Virginia Street (Biography for Art Web Site):
I was born in New York City in the spring of 1935 and attended the Friends Seminary for grades one through four. The school was near our home in lower Manhattan. It had a wonderfully creative arts and crafts program, which I loved. By the time I was ready to start the fifth grade, my family and I had moved to the town of Pelham, NY, in Westchester County. I graduated from the high school there in 1952. In my senior year I was the Art Editor of the class yearbook. That fall I went to Cornell University where I received a BFA degree in fine art (sculpture) in 1956. At graduation I was given the Fine Art Department’s “Faculty Award for Professional Promise.”
During my freshman year at Cornell I met a fifth-year architectural student, Edward Hunt Street, from Chattanooga, TN, and we were married at the end of my sophomore year. Ed did some teaching and graduate work in City Planning until I had finished school and then we moved to Nashville, TN, where he went into partnership with his brother, Bob Street, to form the firm of Street and Street, Architects. We lived in the Gate House at the estate, Cheekwood, which belonged to Ed and Bob’s in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Sharp. The mansion and grounds were given to the city of Nashville in the early 1960’s to become an art museum and botanical gardens.
In 1957 and 1959, two of my three children were born, a son, Gordon, and a daughter, Janet. I worked from a studio at home and exhibited and sold my drawings, paintings and pieces of sculpture. One summer I made a six-foot tall painted plaster sculpture called “Resting Dancer” and had it delivered to Centennial Park in downtown Nashville as my entry into a local Arts Festival. It was awarded the first prize in sculpture.
I was a member of the Nashville Artists Guild where I had a one-woman show at their headquarters in downtown Nashville in 1959. I exhibited my work and won awards, prizes and purchase prizes for both paintings and sculpture in exhibitions at the Cheekwood Fine Art Center in Nashville, the Brooks Gallery in Memphis, TN, and the Hunter Gallery and Museum in Chattanooga, TN.
I did some commissions such as a ceramic and wood cross for the St. Augustine’s Chapel on the Vanderbilt University campus, a stained glass window design for the tall stairwell at the front the Hillwood High School and a design for the two-story, marble, entrance hall wall of the new Walter Sharp house in nearby Williamson County. These projects were done for buildings that were being designed and built by my husband’s firm.
In 1966, my third child (Edward, Jr., known as Hunt) was born. As a mother of three young children, I gradually began to do less art at home. I spent as much time as I could with the children and also did volunteer work in the community. For the Nashville Symphony Orchestra I made a set of papier-mache figures of the famous Peter and the Wolf characters that were used in lectures about music appreciation in the public schools. I was a member of the Junior League of Nasvhille where I did work with crippled children. As both a volunteer and a paid employee of the newly organized Nashville Humane Association, I cleaned cages, sold homeless pets and fed all the animals on weekends and holidays. Then, in 1967, I was offered a position as an art teacher at the new private Ensworth School in Nashville, a job that I held for four years.
I decided not to teach art anymore and, in 1971, I went to work for a young man, William (Fuzzy) Mayo, who was starting a business from his parents’ backyard making horse jumps for riding events and private purchase. (Fuzzy had seen some jumps that my daughter, Janet, and I had made for our own horses and ponies and he asked us to work for him. Janet worked for him as an artist briefly and I ended up working for him for twenty years).
Later, at the Jumps by Fuzzy, Inc. warehouse in Franklin, TN, I not only painted the jumps (we used industrial enamel paints since the jumps were usually exposed to the elements) but also ran the office and supervised the other employees while Fuzzy traveled with the jumps to horse shows for most of the year. During that time, my son, Hunt, had become very interested in bowling and I often worked in the snack bars of some of the Nashville bowling establishments in the evenings.
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When I was a child, my father, John W. G. (Jack) Powell, who was from a small town in Bertie County, NC, (Roxobel), worked on Wall Street in New York City as a banker and investment counselor. He had met my mother at a Southern Society Ball. He loved sports and we played a lot of tennis together while I was growing up.
My mother, Janet G. Travell, M.D., was born in New York City. She became a physician like her father, Willard Travell. In 1961 President Kennedy invited her to become his White House Physician (Senator Kennedy had been a patient of hers already for several years at her office in New York City) and my parents moved to Washington, DC, at his request.
My mother was given an office in the White House where she proudly displayed several of my paintings and one piece of my sculpture. (After President Kennedy’s death, my mother stayed on as the White House Physician for President Johnson for a few more years). She published her autobiography, Office Hours: Day and Night, in 1968.
My father died in 1973 and my mother continued to live at their home on Cathedral Ave., NW. Various friends stayed with her as carepersons as she got older. She still practiced medicine and lectured about her favorite topic, myofascial pain, and she was on the faculty of the George Washington University College of Medicine.
In 1994 her careperson told me that he was leaving and I decided to go to live with her. My children were grown, and Ed and I had been divorced in 1974 after twenty years of marriage. I moved away from Nashville after living there for thirty-seven years. I began to do art again, mostly ink or pencil drawings of the plants and flowers that were around the house but also some sewing creations such as pillow covers, wall-hangings and “paintings” made from cloth. I was also my mother’s secretary, careperson and friend.
About two years later, in 1996, my mother decided that she wanted to retire from medicine and relocate to New England in order to be closer to various family members including my daughter and to the Travell family summer home, “Merryfield Farm,” in Sheffield, MA. My sister, Janet, and I went shopping in Northampton, MA, and purchased a home for her. Sadly, she only lived about another year and a half after our move and died at her home at 40 Norfolk Avenue in 1997 at the age of ninety-five. My sister and I donated her lifetime collection of papers and some of her memorabilia to the George Washington University’s Gelman Library in Washington, DC.
I stayed on in Massachusetts for several years. Then, in early 2005, having gotten tired of the cold winters, I purchased a beach house with an ocean view on the Mississippi Gulf coast at 6 Japonica Drive in Pass Christian and moved there in April. My son, Hunt, and his wife purchased a house for themselves at the same time on Finley Street in nearby Gulfport. My plan was to return to MA every summer for a three month period and rent my home in MS as a vacation rental while I was away. Hunt was going to manage this for me.
Hurricane Katrina came along in August and we lost both of our homes and many of our possessions to the high winds and strong sea surges that hit those towns. I had started drawing with ink and colored pencils while I was in MS and I’ve been working with those materials ever since. For some reason I find ink and colored pencils on paper fascinating no matter what I’m undertaking to draw.
After the hurricane, I settled again in the Northampton area (I still have the empty lot on Japonica Drive in MS) and have continued to do drawings at home. The subject matter of many of my pictures is hurricanes but I also draw more cheerful things such as flowers, plants, the sun, the moon, the ocean, sailboats, spider webs, crabs, fruit, vegetables, barns, bottles, trees, fields, fences, animals and people, and buildings that are not being blown away in a storm.
Contact Janet G. Travell, MD’s daughter, Virginia P. Street, by email (VPStreet@aol.com): Email Virginia