A show of Montgomery County artist Christy Mackie’s artwork opened last week at the Alexander Black House Museum and Cultural Center at 204 Draper Rd. SW in downtown Blacksburg. It will continue until May 5th.
A well-attended “Meet the Artist” opening reception for the show was held on Friday evening April 6th at the Black House Museum with many of the displayed works being reserved for purchase.
Much of the inspiration for this show came from a workshop Christy took at John C. Campbell Folk School in NC in 2016. There she learned about art making with encaustics, and ever since she has been exploring and delighting in this medium.
Encaustic painting is also known as hot wax painting. At its simplest, encaustic painting requires that a heated paste made from beeswax with added colored pigments be applied to a prepared surface. Before it cools the paste can be shaped by metal tools or brushes. Thus encaustic art can be sculpted as well as painted.
Encaustic painting goes back at least as far as the first century BC when the technique was used to paint the coffins of Egyptian mummies. Today, there are many more complicated recipes and formulations; and heat lamps, hot plates and heat guns extend the time the artist has to work on a creation.
Recent decades have seen a resurgence in the method’s popularity because the medium is no longer limited to simple designs and can be used to create complex paintings. One source notes that: “Although technically difficult to master, attractions of this medium for contemporary artists are its dimensional quality and luminous color.”
Along with her work in this new technique, the exhibition includes examples of her work in collage, drawing, and a first-time experience with ink on ceramic tile.
Christy Mackie’s father, William (Bill) Ernest Mackie (1927-2006), was possibly the earliest professional historian to live in Blacksburg.
Born in Chicago, Bill Mackie was raised from an early age in Chapel Hill, NC, where his father was a mathematics professor at the University of North Carolina. In the 1950s, Bill earned a Ph.D. in history at Chapel Hill, and after service in the United States Navy, he taught British and European history at Virginia Tech from 1959 until his retirement in 1992.
Writing in 2007 in a history department newsletter, Professor Dan Thorp noted that “Bill Mackie was a charter member of Virginia Tech’s Department of History; in fact, he began teaching at Tech before the school even had a Department of History.”
Thorp added that by the time of his own arrival in 1981, Mackie was a teaching institution, being gifted speaker who could hold the attention of a large class with nothing but his commanding presence.
Mackie had a massive collection of newspaper articles and “New Yorker” cartoons stretching back to the 1940s, and whenever he taught his class about the history of World War II he hung changing selections from this collection on his office door as the quarter progressed. They were a marvelous tool for helping a new generation of students comprehend an earlier era.
Mackie and his wife Sallie for many years opened their home each week on Thursday evenings for any student to drop by for refreshments and conversation — a practice that seems very quaint by today’s standards.
The obituary published about Mackie by the History Department read in part “Dr. Mackie will be especially remembered for his kind disposition, his quiet dignity, his wise counsel, and his ability to connect most anything to an appropriate lyric from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.”
Later in April this columnist will make a presentation at the Black House Museum titled “The History of Montgomery Coal Mining.” This presentation will close out the coal mining exhibition that has been running at the museum leaving behind just the Christy Mackie art show.
The coal mining presentation will provide an overview of the fairly extensive literature about a now barely remembered aspect of Montgomery County industrial history. That presentation will be from 5:30-6:30 pm on Thursday April 19.
Jim Glanville is a retired chemist living in Blacksburg. He has been publishing and lecturing for more than a decade about the history of Southwest Virginia.