Professor Cyndi Gusler’s oil paintings are exuberant: they emanate a joie de vivre through vibrant foliage and flowers and inviting verandas where you wish you could spend a whole vacation. They were just what Susan Landes Beck envisioned putting on the walls when she began renovating a historic building in downtown Harrisonburg for her own and others’ counseling practices.
Beck is restoring the 1910 edifice, “356 S. Main,” alongside her husband, Eric, who runs Beck Builders and Green Hill Solar.
“When I saw Cyndi’s art, it was exactly, exactly the type of bright, outdoor, colorful, peaceful scenes I wanted,” Beck said. “Cyndi and I got literally giddy together, coming in and putting her artwork up. And our counselors started coming in that day and saying, ‘oh my gosh, this is being transformed.'”
The exhibit has been beneficial for Gusler, too, as her normal slate of galleries and shows was wiped clean by the pandemic. Her studio space at home had filled up with painting upon painting leaning against one another.
“I wasn’t quite aware of how much it was contributing to artist’s block,” Gusler said. “When I physically took them out of the studio I suddenly had empty walls and empty spaces. And it must be an artist impulse or something – there was just something in me, I immediately grabbed a blank canvas and put it on my easel … as soon as I started painting, it was like fuel.”
The exhibit’s value goes beyond the aesthetic – Beck says it’s therapeutic. While many of the clients she and the other counselors see are currently receiving services virtually, there’s still a trickle of folks coming for appointments in person. Beck said that their grief has been palpable. She herself recently lost a close friend to COVID.
“We’re seeing the real intense grief and pain right now, and we’re seeing the loss. Loss of jobs, loss of our lives, just significant loss,” Beck said. “Honest to goodness, after we got this artwork up and I thought about who was coming in, I cried. Because I know who’s coming in here. I know what they’re going to experience through the joy of Cyndi’s art.”
In addition to the grief and stress brought on by the pandemic, Gusler said that painting helps alleviate the fatigue brought on by a cold, wet winter.
“When I don’t see the sun break through at all, I can work in front of my easel. I have a canvas that takes up the majority of my peripheral vision. This is what I see, and I get into colors and shapes and it gives me that life that we’re just not getting … especially when it’s unbelievable freezing rain on freezing rain,” Gusler said.
One of her current works in progress bears a tongue-in-cheek title most of us can get behind: “Dear February, I just don’t think things are going to work out between us.” And in the meantime, we have Gusler’s paintings to help us manifest warmer times and climes.
To view or purchase one of Gusler’s pieces, please visit https://www.cyndigusler.com/, or contact Susan Landes Beck at email@example.com to see the exhibit in person.