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Arts & Extras: The art of the automobile

Arts & Extras: The art of the automobile


A museum known for its ties to trains is showcasing an art exhibit about vintage cars.

Sue Steele Thomas, an art professor at Virginia Western Community College, has been creating paintings of automobiles for 30 years. Her show “Automotive Elegance” is the first new exhibition in the combined O. Winston Link Museum and History Museum of Western Virginia.

“Sue’s work is a perfect example of how the newly combined museums are looking to create engaging exhibits outside the mold of strictly [H]istory or strictly O. Winston Link curated content,” wrote Ashley Webb, curator of collections and exhibitions for the Historical Society of Western Virginia, which operates the combined museum.

The show holds 15 gouache paintings that depict classic cars against colorful backgrounds, or in more recent works, show the sky reflected in the vehicles’ shiny surfaces.

“As long as the painting contains an automobile, I’m your painter,” Thomas wrote.

A Christiansburg native, Thomas has lived in Roanoke for 27 years. Her penchant for portraying cars began as a college assignment. She was asked to paint a watercolor illustration of a car, and chose a 1929 Cord. During that time in her life, her husband Radford Thomas was restoring antique cars, “so my subjects were in the garage.”

She has an artistic interest in machines of all kinds, but cars are her chosen specialty. “I photograph them when we travel,” she wrote.

She and her husband go to Concours d’Elegance events around the country, where owners of mint-condition antique autos compete for prizes. Thomas has been invited to exhibit her work at many of those events. The Thomases once made a 6,000-mile round trip to show her paintings at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California.

“It makes me very proud and honored to exhibit my automotive art at the Link Museum,” Thomas wrote. “This is a wonderful opportunity to share my automotive art in my part of the world.”

The historical society chose to combine the museums last fall in order to cope with declining attendance and revenue. The history museum moved out of its longtime home on the third floor of Center in the Square in downtown Roanoke. History exhibits have been set up in the old Norfolk and Western passenger station at Shenandoah Avenue and Williamson Road Northeast, which already housed the O. Winston Link Museum.

The combined museums will host a free reception for “Automotive Elegance” Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. The show opens Tuesday and will stay on display through Aug. 26. Steele will give a talk at a “Meet the Artist” event July 12 at 6 p.m.

The O. Winston Link Museum and History Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $6; $5.50 for senior citizens; and $5 for children 3-12.

For more information , call 982-5465 or visit

Boones Mill gallery opening

Artist David Rakes, 46, is opening Inkular Gallery, a new outlet featuring regional artists, at 25286 Virgil H. Goode Highway in Boones Mill. The grand opening takes place Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. For more information call (844) 465-8527 or visit

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Mike Allen is the editorial page editor for The Roanoke Times. His past beats as a Roanoke Times reporter included Botetourt County, Franklin County, courts and legal issues, and arts and culture.

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