Anne Sylvest


The famous quotation of Robert Louis Stevenson beautifully sums up the life and love of ANNE R. CRAWFORD- SYLVEST:

 “The (wo)man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled her niche and accomplished her task; who leaves the world better than she found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best she had.”


Her parents were born to tight-knit clans that were known for their ardent pursuit of knowledge and the arts, so a life of selfless service and a child-like appreciation for art and its beauty were instilled in Anne at an early age. Her parents James Jamison Crawford and Josephine Millner were avid Native American artifacts collectors, and their family resided in the quiet and supportive community of Shenandoah Valley in Strasburg, Virginia; there she and her siblings grew up in an environment that helped nourish their passions.

 Her brother, James J. (Jay) Crawford, Jr. said that Strasburg was a place where it was “hard to keep secrets because everyone knows everyone else”, while her sister, Mary C. Mayhew fondly remembered that children could go and stay outside playing for hours and nobody worried about them, nor was there any reason to.” Certainly, it was a place worth remembering and the kind of community where artists like Anne thrived because they were strongly encouraged and supported. 

One of her sons, Christian C. Wiles also took a trip down memory lane on that house on High Street in Strasburg where their mother grew up. He imagined what it was like for his mother as he lovingly closed his eyes to tread on the past,  I remember the wooden floors that would creak in that old house, especially when you’re making your way up the stairs to the second floor. I remember that huge white picket fence that we would paint in the summertime. It is a wonder that we didn’t get more paint on ourselves than that fence. Or maybe we did and my grandfather was too kind to alert us to that fact! 

I also remember the big pine trees right beside the house, and a large side yard, a cellar where ice and other meats would be kept cold before electricity, and a sloping backyard with a garden. 

I can still recall the locust coming to visit one year leaving a bunch of locust shells all over the front porch. 

I imagine that it was for her like it was for me, very hot in the summertime, and very cold in the winter. There is a winding steep road right beside the house that went down to the river which I imagine she explored often. I remember one winter where it snowed heavily, and that road was made into a fantastic sled path. And, I can imagine for her it was the same.”

Her grandchildren did not spend much time in Strasburg, but growing up, they often heard of those stories of their grandmother who was very beautiful and very popular around town, as Lexi W. McMann called to mind.

Anne’s siblings Mary and Jay, who both survived her, have also enjoyed a life-long marriage with history, art and music just like their parents and other generations that came before and after them. Their work has always borne a distinct mark of adventure, creativity and ingenuity. Most importantly, their profound affinity to spirituality has been their inspiration to a life that celebrates its Source through music and art. Jay, who inherited their parents’ unquenchable thirst for history and travel, was a petroleum geologist and worked all over the world before his retirement, trying to squeeze in a drop of adventure in life as much as he can. 

It was that same adventurous spirit that Anne possessed as remembered by her brother. He reminisced, She had a mind of her own. She was once very upset with me when at some level, she was not allowed to participate in some manly pursuit by me and my  young buddies because she was a girl.”  

This was fully supported by sister Mary, also an artist, musician and author by saying, “She was a deep, profound and strong being who kept her own counsel and handled life’s challenges without complaint and with resolve. Her life, at some times and in some ways, was a lot to handle, but nevertheless, she thought of and did for others. During a challenging time in my life, she took time to write me a letter of encouragement, which meant a lot.” Truly, a beautiful person inside and out, as recalled by many.

It wasn’t surprising that when Anne had a family of her own, the same zest and faith were passed on to her children: Julia, George, Christian and William. They were inadvertently drawn to what runs through their veins. In one way or another, they all leaned towards their natural inclinations to the arts either as an avocation or as a profession.  As acknowledged by granddaughter, Lexi, “They may have differences like any other family but deep down, they truly love each other.”

Her only daughter, Julia who is described by family as smart, full of spunk and good-hearted, proudly stated; I was very lucky to be her daughter and to have witnessed the different metamorphosis and love in her artwork up until her very sudden death.” 

According to her son, Christian who reveres art through music, “Art has always been a part of her life.  Some of my earliest memories are of her in a studio out in the back of the house, and then one off of the second floor, off of my brother’s bedroom. I remember that she used to take photographs and then create them in whatever format she was into at the time. My early remembrances are of some pen and ink cards that she would do. Then, there were some oil paintings of seasides, seagulls and one striking early painting of a mother holding a baby, which we called Madonna.” Said painting will be one of the many that will be showcased in her online gallery.

The same thing could be said about her grandchildren Jordan, Timothy, Jessica, Lexi, Tricia, and Nate whose strong bond remains steadfast and true despite the rarity of being together.  When bonded, the love for music and the arts shines through like the rays of light at dawn. Something that would always make their grandmother beaming with pride and joy. 

Indeed, grandchildren have a special way of remembering their granny. Jessica Wiles enthused about that special collage that was turned into an oil creation which she had been gifted with years ago, When I was about 7 or 8, Granny invited me to create with her in her studio in Church Hill. She was working on collages. We sat down with all different kinds of materials-  glues and paints. She instructed me to just go for it and create whatever my heart desires. I don’t remember exactly what I ended up making, but I do remember I practiced writing “I am what I am” in cursive. She kept my scraps of practice paper and incorporated one of them into one of her collages. That piece is currently hanging at my dad’s house among other pieces from that collection and it makes me happy to see it and remember that day with her. She also used the “I am what I am” in cursive writing in a larger oil piece, which she gifted to me and I always have it hanging somewhere prominent in my home.”

