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Grand marshal of Urbanna Christmas Parade is a lady of ‘love and compassion’

Parade grand marshal Emily Chowning with some of her artwork at Nimcock Gallery in Urbanna. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

Emily Chowning’s Nimcock Gallery is a cozy place. It’s filled with things to look at and ponder. Paintings by Mrs. Chowning, John Barber and many others vie for your eye. There are antiques, used books, collectables and things that have accumulated during the 49 years she’s been in the red building on Cross Street in Urbanna. If you dare settle in one of the wingback chairs when the sun streams through windows, you might have a hard time leaving.

Nimcock Gallery has been a town landmark for generations. And inside you’ll also find pleasant conversation with one of Urbanna’s talented artists, Mrs. Emily Chowning, who has been selected as grand marshal of the Friday, December 4, Urbanna Hometown Christmas Parade. 

“Mrs. Chowning is a fine lady and it is our honor to have her as our grand marshal,” said Christmas Parade chair Lois Jean Brooks.

“Emily is a merchant who shows her love and talent in everything she does. You can see this in her business at Nimcock Gallery,” said Brooks. “Christmas is a time of year to show love and compassion, and Emily does this in her profession.”

On Friday, December 4, at 7 p.m., Mrs. Chowning will ride in the Christmas Parade and humbly wave to the crowd. She’ll then join the Santa Party at the Urbanna Firehouse. “Come and visit with her at the firehouse,” said Brooks.

Mrs. Chowning joked about being the grand marshal, indicating there are others who are more deserving of the title.

Mrs. Chowning and her late husband Shep were grand marshals of the Urbanna Oyster Festival in 2007.

Since 1966
Mrs. Chowning opened her shop in 1966 as a place to sell paintings and artwork that she created. As her paintings sold, she realized she needed more artwork than she alone could create.

For a good while she painted commission works, but didn’t like painting under pressure. “Now, I just paint what I enjoy,” she said.

She likes to paint water scenes and flowers, and also painted a lot of oysters before the recent Urbanna Oyster Festival.

For several years Mrs. Chowning took painting classes from renowned artist Sidney E. King in Tappahannock. King was commissioned by the National Park Service to paint battle scenes at more than 200 parks. King also painted “Creation,” the largest mural ever painted in the United States. At 400-feet long by 75-feet high, King’s mural is the background for Salt Lake City’s Temple Square.

Many children have taken art lessons from Mrs. Chowning in the basement of her home in Urbanna. She taught for so many years she has lost track of exactly how many years.

Mrs. Chowning still paints in her shop where she has met a lot of interesting people. “I like people, and enjoy seeing them, and I am glad when they come back.” She added that, at times, she has bought back her own paintings and resold them.

Mrs. Chowning’s shop does custom framing and has many used books that she “has picked up by the box. I never know what I’m getting. Some are junk and will be here when I’m gone.”

Mrs. Chowning grew up on a farm near Topping, one of eight children of Raymond and Minnie Heath Blake. Her father farmed grains and raised vegetables, including tomatoes for the Lord Mott canning factory near Urbanna. Her father also worked the water in the colder months to make ends meet. “I don’t want to go back to the old days,” she said. 

Mrs. Chowning’s soft manner is something fortified by a simple creed. “I try not to worry about things that I can’t do anything about,” she said.

Mrs. Chowning has two children, Larry, a Southside Sentinel reporter and author of several books, and Susan, who lives in Williamsburg.

Mrs. Chowning is “very lucky” to have most of her family, including five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, living nearby. Larry lives a few doors down the street from his mother.

On any day you’re likely to find Mrs. Chowning at her shop painting. When she gets tired of painting, she’ll pick up a book and read in her wingback chair as the afternoon sun beams through the windows.

Does she ever fall asleep in the chair? “All the time,” she replied without hesitation.

posted 11.24.2015

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