Every time I thought I had my life carefully planned, I came to a really sharp curve in the road or a steep hill that blocked my view of what waited on the other side. The surprises have been interesting and stimulating and, at each turn or rise, have challenged me to try something new or different. I have learned so much along the way and, happily, I’m learning still.

I was born and reared (that’s a southern expression) in Portsmouth, Virginia, although I did spend a few of my childhood years in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I was (and still am) fortunate to have a family that encouraged me to do anything I could do, and I suppose in certain respects I have taken up that gauntlet. I have always been interested in art and design, beginning with music and dance, and pursued both vigorously from childhood through college at Radford where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. I designed and made doll clothes as a child, and designed my own clothes later. My incredibly talented mother would make them for me. I developed an interest in architecture in the 7th grade. I suppose that could be compared to building clothes…. About that same time, I became deeply curious about cultural influences and religions.

I began work in municipal government and it became a career. Along with an interest in the arts, I learned that I had a reasonably good aptitude for numbers and puzzles and returned to school to study finance, accounting and computer based information systems. While working full time, I earned a Master’s Degree from Old Dominion University. It served me well as I finished my career in municipal service as Director of Museums. What a superb experience that was! I learned so much more about artists, art forms and art processes. I learned amazing details of local history and the people that made it, and lead the Children’s Museum of Virginia through two major expansions and a multimillion dollar capital campaign. And somewhere in there, I married an artist who, aside from my mother, has become the most patient teacher, my faithful helper, and my biggest fan.

It was during my work with the museums that I became interested in glass, beads and jewelry design. I was fascinated with the range and depth of color and texture in glass forms and beadwork. I continue to learn new techniques and experiment with materials, and I have taken some classes with established artists in kilnformed glass, lampwork, precious metal clay, and metalsmithing. I also learn by experience, otherwise known and trial and error! I have a renewed interest in textiles and fibers and have begun to dabble more seriously in that medium. My design inspiration comes from a variety of sources – nature, architecture, the rhythmic influence of music and the variety of cultures in our world. I am a member of the American Association of Museums, the Society of North American Goldsmiths, and the American Craft Council.

I am greatful for the family and friends who encourage and challenge me to do more and better, and for God’s blessings of creative ability and artistic vision. This is an incredible ride filled with brilliant experiences. Hallelujah!


J Robert Burnell | Bio | Gallery
Betty Burnell | Bio | Gallery
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