If you are anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Roanoke, Virginia — or even if you aren’t — you need to make a beeline for the Hollins University campus, just off I-81. There at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum, you’ll find the very best of Lenny Lyons Bruno’s work. But you need to hurry — this is the last week.
Lenny was born to a coal-mining family. Her Coal Camp Series tells it like it was — and like it really, essentially, still is. Her artworks are often made using old quilts as her canvases. Her sculptures employ found objects to viscerally evoke the life she and her siblings knew — going to school barefoot and threadbare, getting ridiculed because with all the transiency of the coal camps, they’d never learned to read, didn’t know the protocol of a classroom, and were shabby and grimy from the constant of their lives: coal dust, King Coal, a shack if you were lucky, and the company store.
“Blackberry Winter” is the painting you see at the far end of the gallery as you walk in. It’s Lenny’s tribute to her mother — pregnant again, on the move, no food in the house except the blackberries they’d picked in the summer and put up.
The art is intriguing and evocative in and of itself. But it also speaks to just one of America’s big failings — and of the courage and grit one family found to get through it.
If you check out the website https://www.hollins.edu/museum/index.shtml, that first picture in the slide show is one of Lenny’s, and it is probably my favorite: “Fold Inward,” it speaks of the pattern of their survival; of hope and tragedy and transcendence. The background, as it happens, is a variation on the American flag.
Lenny’s work deserves a permanent place in a museum of its own. If you can’t get to Roanoke, this ferociously long URL may do the trick. Just mend the breaks and you’re in business. Or just Google Lenny Lyons Bruno. I promise you won’t be disappointed: