Virginia Tech Magazine
Alumni Shorts
Fall 2009

From Appalachia to Tibet: The art of Jane Vance by Denise Young

Jane Vance (M.A. English '83) was born a painter. Her earliest memories stretch back to the age of one, a period of her life from which she has vivid recollections.

"To paint, for me, is like an obligation. I know it's why I'm in this world. My paintings are not of bowls of fruit or a flower; they're cross-cultural stories," says Vance, whose work is meant to serve as a bridge between her native home in the Appalachian mountains and the bright, bold hues and motifs of Tibetan art in the Himalayas.

Vance, who has visited Nepal eight times, finds herself in an unusual position: a Western woman situated at a crossroads between her homeland and the Nepalese culture that inspires her.

Jane Vance M.A.'83
Jane Vance M.A. '83
This is best seen in the documentary she recently helped create: A Gift for The Village, which chronicles the journey of one of her paintings from its creation, which received the blessings of the Dalai Lama, to its travels to its final home in a tiny village in what Vance calls "the wild west of Nepal." The film follows the story of a painting that became more than just a gift for one man and his family but rather one for an entire community.

A Gift for the Village trailer from Tom Landon

The project spans almost a decade's worth of work for Vance and the other members of the team, including co-producers and videographers Jenna Swann and Tom Landon. In 2001, Nepalese spiritual leader Amchi Tsampa Ngawang stayed with Vance while teaching for a semester at Virginia Tech. Vance decided to paint Ngawang's portrait as a Tibetan lineage painting, which places a significant individual in a cultural genealogy. "You have to understand the history of the great teachers in Tibetan Buddhism and the encyclopedia of symbols and motifs that serve as the clues to these paintings," explains Vance.

Of the documentary and the countless hours of teamwork that went into its creation Vance notes, "I am a painter, but that's almost nothing compared to the privilege of collaboration. I was born with the ability to draw in this infinite detail; I was compelled, propelled to draw, but also, lots of doors have opened for me; I've met the right people."

For more information about the documentary, visit

  • Update
    Aug. 19, 2010, from WDBJ7-TV, Roanoke, Va.
ane Vance (M.A. English '83) with Amchi Tsampa Ngawang's Tibetan lineage painting Art bridges a culture: From Blacksburg to the diaspora of Tibet
Orchestrating cross-cultural understanding by Lindsey Love
Morgan Cain Grim '09
Morgan Cain Grim '09

After dedicating two years to her undergraduate research project, Morgan Cain Grim (religion and culture '09) was looking forward to a study abroad opportunity in Europe. Little did she realize that her Appalachian-focused research would trigger a multicultural interaction with a gospel group in Spain.

Cain Grim's undergraduate research project focused on citizens of Wake Forest, Va., an African-American community that formed adjacent to Kentland Farm. "I spent two years recording oral histories in order to preserve the religious history and culture that had given Wake Forest hope and unity for over 200 years," says Cain Grim. She compiled the community's stories, prayers, and songs about their culture into a book, which is now one of the largest oral-history collections of Appalachian African-Americans to date.

While in Barcelona, Spain, Cain Grim stumbled across an unexpected and remarkable opportunity: After being introduced to the director of the Barcelona Institute of Gospel, Oscar Alberdi, at a host family's dinner, she was invited to share her undergraduate research with the gospel choir. Cain Grim ultimately gave three lectures to the gospel choir on the religious history and culture of Wake Forest. Inspired by her presentations, Alberdi was eager for the gospel choir to travel to the United States so they could learn more about some of the African-American communities where gospel music originated, and he asked for Cain Grim's help in coordinating a trip for the group's 20 founding members.


Back in Blacksburg, Cain Grim arranged a two-week program for the touring group. The Spanish gospel choir performed at several venues, including FloydFest 8 and Harriet Tubman's home in Auburn, N.Y.

"It is a powerful gift to see cultural boundaries being transcended right before your eyes," says Cain Grim.

To learn more about Cain Grim's experiences, go to

Lindsey Love is a communication major interning with the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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