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WV Artist on Display: Inspired by Nature at its Brightest

This month’s WV Artist on Display is Donna Tolbert. She makes painted furniture, small hand-painted boxes and traditional paintings on canvas. Her passion is repairing and upcycling tired, old furniture and making it functional and beautiful. She says “each piece must have ‘good bones,’ and often the shape inspires whether it will become a koi pond or a cherry pie.” Donna is from Beckley and earned a BA in art and MA in counseling from WVU. She has been a Lewisburg resident for 20+ years and recently retired from WVSOM. If you have a tired piece of furniture, we suggest you reach out to Donna. She takes commission jobs, transforming old but unique furniture (you may have inherited or found at the flea market) into a piece of fine and functional art. She tells us, “After cleaning and sanding, the furniture may have up to six coats of water-based, non-toxic paint, ensuring a lasting and durable finish that will stand up to regular use.” Donna also enjoys creating small treasure boxes. She says each one-of-a-kind box is painted inside and out with the same care and attention to detail as her furniture. Learn more about Donna with our Q&A:

How do you describe your palette?

As one friend often comments, I am not afraid of color! My palette is inspired by nature at its brightest. I typically like rich, saturated color, but the subject dictates the palette.

What obstacles do you need to overcome to find your creative space/muse?

The biggest obstacle I have to painting is frustration. Sometimes it takes real physical effort as well as mental to continue working on a piece that has reached that point of “this is not working”. This happens frequently to me. But when I persist, I usually find the solution. And sometimes I just trash it and start over.

How do you find your inspiration?

The shape of the furniture and boxes often inspires the design, as in the hexagonal bee box and the heart-shaped side table. The primary source is nature.

What advice do you have for other artists?

Just keep working. The more you do, the better you get. And look at lots of art! You can go to almost any museum on line when you can’t go in person. And learn to enjoy the process as much as, if not more, than the product.

What is your favorite piece(s) you’ve made and why?

One of my favorite pieces is the a small side table I called “ Mating”. I have a special fondness for crows and ginkgo trees. The shape of this little table inspired me to use a lot of detail and a nod to the Arts and Crafts movement.

What is the best way for our readers to contact you?

My furniture, boxes and small paintings can be purchased at the West Virginia Fine Artisans Gallery located on E. Washington Street, beside Greenbrier Valley Theatre. I can be contacted at or call 304-647-4485.

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