Emma Serena Dillard “Queena” Stovall was born in 1887 in Amherst County, Virginia. She received the nickname “Queena” from her grandmother because of how other young children would try to pronounce Serena. In 1908, she married Jonathan Breckenridge Stovall, a traveling salesman. The pair had nine children and divided their time between Lynchburg during the fall and winter and living on a farm in Amherst during the spring and summer.
By 1949, Stovall’s domestic responsibilities had lessened, which allowed her to partake in artistic ventures to pass her time. Stovall did not start painting until the age of sixty-two. In 1949, she enrolled at Randolph Macon Woman’s College to take art classes under Pierre Daura. However, Daura liked her natural style of painting so much that he advised her to stop taking classes with him so she could develop her own unique style without influence. Even after Stovall stopped taking art classes at Randolph Macon, she developed a lifelong friendship with Daura.
Stovall’s artwork depicted both black and white Virginians in rural settings, which earned her the title of the “Grandma Moses of Virginia” and the label of a southern memory painter. She combined bright colors with attentive details to produce scenes of ordinary rural life such as crop harvests, animal butchering, funerals, jarring for the winter, baptisms, cooking, and livestock and estate auctions. Since she was self-taught, Stovall would use figures out of magazines and advertisements to understand the composition needed for her paintings. In 1956, Stovall displayed her first solo exhibition at the Lynchburg Art Center. Stovall continued to paint until her health started to fail in the late 1960’s. Her last completed piece titled Comp’ny Comin’ was finished in 1967.
Between the ages of sixty-two and eighty, Stovall completed approximately fifty oil paintings. Even with her health deteriorating, Stovall managed to display her art locally and nationally. A major traveling exhibition of her work entitled “Queena Stovall: Artist of the Blue Ridge Piedmont” formed and was displayed at Lynchburg College in 1974, while also appearing at Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, and at the New York State Historical Association in 1975. Queena Stovall died in June of 1980 at the age of ninety-three. Her grave is located in the Presbyterian Cemetery of Lynchburg.
Stovall’s artwork is found in the collections of Lynchburg College, the Fenimore Art Museum in New York, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the New York State Historical Association. Even after her death, Stovall gained recognition for her artistic talent. In 1994, her art was featured in the exhibition “Grandma Moses’ Southern Sisters: Queena Stovall and Clementine Hunter” and she was honored by the Library of Virginia in 2010 in the Virginia Women in History presentation for her contributions to folk art. There was even a film titled “Queena Stovall: Life’s Narrow Space” made about her life in 1983 and a book titled The Art of Queena Stovall: Images of Country Life produced in 1986 filled with reproduction prints of her artwork.
Lynchburg Virginia: The First Two Hundred Years 1786-1986 by James M. Elson
Lynchburg Museum Staff