A Career Built on the Love of Art
By Olivia Overman, Contributing Writer
The Creative Brush Studio in Old Town Manassas is an artist studio built upon a family’s love of art. Located in the old opera house on Center Street, it is a destination.
Originally from New Jersey, Mary Reilly moved to Manassas with her family in 1986 and set up a studio in her home. Seeking a more professional location, Reilly opened Creative Brush Studio on Lee Avenue in Manassas in 1991. Five years later, she moved the business to its current location. “Going into a more retail area made good business sense. People drive by and stop at the red light and look in. Old Town Manassas has incredible restaurants, so people come on Friday night for dinner and stop in [to the studio],” Reilly said.
In collaboration with her daughter, Christine Raymond, who is also an artist and the studio manager, Reilly creates original pieces for display and sale in the gallery. The work of several other artists can be found at the studio.
“Christine was born with a paintbrush in her hand,” said Reilly. “She took some college courses and then, over the years, I’ve taught her and mentored her, so she’s got ﬁrsthand experience.” Raymond oﬀers children’s art workshops during the summer and at Christmas, and also creates unique artwork for the gallery. Burgeoning artists can also study under Reilly, who oﬀers classes for students aged 14 and up.
Asked to describe her artwork, Reilly said,“I would say oil is my passion. I love doing a lot of subjects, because I love capturing the light and texture of subjects, but my specialty is portraits.” It is this love that is most visible in the studio; Reilly’s talent for capturing people can be seen in the portraits adorning every wall.
For a customer portrait, Reilly will take a few hundred photos. From these, she will choose the one she believes will make a good painting, one that will stand the test of time. However, it isn’t printed photos that stand next to the easel and canvas.
“Technology has come to the art studio,” Reilly said, pointing out the iPad next to the portrait of her granddaughter.
Customers can stop by the studio to see how their painting is progressing at any stage. is allows Reilly to do ﬁnal checks on hair color, eyes and skin tone.
Commemorating the Civil War
Reilly was one of three artists involved in the “1*2*3 Art Exhibit” that marked the recent 150th anniversary of the Second Battle of Manassas. For the exhibit, three studios in Old Town created and displayed new pieces commemorating the battle.
The themes were A Brush with History (Creative Brush Studio), History Revisited (ArtBeat Gallery), and People and Places (Manassas Art Guild).
Describing the work she completed for “1*2*3,” Reilly said, “ese are living historians: Al Stone, who portrays General [Robert E.] Lee, sat for me. I did oil sketches and photos and was able to capture the essence of his face, his features, the
colors, and his uniform.” She also painted Chris Godart, another historian who portrayed General Richard Ewell. Said Reilly,
“THe day he sat for me I worked on a head study to be more familiar with his likeness and also his skin tones and details of his uniform. The ﬁnal painting was entitled ‘Old Baldy,’ which was the real General Ewell’s nickname.”
“We love going up to the battleﬁeld at sunrise and also sunset,” she added. “What we wanted to show for this exhibit was the battleﬁeld scenes, some of the military for the Second Battle of Manassas campaign. Henry House was the last scene of the Second Battle of Manassas, and it was at this point the Union retreated. This was the end of the day and we wanted to capture that view.”
Reilly’s love for Manassas can be seen in her paintings of the area, including the old City Hall and Center Street. “Old Town oﬀers so many vistas to paint, there’s a lot of ambiance here,” she said.
Portraits All Over the World
Reilly’s portraits can be found all over the world, in both public and private collections. She was commissioned by the Federal Bar Association to paint Admiral Samuel Gravely, the ﬁrst African American to reach that rank. “He actually broke a lot of racial barriers in the Navy,” said Reilly. “It was really neat because I got to go down for the commissioning of the ship to Wilmington, North Carolina. That was really exciting.” After the oﬃcial unveiling, Reilly received what she considers her
biggest compliment as an artist: “This gentleman in a wheelchair, who I found out was Admiral Gravely’s brother, took hold of my arm and said, ‘You captured my brother.’” The portrait now hangs on the admiral’s namesake ship, the USS Gravely.
Reilly’s work also includes a portrait of a former professor of neurology which hangs at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, as well as a portrait of James Joseph Leo, the ﬁrst superintendent of Manassas City Public Schools, which is displayed in the Manassas City Board of Education Building.
In addition to traditional portraits and small-scale portraits, Reilly oﬀers ﬁgurative impressions, paintings that capture the essence of a person without all the detail of the face. Describing this style, Reilly said, “What I always tell people is that [it is like]if they see their child across the street and you can tell it’s them by their body language. These are very popular with parents.”
Animals are another favorite subject. Pointing to a painting of her dog, Reilly said, “His colors were so lush, I just had to paint him.” She also has a very life-like painting of a silverback gorilla from the San Diego Zoo in the gallery. In one instance a woman in Singapore commissioned Reilly to paint a portrait of her cat. Following an exchange of photos, Reilly completed the portrait and shipped it overseas.
Giving Back Knowing that schools often cut art progra s when funding is tight, Reilly and her daughter invite Girl Scouts, homeschool children and others to come into the studio to work on art projects. Reilly also goes into schools to supplemen t art programming, passing on her love of painting.
While the studio has core hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 8 p.m. on Friday, artists can be found in the studio painting on most days. “I love it, it’s a mental vacation for me,” said Reilly.
See examples of Reilly’s artwork and ﬁnd event information online at www.creativebrush.com. Or, better yet, stop by this treasured gem in Old Town Manassas.
A graduate of American University’s School of Communication, Olivia Overman has written articles for a number of online and print publications. She lives with her husband and son in Woodbridge, Va. Overman can be reached by email at email@example.com