Remembering Beryl Solla

Beryl Solla

On February 19, the PVCC community said goodbye to Beryl Solla, professor of Art and Art Department Chair, who died after a 13-year struggle with cancer. Beryl was a beloved and important part of the college; thus, we are celebrating and remembering her through an exhibit and vigil. We invite students, faculty, staff and the community to participate.

In Honor of Beryl

Hailing and Wailing Solla World: The Hailing and Wailing Wall for Beryl, is a memorial space located in the North Gallery of the V. Earl Dickinson building on the PVCC main campus. The memorial space was envisioned and created by a dedicated group of artists, friends and colleagues, including:

Fenella Belle
Tom Clarkson
Kit Decker
Aaron Miller
Kris Swanson
James Yates (Beryl's husband)

The North Gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The memorial will be in place until the end of the spring '21 semester. Masks are required at all times on the PVCC campus; social distancing regulations should be followed. 

About Beryl

On February 19, PVCC Art Professor and Art Department Chair Beryl Solla died after 13 years of living--and thriving--with MDS, a blood cancer. Beryl was a bright ray of energy that inspired innovation and personal growth. To know her was to be warmed by this energy.

Beryl arrived at PVCC in 2005 on a mission to elevate the role of the arts at PVCC. She created innovative programs that brought the community into the college. The most well-known of these events, “Let There Be Light,” an annual outdoor exhibit of light-inspired art, was curated by her beloved husband James Yates and brought thousands of visitors to campus for one chilly Friday night in December. “Let There Be Light” wasn’t just about the art, which challenged and delighted, but also the banana bread and hot chocolate “with the works”--whipped cream, marshmallows and chocolate sauce—served for free, an apt symbol of Beryl’s generosity and joie de vivre. This and events such as the annual Student Art Show and Seventh Annual Chocolate Chow-down [it was always the seventh], the Day of the Dead Candython, Free Movie Nights, the Art Day for area high school students, and her weekly Culture Monkey stint on WNRN, were infused with Beryl’s sense of play and energy. She signed her frequent emails about Art Department events or the exhibits of her colleagues with the phrase, “Your friend in art” or “Your friend in dance” or “Your friend in creative writing”; she was a true friend in word and deed.

As manager of the Dickinson Art Gallery, Beryl loved finding strong work and giving it the spotlight, reflecting her vision for a more socially just world. She curated thoughtful shows that brought together artists working in different media, such as “Bloom,” an exhibit honoring the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage, which featured work by local female artists. These shows were designed to speak to an audience she knew well: students and the local and regional community, many of whom would browse the gallery while attending theater performances. She also invited local artists to guest curate so that hers was not the only voice to speak in the gallery. Over the past several years, she made a commitment to feature artists of color with beautiful, poignant and challenging art.

The galleries also supported art instruction, and Beryl was an outstanding teacher. She taught students to balance the beautiful and the terrible. She celebrated their strengths and knew when to ask for more. She encouraged students’ passions and showed compassion through difficult times in students’ lives. She gave several students opportunities to develop professional skills through work-study jobs as gallery assistants. When it came time to transfer, she tirelessly supported their hopes, while giving solid, realistic advice about their next steps. In 2016, Beryl won the Virginia Community College System’s Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

Beryl was a fierce advocate for her colleagues as well. To Art Department faculty, she was “the best boss,” articulating for them a vision of art as a vital way to engage with issues big and small, and then inviting them to be a part of it. She hired people she knew were good teachers or could be good teachers and supported them as they found their way. She championed the visions of others as well, eagerly supporting or collaborating on projects, such as the college’s QEPs and Creative Writing Club initiatives. She was the “poster queen,” making appealing event posters for anyone who asked. She always had the backs of her colleagues and was never hesitant to speak up with conviction and humor in a faculty meeting. It was a pleasure to see her coming down the hall in her stripey tights and skeleton earrings.

Beryl also loved children. She was crazy about her sons, Ian and Lyle, their wives, and especially her grandchildren. She welcomed the children of her students and colleagues into the classroom and at art events, supporting parents, mothers in particular, in the pursuit of their work. She took children seriously, encouraging their talents, valuing their input, and giving them responsibilities that recognized their abilities. Beryl would often show up with a thoughtful gift for a child, such as a sparkly cape or an admired piece of art.

And, of course, Beryl was an artist. She worked in many mediums—paint, clay, sculpture, fabric, and tile. She tiled murals with students and other groups at parks throughout Charlottesville, including McGuffey Park and Belmont Park. Her bright, colorful pieces reflected her love of flowers and her connections to Florida and Latino culture. She loved to garden, with a particular affection for red and yellow tulips.

In addition to her sons and their families, Beryl is survived by her husband of 43 years, James Yates. Her spirit lives on in the many people who loved and were inspired by her. That spirit of generosity, as well as her influence upon others, calls to mind the closing stanzas of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” -

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.