gallery, started teaching and all the while working as an artist.  She is also an art curator, and co-curated the first traveling art show about military kids. With her current business Military Kid Art Project she writes, directs and teaches creative programming for venues that have military kids or want to learn about the military kid subculture. She recently had one of her S.T.E.A.M. programs selected by a Smithsonian affiliate.

Lora comes from a very creative family. Other than being a career Marine Corps Infantry officer, one of her father’s jobs within the military was writing.  He loved investigative writing and was a freelancer for a few magazines, and he used to take Lora on assignments with him.  Lora considers her mother a designer and a craftsperson.  Her mother was constantly working on her own projects at home. Since her family moved around often, as many military families do, her mother would place her in creative programs around the country like the programs at VisArts.  As shy child that  helped her not only fit in but thrive.

Lora will be giving a lecture on creative healing with military families here at VisArts on Wednesday, May 21 from 6 to 7 p.m. Before the lecture we wanted to check in with Lora to hear a little more about her work as an artist and her perspective growing up in a military family.

What inspired you to start the Military Kid Art Project?

9/11. I had a very physical, vigilant reaction when 9/11 happened. I was teaching kindergarten at the time. All I could think about was how all children everywhere would be affected for generations. I decided to act locally. I took a chance and contacted YMCA headquarters with a proposition to offer free art classes to military kids in Virginia. They loved my idea and offered free space as well as connections with volunteers who believed in my project. The response from the public was immediate and powerful.

Why are you coming to VisArts and giving this talk?

I have been studying the Military B.R.A.T. subculture for 15 years. There are 2 million children in active duty families and 15 million adult brats. They’re every age, race, religion, and socioeconomic class. Yet, they are still the invisible Americans.

Who do you hope to help with this talk?

I hope to celebrate and honor the service and sacrifice of military children of all ages. It is a chance to share my story, their stories, and connect with the community, in hopes of raising awareness of the Military Brat subculture and its lifelong impact on children.

How does art help people of all ages cope with grief?

Art encapsulates feelings and thoughts that are very hard to put into words. “A painting is worth a thousand words.” So true.

To learn more about Lora’s work watch this trailer from the documentary “Our Own Private Battlefield” or visit here website here. artfulapproach_militaryfamilies