Today's Hours
Museum: 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Today's Hours
Museum: 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 5:30 PM
Chumley, John
Collection: American Collection
Specialties: Paintings, Prints
View Artwork
Were it not for a timely football injury, the world might have missed the
lyric beauty of John Chumley's paintings. Chumley was born in 1928 in
Rochester, Minnesota where his father was a resident at the Mayor Clinic.
After a few years, the family returned to the Knoxville, Tennessee area
where John attended the McCampbell School and the Tennessee Military
Institute in Sweetwater before receiving a football scholarship to the
University of Kentucky. Any future with the NFL was nipped in the bud by a
knee injury and Chumley began to focus on his other love - art. While
doing post-graduate work with Walter Stuempfig at the Pennsylvania Academy
of Fine Arts, he discovered his affinity for realistic rural landscapes.
He continued to study and evolve his art, attending the Ringling School of
Art in Sarasota, Florida where he met his wife, Bettye Roberts, and
serving as the artist-in-residence at the Fort Worth Center of Art in Fort
Worth, Texas from 1958 - 1961. During his travels, he had discovered the
beauties of Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and he and his wife settled
permanently at Vaucluse, their 400-acre estate just outside of Middletown
in 1961.

Often questioned about his allegiance to realism in an era when
abstraction ruled, Chumley replied, "In art school I saw students of near
genius achieve spectacular results with abstraction - but too quickly . .
. It was too easy. For me there has to be a challenge. I wanted more. More
knowledge of what went before, so I could bring it to my work." This
desire to take his time and think a painting through was reflected in his
choice of medium. Although he also experimented with oils and watercolor,
his preferred medium was egg tempera, perhaps the most difficult and
certainly the least forgiving of painting media, but one that allowed him
to express best his perception of light.

Though he consistently chose his subjects from his everyday life and the
world around Vaucluse, his work possesses a lyricism that raises them
above the mundane. A 1962 article in Time magazine entitled "Lyric Brush"
finished with this poignant description of the evocative nature of his

A painting of three children's swing [sic], hanging empty from a
leafless tree, is filled with yesterday's laughter. A bent farmer, seen
through the cavern of a big barn, seems the loneliest man on earth. And
the open window of an abandoned house fills one canvas with mystery, like
a mouth that has much to tell but cannot speak.

Unfortunately, an illness cut short his career in 1984 when he was only
56. Fittingly, he was buried at the Mount Hebron Cemetery in the heart of
the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. In his honor, the General Assembly of the
Commonwealth of Virginia passed Joint Resolution No. 81, mourning "the
loss of John W. Chumley while noting his unique talent" and expressing
sympathy for his widow and family.

Everl Adair, Director of Research and Rare Collections