about laura

In 1953, the indomitable Laura Lambe Burrell was born. Because of her father’s Naval career, Laura moved often throughout her youth. She got the chance to swim in both the Pacific and the Atlantic and attended only the best schools. She loved riding horses – especially galloping bareback without a bridle – and she loved art.

At the age of sixteen, Laura was diagnosed with schizophrenia. While pursuing an Arts degree at The Pratt Institute, her illness escalated and her family moved her home to Arlington, Virginia where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts from Marymount University. Laura married and had a daughter named Heather who was born with cerebral palsy, a brain injury caused by birth trauma. Soon after the birth, Laura experienced a reoccurrence of schizophrenia and both she and her child entered institutional care. Despite severe brain damage, Heather lived for seventeen years. Laura spent the next two decades in and out of hospitals and greatly mourned the loss of her daughter.

In 1996, Laura moved to Orange and a happier phase of her life began to unfurl. She resided at a supervised facility for persons leaving mental institutions. On her first night in Orange, Laura phoned her father and said, “This is Heaven!” Laura liked having a room of her own. She explored the town on foot bedecked in bright clothing and sparkling, tinkling jewelry, cherishing and finding magic and inspiration in places (most of us take for granted) like McDonald’s and the public library. She particularly enjoyed sitting and drawing at the Fire House Café on Main Street. Owner Marty Van Santvoord recognized Laura’s talent and hung her work on the Café walls.

In 2000, Laura was introduced to Megan Marlatt, a founding artist of The Arts Center In Orange. Megan established the Orange Studio, an Arts Center program that provides studio space and support for adult artists with disabilities. Through this program, Laura Burrell got her very own arts studio. For twelve years, Laura stayed out of the hospital. She diligently maintained her studio at The Arts Center, producing paintings that brighten the lives of thousands. She won many ribbons at the Orange County Fair and exhibited and sold in galleries in Charlottesville, Richmond, Washington, DC, and in New York’s SoHo district.

Beyond her ability with a paintbrush and palette, Laura was an integral part of the Orange community. She was an ambassador for other residents at President Madison Inn, encouraging and inspiring them to explore and participate in local life. Laura was also faithful member of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church and enjoyed camaraderie in and out of the church building – swimming at the local pool and going on day trips to art museums in DC and Richmond with fellow congregation members.

In 2008 Laura’s kidneys failed, followed by an infection that attacked her brain and heart. She endured months in a coma and countless hours at the dialysis center only to return to her studio toting an oxygen tank to produce some of her most important work. Despite the profound challenges she faced, Laura’s belief in an all-loving God and the beauty of life remained strong and is vivid in her artwork even after her death.

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~ by artscenterinorange on January 26, 2010.

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