Priscilla Burbank

March 09, 2016 Features

Longtime volunteer Priscilla Burbank receives Distinguished Service AwardPriscilla Burbank moved to Richmond in 1979 with her husband, Mike Schewel, and practiced corporate law for nearly two decades before she got to know the Hand Workshop and decided that she wanted to devote herself to more creative pursuits.

“At the time, the Reynolds Gallery was one of the only galleries in town,” says Burbank. “We’d go there for openings, and we kept hearing about gallery exhibits at the Hand Workshop. It was just a teeny tiny gallery at the time, but they were doing really cool, cutting edge stuff.” She and her husband began attending the Hand Workshop’s annual Craft & Design shows, acquiring contemporary crafts to add to their growing art collection.

Burbank joined the Hand Workshop’s board of directors in 2000. At the time, the arts organization was leasing half of the 1812 West Main Street building from the Virginia Dairy Company. Burbank was on the strategic planning committee during a period in which the organization was undergoing a metamorphosis. That planning process led to a new name—the Visual Arts Center of Richmond—and a new brand identity, as well as the decision to acquire and renovate the entire Main Street building. Burbank was on the board during the organization’s successful capital campaign and subsequent renovation.

“The part of the building we were renting was pretty cruddy, to say the least. I’d seen the plans, of course, but one day I walked in and saw the bridge, which connected the two sides of the building,” says Burbank. “To see it all opened up, with the gallery space—I got choked up. It was such an exciting moment.”

What mattered most to Priscilla, however, was getting the organization’s mission right. In addition to teaching skills-based art classes, she and the rest of the board wanted VisArts to be a place where everyone—regardless of talent or skill level—could explore their creativity.

“We all have a creative spirit, whether we recognize it or not. You don’t have to be an expert painter or sculptor. This place is for everyone,” says Burbank.

During her tenure on the board, Burbank particularly enjoyed serving on a Creativity at Work committee led by former executive director Jo Kennedy and the search committee to hire current executive director Stefanie Fedor. She served as secretary for two years and chaired the marketing committee, also serving on various other committees over the years.

While serving on the board, Priscilla began to explore her own creativity. She credits a VisArts pottery class with helping her find her true love—painting. “I realized I was more interested in glazing the pots with pretty colors than making them!” she says. She soon discovered a process-driven style of painting called “intuitive painting” and began going to retreats in California to explore how to paint freely, like a child.

This experience inspired her to become certified to teach the painting method. “I got a C in seventh grade art because the vase I painted didn’t look like a vase,” says Burbank. “Intuitive painting is about picking up a brush, choosing some colors and just starting to paint. Too many people stop themselves from making art because they think they won’t be any good at it.”

In recent years, Priscilla has taken acrylic and oil painting classes at VisArts, which she says she wouldn’t have had the courage to take had it not been for her experiences with intuitive painting.

Burbank retired from the board of directors in 2015 but continues to serve on VisArts’ Craft + Design Committee. On Saturday, March 19, the Visual Arts Center will recognize Burbank for her distinguished service to the organization.