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Style · April 18, 2018

Remington artist inspired to paint everyday tasks

Photo/Cassandra Brown
Nancy Brittle with “Into the Light,” a painting that depicts her late mother threading a needle.
Ms. Brittle painted “Betsy Gathering Flowers” in 2012.
The 2018 piece “Is that My Supper” features Ms. Brittle’s sister, Betsy, cooking with their dogs at her feet.
“Morning Over Belle Isle Marsh” painted in 2012.
I think if I looked at my painting from the beginning, there is a connection with people and the natural world that I would not have if I were not a painter.
Nancy Brittle
• Age: 72

• Home: Remington.

• Family: Sister, Betsy.

• Work: Art teacher, Liberty High School, 2006-10; English and art heritage teacher, Fauquier High, 1984 to 2006; Fauquier County Public Schools gifted and talented program coordinator at M.M. Pierce and H.M. Pearson Elementary Schools, 1982-84; English teacher in Fredericksburg area, 1971-80; art teacher, Taylor and Warrenton junior high schools, 1970-71.

• Education: master’s degree, education psychology, University of Virginia, 1992; Ecole Des Beaux Arts, Paris, France, 1969-70; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1968-69; bachelor’s degree in studio art and art history, Mary Washington College, 1968; Fauquier High School, 1964.

• Civic/church involvement: Member, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Remington; member of the Fauquier Retired Teacher’s Association.

• Hobbies: Gardening, knitting, reading, playing piano and family activities.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Remington artist creates a sense of peace and contentment through her impressionistic oil paintings.

A landscape and “genre” painter, Nancy Brittle, 72, focuses on interpreting memories and everyday tasks, such as her sister Betsy cooking dinner, gardening or reading the newspaper.

“That’s what I’m living, what I’m seeing, what I’m doing,” Ms. Brittle said. “I’m bending over the flowerbed, pulling out the weeds. To me it’s interesting subject matter.”

The paintings often feature her late mother Ruth, her sister or their two dogs, Jack, a standard schnauzer, and Chili, a Norfolk terrier. She also paints pastoral landscapes.

“I love the texture of thin paint contrasted with thick, buttery paint,” Ms. Brittle said. “Oil is what I started out with.”

> Video at bottom of story

Born to a dairy farmer and teacher, the Remington native discovered her love of art when an aunt gave her a book of paintings from the National Gallery of Art.

As a child, Ms. Brittle loved to draw. Using her imagination, she drew her first subjects — trapeze artists — after seeing the movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” in the 1950s.

But, she never thought to pursue art as a career until college. Ms. Brittle stumbled into it while studying political science at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg.

“I saw the wonderful comradery . . . a group of professors who were so knowledgeable, warm and helpful. I enjoyed it more than any other class,” she said. “Learning wasn’t always easy for me. I’m a little ADHD, hard to focus. In art, my approach to learning seemed to work.”

Ms. Brittle describes her painting style as somewhere between impressionism and post-impressionism.

“I was always more interested in the immediacy, the gesture, the moment, the fleeting, than I was in reproducing just what’s there.”

She gradated from Mary Washington with a bachelor’s degree in art history and studio art.

After more art classes in Philadelphia, she traveled to Paris for a year and studied painting on a $1,000 budget.

In 1970, Ms. Brittle came home and started as an art teacher at Taylor and Warrenton junior high schools. She went on to teach English and art in Fauquier County and Fredericksburg schools for 36 years but continued to paint and enter art shows off and on.

Former student Emily Pegues took an art heritage class and independent study with Ms. Brittle at Fauquier High School more than two decades ago.

“There was something about her class that made me see studying art history could teach you anything you wanted to know about the world,” Ms. Pegues said. “Spending your time studying that could feed you for the rest of your life.

“She’s always been an amazing source of encouragement,” said Ms. Pegues, a curatorial associate for the National Gallery of Art in the sculpture and decorative arts department.

“I’m pursuing my art history doctorate,” she said. “When I get stuck, I always go back to the basics she taught: form, function and content. I still think about the stuff she taught us in the 11th grade.”

Since retiring from teaching in 2006, Ms. Brittle’s art career has flourished.

“She’s a real star in our community,” said Kathy Pegues, a former colleague and patron — and Emily’s mom. “Her art is really taking off in the state and beyond. She is a lifelong learner. I think she may be working just as hard in her retirement as she was when she was teaching.”

Ms. Brittle completed about 50 oil paintings last year. Often her favorite pieces take less than an hour to finish.

“Last year, I had about four shows in about nine months,” she said. “Usually, I’m putting one or two paintings in an art co-op in Fredericksburg or Richmond.”

In a gallery her work sells for about $125 for a 5x7 painting and $1,500 for larger pieces.

Ms. Brittle described painting as “a place for my energy to go. It does take energy, it is expensive, and it can be very frustrating.

“I think if I looked at my painting from the beginning, there is a connection with people and the natural world that I would not have if I were not a painter,” she said. “Our world is so fraught with anger, division, stress . . . . For me, I retreat or find some peace in my day through my painting.”

She paints mostly in her kitchen during the winter and in the studio above her garage during warmer months.

“For me, painting is serious,” Ms. Brittle said. “Sometimes, it comes so easily, but often it does not.”

She also belongs to a plein air (outdoor painting) group in Fredericksburg.

“What probably impresses me the most is her art is timeless,” said Pat Wine, a friend and former teaching colleague. “History is very important to Nancy, and you see that in her work. She captures a moment, but it’s a timeless moment.”

“She’s one of those really lucky people who has two sets of gifts. She is a master teacher as well as a master painter,” said Ms. Wine who has about 26 paintings from Ms. Brittle hanging in her home.

Last year Ms. Brittle got into the Women Painters of the Southeast National Competition.

She can be viewed monthly at Middle Street Gallery in Little Washington and at The Back Door Gallery in Fredericksburg.

Her paintings also hang in Fauquier Hospital through April and through May at Sophia Street Studios in Fredericksburg.

> Click below to watch video of Nancy Brittle describing her work

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