Growing Future Artists

Cynthia Erdahl

Cynthia Erdahl

Like many Glasgow Society members, Cynthia Erdahl's planned gift is a nod to the past and the future. Her bequest will support the Studio School, which the local artist credits with her early training, and she hopes the gift will benefit other students looking to find their creative voice.

A longtime visitor to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts since moving to Richmond 40 years ago, Cynthia began taking classes in drawing and oil painting in the early 1990s as she transitioned from her first career as a social worker. Although she had little prior experience, Cynthia was encouraged by instructors and friends to continue. Her abstract works and quirky scenes with vibrant colors and strong compositions soon began to be featured in group and solo shows.

"The 10 years I was a student in the Studio School were a great foundation," Cynthia recalls. "I learned the fundamentals, of course, but more than techniques or principles, I learned to experiment and take risks—to embrace the idea of daring to fail."

As she grew more serious about her art, Cynthia again turned to VMFA to further her education, becoming a docent in 1998. "Joining the docent program," says Cynthia, "was a great opportunity to deepen my understanding of art history and be part of the museum's mission to make art accessible to everyone."

Her Sunday afternoon tours explore balance in works of art across the collection—from a power figure in the African galleries depicting a mother cradling an infant poised between life and death and a 12th-century statue of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, to more contemporary works like Philip Guston's The Desert. It's a theme that draws from her experience working with children in the foster care system and the defining event of her own childhood: the death of her father when she was 9 years old.

"You never get over a sorrow like that, you just fold it into who you are," she explains. "Yet that loss also gave me a zest for life. I don't want to miss out on anything."

The museum continues to be a source of inspiration for Cynthia. Living in the Museum District, the Sculpture Garden feels like an extension of her own backyard. There are few views on VMFA's campus that she hasn't captured in ink and she often sketches scenes from the latest special exhibition. Cynthia's docent tours continue to evolve, shaped by interactions with visitors and new acquisitions like Glenn Ligon's monumental neon sculpture in the Atrium, A Small Band.

"I'm always looking for things that will grow me as an artist and as a person," Cynthia notes. "VMFA has been a big part of that growth and I want others to have the same opportunity."

You, like Cynthia, can extend your support for VMFA so others can experience the power of art through a planned gift. Contact Erin Sheets Elder at or 804.340.1619 to discuss your giving options.