This year, artists Tom and Linda Neel mark 30 years as creative collaborators and partners in life. And they’re celebrating with a return to the Leesburg gallery scene.
Tom, a noted landscape painter, and Linda, a pioneering downtown gallerist in the ’80s—and now an artist in her own right—are firmly back on the Leesburg art scene. Linda is Cooley Gallery’s featured artist for August and the guest of honor at an Aug. 3 First Friday reception. Cooley now represents Tom, too, and his work will be in the spotlight at a December show.
“For me this is very celebratory,” Tom Neel said. “Thirty years of doing anything is a long time. To celebrate it back in Leesburg with my wife, who I met in Leesburg and who wasn’t an artist when I met her, is kind of a full circle and it’s really fun.”
And while the couple has been making art together at their home in Fauquier County for two decades, their work couldn’t be more different. Linda’s abstract pieces focus on pattern, texture and color, while Tom’s vivid oil landscapes capture the stunning scenery of southwestern Loudoun and northern Fauquier counties.
The Neels met in 1987, a few years after Linda opened the Leesburg Gallery of Art near the corner of King and Market streets in the heart of downtown. Tom, a Maryland native, had returned to the area after a stint on the West Coast and turned his attention to painting after a career in the automobile industry. He heard about Linda and her gallery and went to check it out, which led not only to Tom’s first solo show at the Leesburg Gallery in 1988 but also to a decades-long romantic and artistic collaboration.
Tom started working with Linda at the gallery and moved to the village of Rectortown in northern Fauquier County to be closer to his new life. The landscapes of the surrounding farms, mountains and country roads became the heart and soul of his work and his inspiration for decades.
“You’re a product of your environment, and I was living on a beautiful farm with sunrises and sunsets completely at my availability,” Tom said. “I was experiencing them like I had never experienced anything before … I was really just up to my ears in inspiration.”
When recession hit in 1990, Linda sold the gallery, and she and Tom were hired to help run the fine art publishing company Greenwich Workshop near Greenwich, CT. Their four years in Connecticut were a creative boon for Tom, who continued painting, inspired by Greenwich Workshop mentors like Americana specialist Charles Wysocki and fantasy artist James Christensen. And Tom turned to painting full time when the couple returned to Virginia in 1994, moving to their home near Marshall, which they still share with a “very privileged” cat.
The return to Virginia fed Tom’s ongoing passion for the scenery of the region’s farmland, villages and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“I’m always looking for a different way to present the Piedmont,” he said. “I don’t really like painting the same thing over and over again but I’m intrigued with looking at the same things in a different way.”
Meanwhile, Linda was pursuing an art career of her own. A Colorado native with a background in information technology, Linda’s lifelong love of horses brought her to Virginia in the 80s where she competed in dressage and raised Holsteiner horses while running her first gallery.
In the late ’90s, Linda turned her lifelong love of textiles into an art career of her own.
“I have always had a passion for color, pattern and texture,” Linda said. “It started in my youth when I first learned to sew and would go to the fabric store and get absorbed into the many fabric types.”
She fell in love with Japanese Shibori tie-dying technique and the texture-focused nuno felting and began screen-printing with dye. She became known for gorgeous hand-dyed scarves and then decided to take her textile work a step further. With Tom’s help, she developed a process to create abstract wall pieces by painting with dye on a silk screen, following up with other surface design techniques like wax pastel and ink before mounting on a birch panel and varnishing. Those vibrant wall panels are the subject of this month’s Cooley show.
In 2009, the Neels took another shot at running a gallery, opening their Live an Artful Life gallery in The Plains. The gallery closed last year, but the couple has continued their “Live an Artful Life” art education website, which features guest articles and Tom’s weekly blog posts on the creative process and beyond.
For the Neels, the return to the downtown Leesburg art scene is perfectly timed. While home is in Fauquier, both artists have clients in Loudoun, and Tom has been the artist in residence at the Creighton Farms Club south of Leesburg since 2011. And finding a gallery home where they both had their artistic starts is the icing on the cake.
An opening reception for Linda Neel’s new show takes place 6-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3, at The Cooley Gallery, 9 N. King St. in Leesburg. See details at facebook.com/thecooleygallery.
Find the Neels’ bios and more glimpses of their work at lindaneel.com and thomasneel.com.Check Tom’s weekly blog, artist profiles and other art news at liveanartfullife.com.