Beverly Ward Reynolds, Richmond Arts Advocate, 1946-2014

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Scott Elmquist

Beverly “Bev” Reynolds, who established one of the most influential commercial art galleries in the city’s history, wasted no time or opportunity in sharing her passion after landing in Richmond from Manhattan in 1977.

From the Reynolds Gallery on West Main Street, an outgrowth of the Reynolds Minor Gallery, which she co-founded in 1980, she curated shows of nationally and internationally known artists and career-making exhibitions of work by local talent.

She made it look effortless, encouraging regional executives to place art in corporate settings, inspiring people along rewarding paths of collecting challenging work and demanding excellence in publicly funded art. She pioneered the city’s first coordinated public art walk and chaired Art Works for Virginia, a campaign aimed at linking architects, designers and interior decorators with local galleries and artists.

“Bev helped make my career,” said Diana Detamore, before the memorial service at St. James’s Episcopal Church on Saturday. “She encouraged me at a time when I didn’t realize how important it was, and she was willing to take a chance on a new artist with provocative work.”

The service for Reynolds, who died Nov. 23 at 68, brought together some 500 family, friends and admirers for music, memories and laughter. “She was always upbeat and had a positive ‘you can do it’ attitude,” Detamore said. “She was generous. She was inspirational.”

Soon after settling in the Fan District, Reynolds began showing work by nationally known artists in her home. By the early 1980s she was involved with the Friends of the Anderson Gallery, a development group of Virginia Commonwealth University. She always claimed that being on campus provided a respite while she and her husband, David, reared their four children. But time honed her belief that a leading art school needed a top-notch exhibition facility.

The Anderson, a former stable-turned library, had no elevator, issues of accessibility and was landlocked. So Reynolds joined efforts for a new gallery on Monroe Park at Main and Belvidere streets. Undaunted when that prominent site became the School of Engineering, she spent countless committee hours fine-tuning designs for a new gallery on Cary Street — which also was nixed. Finally, a site for the Institute of Contemporary Art was settled on at Broad and Belvidere. Reynolds watched quietly at the groundbreaking in June.

She also was open to adventure and appreciated the absurd. During a trip to western Pennsylvania a number of years ago to visit Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, our group stayed in Uniontown, a former coal-mining town. After dining at one of the few restaurants we wandered across the street to the faded Veterans of Foreign Wars building, where a local version of professional wrestling was underway.

The crowd of locals was well-tanked and bottles were periodically thrown into the ring. Each fight grew more intense. For the main event, a wrestler in red, white and blue togs arrived to approving applause. But when a bearded grappler introduced as Boris the Russian entered, there was booing and a few folding chairs were hurled toward the mat.

I scanned the crowd to see how Bev was taking it all in. There she sat, ramrod straight, with her scarf perfectly draped around her delicate neck. She was fully engaged, having been embraced by a cadre of older women, outfitted mostly in sweatpants and camouflage jackets.

I later asked, “Were they explaining the fine points of wrestling?”

“No,” Bev replied with her wonderful laugh. “They told me, ‘Boris is no Russian, we know his mother.’”


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