Featured Stories: Creativity in the Appalachian Highlands


These are the people, the organizations, and the projects that make the Appalachian Highlands so unique.  

Nina Rizzo Wins Best in Show Award, Leaf & Root & Berry 2020

By Angelica Ares

Nina Rizzo grew up just outside of Washington D.C. and vividly remembers her parents taking her into the city when they had to go to work. They would take Nina and her sisters, give them a handful of quarters, and tell them to explore the city. The girls would spend most of their time at the National Gallery of Art. That’s where it all began. The time spent wandering the museums and galleries in D.C. inspired Nina to follow a career path in the arts.

“It’s amazing how what you experience as a child, later influences you as an adult,” she asserts.

Nina became interested in sculpture and classical nudes during her museum visits, and this influence later appeared in her own work, which includes photography, drawing, painting, printmaking, and assemblage. She has brought the artistic enthusiasm that she has developed over her lifetime to her current home in Bristol: “Now I live in the mountains of Southwest Virginia,” she says, “among the most gorgeous landscapes in the world! The combined influence of the early immersion into classical sculpture and painting and the beauty of my mountain home have given me much of the inspiration for my artwork.”

Root & Leaf & Berry was a natural fit for Nina, who drew the inspiration for her Best in Show winner, “Crossing”  from local native flora.  This lumen print reflects, according to the artist, “the delicacy and translucence of nature.”

An acclaimed artist herself, Nina attributes her artistic accomplishments to the many influential artists who have mentored, encouraged, and challenged her creativity. Nina is humbly grateful for all the amazing people who have played a role in shaping her art career. Photographers David Vance (Miami) and Jay Phyfer (Virginia Intermont); fine artists Charles Goolsby (Emory & Henry) and Suzanne Stryk (SWVA), and her husband Neil Staples are just a handful of those who have created an environment where Nina’s work  flourishes.

Combining classical concepts and vintage media with the influence of her mentors, Nina’s concept of art is that it is a form of communication through age, time, and space. She experiences art through the eyes of children that she has taught, photographers that she has apprenticed with, and through her own collective work of photography and painting. She is a true visionary, whose varied experiences have contributed to the breadth and depth of her range: “Art can transport you to another dimension of the human experience,” Nina says.

Interestingly, Nina says that her greatest reward hasn’t come from creating art, but from teaching it. She loves inspiring others and helping them find their own untapped gifts. She leads her students into seeing things through a different lens; to her, a fresh perspective inspires the truest form of expression. She is a willing, joyful, and skillful guide.

Nina is intrigued by making lumen prints like the ones that won her Best in Show (“Crossings”) and Honorable Mention (“Flights of Fancy”) in Root & Leaf & Berry. This process allows her to use historical materials while enjoying her natural surroundings in what she refers to as a “creative, and often serendipitous way.”  The pieces show how Nina combines her imagination with her affinity for photographic history. Making prints with discontinued and hard-to-find gelatin silver papers is a way for her to connect the delights of daily life with the past. To make these colorful, incandescent prints, she placed her natural botanical subjects in a carefully thought-out design on hard-to-find antique, light-sensitive paper that she has been collecting throughout her career. She then exposes the arrangement to light. The result is a negative shadow image, featuring variations in tone that depend upon the transparency of the natural objects in her arrangement. They are luminously beautiful.

Nina Rizzo’s work is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Art – Fort Lauderdale, The Billy Graham Center Museum, The Art Institutes International, and many other corporate and private collections. She has exhibited extensively and is a visiting artist through the Statewide Partnership Program of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. A sampling of her work can be found at studiobristolphoto.com/fine-art/nina-rizzo and vmfa.museum/statewide/faculty-member/nina-rizzo. Her winning pieces and the rest of the Root & Leaf & Berry exhibit can be viewed and/or purchased at createappalachia.org/exhibit-shop

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