HARRISONBURG — Combining visual art and poetry creates a more enriching experience for art viewers, according to Jenny Burden, executive director of the Arts Council of the Valley.

The arts council’s Smith House Galleries coupled two fine artists with a poet for this month’s exhibit, “Two Artists and a Poet,” which opened April 5. The exhibit coincides with National Poetry Month.

“When we combine different forms of art, it’s richer,” Burden said. “People respond to different things and it just makes for a more rich experience.”

Bob Bersson’s collection of oil pastel landscape drawings, called “Inspired by Nature,” and Kimberly Juda Souder’s selection of natural acrylic paintings, titled “A Cup of Sun,” hang in the two gallery rooms. At the exhibit’s opening on First Friday, Virginia Poet Laureate Henry Hart read from his works.

Hart has taught in the College of William and Mary’s English department since 1986. His poems, published in four books, have appeared in The New Yorker, Best American Poetry, Southern Review, Yale Review and Virginia Quarterly Review.

Both visual artists live in the Shenandoah Valley. Bersson is a retired art professor at James Madison University and Souder teaches art as well.

Bersson’s work incorporates several mixed media elements, including conté crayon, charcoal, enamel spray and oil pastel. Burden said Bersson wanted his artwork to be hung in the gallery in a non-traditional way that was more organic.

“You can see how the works of art are hung as if they’re tree branches and they kind of undulate around the room,” she said.

The only constant, Burden said, is that every frame is placed 4 inches apart.

Bersson took inspiration from his home in rural Rockingham County. A few of his drawings are farmscapes in Dayton, depicting a simplistic outline of the farm buildings and silos that encapsulate the agricultural skyline.

“These were painted in plein air (outdoor light),” Burden said. “They were drawn outside on the spot.”

Bersson is interested in the movement of trees and clouds, which is comes across in drawings of clouds and treelines in Bridgewater, tree branches in Quebec and a Tuscan hillside from his time in Italy.

The other section of Bersson’s exhibit includes images of leaves that were spray painted.

“He puts the leaves down on the paper and he’s spraying and getting the negative image,” Burden said. “He says it’s somewhere between the real clear image of the leaf and then the background is very fuzzy and otherworldly.”

In the adjacent room are dozens of acrylic on canvas paintings by Souder showcasing various themes of nature — landscapes, woodlands, flowers, plants, animals and fruit. Burden said her paintings are also inspired by her own backyard in the Valley.

Souder incorporates both realism and impressionism in her work. “My goal is to create uplifting and peaceful artworks that help people separate from the stressful, busy times which we live in and to transport the mind to a place of rest, gratitude, a fond memory, or wonder,” Souder said in a press release.

The title of Souder’s paintings are based on a book of poetry she received in 1968 titled “A Cup of Sun,” written by Joan Walsh Anglund. Souder decided to give her art exhibit the same name.

“What’s interesting is that she created the works first, then she looked at all these nature scenes and thought ‘How am I going to title them?’ And she remembered the little book,” Burden said.

For example, a painting of a flower is titled “One Seed Can Start A Garden,” while a woodlands painting is called “Hush...A World Is Talking” and a portrait of an apple is titled “A Nest of Stillness In Which To Hatch Your Dreams.”

Burden likes the way Souder composes her subjects, which tend to offer a unique point of view.

“I like … this one, which I believe is sweet pea, but you’re looking up at it,” she said. “It’s just a completely different vantage point.”

Bersson and Souder’s artwork will be displayed in Smith House Galleries, located at 311 S. Main St., until April 26.

Contact Shelby Mertens at 574-6274,

@DNR_smertens or smertens@dnronline.com

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