On October 13th, landscape artist Tom Neel will partner with The Hill School in Middleburg, to exhibit his collection of 15 never-before-seen landscape paintings of Ashby’s Gap. The relationship with The Hill School spans two decades, making the exhibit venue an easy choice. Neel shares, “The Hill School has a long history here and we have a long history together. It’s the perfect place for this show.”
For nearly three decades, Tom Neel has been known for his iconic landscape paintings of the Piedmont region. Captivated by the serenity and freedom associated with open space, his paintings predominately feature sunlit vistas, rolling fields, tranquil streams and the peacefulness of country life. In his years of painting and photographing the area, Neel has long been fascinated with the majesty of Ashby’s Gap, a landmark clearly visible throughout the rural landscape of the Piedmont, but also from distant high rise office buildings well east of this area. “Ashby’s Gap is easily one of our most important historic and scenic landmarks. It has given me so much inspiration as both an artist and a resident. I owe this tribute to it.”
For Neel, Ashby’s Gap is his homing beacon, a landmark seen from fields near and far and always assuring him that he is home. Ashby’s Gap was named in honor of Captain John (Jack) Ashby, the son of Thomas, who was the first Ashby to settle in this area from England. According to historical markers, John was the first person to “haul a hogshead of tobacco” through the gap—a hogshead being a unit of measurement from colonial days. Digging deeper, it seems John, a rugged pioneer, actually attempted this without having his load locked by pulling a log behind for the trip down into Paris. This making it necessary for his horses to try and out run the load. It ended in a wreck and Ashby’s Gap got it’s name.
Neel believes that only in the country is it quiet enough to hear the things that are so often overlooked. And with that quiet observation, Neel has observed the gap throughout the seasons and from a number of different vantage points, without ever settling on a favorite. According to Neel, “The narrative is an important aspect of my art. The main stories I hope always come across through my paintings are the peacefulness of rural life, the changing seasonal beauty of the Piedmont and the importance of its longevity.”
Neel is also eager to marry the educational values of art and history in his exhibit and provide The Hill School students with an understanding of Ashby’s Gap through his paintings, a landscape that has changed little since Thomas Ashby settled in the area. “Artists are record keepers of a single moment in history. Through my landscape paintings of Ashby’s Gap, I have been able to capture the landscape at a particular moment in time. My paintings will last for a long time, and hopefully serve as a record of what the area once looked like.”
The Hill School’s philosophy is to help students derive confidence through knowledge and aims to expose students to a multitude of new experiences throughout their tenure at the school. Head of School, Treavor Lord, encourages all students to gain experiences by being broadly exposed to the arts, “Tom brings a real world connection of art to our students. It is important to see how Tom is able to use his talent of landscape painting as a career and for the students to meet a successful artist.”
Tom Neel’s commitment to art education is also timeless, “Any time I have an opportunity to connect with students at The Hill School through narrative, technical components, or history, I am all in.” Neel shares Lord’s belief that students need exposure to the arts and understands that creativity is the basis for every successful business whether it is applied to advertising, services, products, or promotions. Without creativity, there is little innovation or growth.
The public is invited to attend the opening reception of “Ashby’s Gap” in The Sheila C. Johnson Performing Arts Center at The Hill School, Thursday October 13th from 5:30 – 8:30. Refreshments will be served and there will be a special video presentation produced by Tom Neel, with partial proceeds of the sales also being donated to The Hill School. The exhibit will run from October 13-23. For more information visit www.ThomasNeel.com The Hill School is located at 130 South Madison St, Middleburg, VA 20117, 540-687-5897, www.thehillschool.org.