Jim Burtch wants to do everything he can to keep his late mother’s artistic legacy alive.
Mary Jane Burtch died April 21 at age 72, just a few days before this year’s Open Studios of Roanoke tour, an event she helped found 16 years ago.
Her son, 48, an artist in his own right, has set his art projects aside to concentrate on finding permanent homes for a number of his mother’s works.
Monday, Roanoke City Council unanimously approved a donation of 14 Mary Jane Burtch paintings to the city’s public art collection. Council authorization was required for paperwork to proceed because the donation was valued at more than $5,000, said Roanoke arts and culture coordinator Susan Jennings.
At the meeting, Jennings said the city didn’t previously have any work by Burtch in its collection. “She was a very prolific artist doing a lot of different types of work,” she said.
Jennings cited Burtch’s role in co-founding Open Studios, the art classes she taught and her willingness to mentor other artists as evidence of her continued influence in the Roanoke Valley art scene.
The donation brings the total works in the city’s collection to 145, with more than 100 of them by regional artists. The Burtch pieces include an oil painting, two monoprints, six ink and oil pastels that work as a set, and a series of five assemblages that also function as a set. All will be hung in public buildings.
“It is unusual for us to get a donation of so many works by one artist but her son Jim wanted us to have examples of all the different media she used,” Jennings wrote in an email.
Jim Burtch said he has admired his mother’s art since childhood. “I grew up being a fan of hers,” he said. This made the decision to set aside his own art for the time being easy.
Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke is selling some of Mary Jane Burtch’s art, with proceeds going to the estate. “She’s exclusively there at this time,” her son said.
Jim Burtch, however, is seeking permanent, institutional homes for a number of his mother’s works, some of which “were never for sale to begin with.” He doesn’t want them hidden away in storage. “They have to hang in a place where people can see them,” he said.
Burtch called Jennings “wonderful to deal with.” He has also donated his mother’s art to the Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount, he said.
Mary Jane Burtch was a Franklin County native. “I think she’d have been tickled to know she’s at the Harvester,” her son said.
He intends to visit cities where his mother taught classes or held shows, such as Sarasota, Florida, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, to see if he can place her works with institutions there.
“I’m just trying to get her out of Roanoke,” he said. “My goal is to create a legacy and not see her turn into dust.”
In Roanoke, Mary Jane Burtch’s works will be quite visible in the coming months. “Legacies: Honoring Artistic Luminaries from Southwestern Virginia,” which opens Aug. 27 at the Taubman Museum of Art, will showcase work by Mary Jane Burtch alongside the likes of the late Roanoke-born sculptor Dorothy Gillespie and Salem artist Walter Biggs, who painted illustrations for books and magazines in the 1920s and ’30s.
On Sept. 2, Gallery 202 in downtown Roanoke will open “Mary Jane Burtch: The Lost Nudes,” a series of paintings of mostly female nudes that the artist created in the 1990s but never publicly displayed. After discovering the paintings, Jim Burtch arranged the exhibition with the gallery. He praised the Gallery 202 member artists for accommodating the show.
He would love to see new exposure for his mother’s art earn her a national reputation, and wants to do everything he can to make that possible. “At least I can say that I did the best that I could,” he said.
On the Arts & Extras blog
The Taubman’s major 2014 exhibition of Roanoke artist Bill Rutherfoord’s vivid, symbolic paintings, “Allegory of No Region,” is on display again, at the William King Museum of Art in Abingdon. It’s the first of the show’s stops as a traveling exhibition. To learn more, visit blogs.roanoke.com/arts.