In the same vein, Timothy Wiles has a rather long narrative about his “Granny” which he aptly ended with an expression of gratitude and longing to see her again.

“About 3 months before Granny passed, I had the chance to go visit the Farm up in the mountains. Granny and Wuffy had always asked me to visit for years, but being out of state and involved with work, play, and all the things a mid-20 something was into, I never took the opportunity. I do wish I had taken more chances to go and visit in the years before.

I spent 3 days at the Farm, and what 3 days they were! We talked about life, relationships, spirituality and everything in between. Granny also showed me her chickens. The days were slow and easy. At night, we sat at the table and drank wine by the fire, eating simple meals with little or no meat. They were tasty and filling. Most of the produce was local. I have fond memories of those few nights together.

She was sick then, and I think she knew it, but she did not let on to me. She wanted to show me her artwork, and on the last day, we toured her gallery together. We spent hours looking at her art, reminiscing about the days that she used to paint. She would pull out a piece and tell me the story behind it, like the time she hosted a huge art show at the Farm and painted a large tapestry that was hung on the outside barn wall. Or pieces to a set that she had one of, and one of her children or a friend had had the second part to the set. I hope that the pairs eventually find their ways back together.

She asked me what I thought of various stills and abstracts; we looked through pencil, acrylic, and oil works. Even watercolor! I think that was the time that I felt the most connected to her and her art. I have always seen her art displayed throughout my life, but I had never felt that we had connected emotionally about it. This was a chance and honor that I am privileged to have had.

I remember she still had her easel set up then, with paint and brushes close by, almost like she had never stopped painting. If someone were to walk into her studio, it would have been hard to tell that she had not been at work a few hours earlier. She said that the time that we had together had inspired her and that she hoped to pick up the brush again- something that never happened as she fell very ill a short time after I left.

I did not know this was the last time we would speak or see each other, though I am grateful that this was my last memory of my grandmother.

I’d like to think that somewhere up in Heaven, she is looking down on all of us with a brush in her hand, painting landscapes of the cosmos, and abstracts with brilliant colors we could never imagine.

Until we meet again.  Thank you, Granny.”

Looking at the family that Anne was blessed to be born into, one will no longer be left wondering where she got her curious and adventurous spirit, her innate artistic abilities and her reserved and quiet demeanor. 

Christian was generous enough to give us a glimpse of the lovely people, James and Josephine, who raised Anne. I remember my grandfather, “Grand” as a man of many interests. He was president of the bank and editor of a newspaper and he also ran an insurance company, and still found time to take long walks around the town of Strasburg and he would often go out artifact hunting in the summertime. 

On the other hand, my grandmother, “Bah” was a quiet and reserved woman as well, and she was always cooking something healthy in the kitchen. I remember her famous pancakes which were full of whole grains and goodness that she would serve with butter and honey. 

She would often take us on walks around the town, through the town cemetery (that is not as bad as it might sound). She would also take us along with her as she visited her friends along the mountain valley. I remember one visit where Bah and her friend took us up the mountain on a hike to an opening in the trees was somewhat of a steep sloped pasture. The gnats were so thick you could see them in swarms. We were planning on doing a picnic lunch, but that was quickly aborted as the gnats plus the summer heat made it unbearable.

Anne Sylvest was certainly cut from the same cloth of her ancestors who placed a high value on history, literature, nature, adventure, music and different forms of art.


From the beginning, Anne found ways to create beauty in the ordinary. Her sister Mary remembers that her creative expression began from the get-go as a child. She further explains, “in an interview, Anne said that as a child someone saw one of her drawings and said, ‘Why, Anne, you’re an ARTIST!’ She said she took that to heart. I remember a white-painted food tin our family had which had cute paintings by Anne all around its circumference. As a child, I loved to pretend to be a Native American, and I made a bow and my own arrows. Since I had no quiver to house the arrows, teen-ager Anne decorated a piece of cloth with Native American-style colored drawings and wrapped the cloth around a cylinder of cardboard and attached a rope for wearing it over my shoulder. A wonderful work of art. Later, as a busy mom she did needlework as well, taking the time to create a lovely framed work to give to me. Also, the busy mom of 4 did quilting, and she designed and hand-stitched an adorable full-sized quilt showing Ed’s and my cat, Princess, curled up under our apple tree.

Her envoy into art was not limited to painting and quilting. She played the flute as a child and in later years, took up the cello and she would happily play and sing music with her sister. One of the fondest memories that Mary would hark back to was during the time that they decided to hold a concert together to entertain their father who was being challenged with Alzheimer’s disease. She laughingly narrated, We agreed to meet at our parents’ home as we were coming from different parts of the state where we respectively lived without even once having first practiced together the chosen music. It was a disaster! When we asked Daddy afterwards how he liked the music, he innocently replied (probably not knowing who we were), “I didn’t think much of it.” We went out to lunch afterwards and chose whether to laugh or to cry, We chose to laugh.”  

Anne married George C. Wiles, III in 1956 and proceeded to start raising a family. After a brief period living in the city of Richmond, she and George had a longing for a quieter lifestyle and moved to the small town of Ashland (25 minutes north of the city) in the early 1960’s. Through all the dalliances with other forms of art, Anne’s paintings kept coming. Julia C. Wiles, her only daughter, looked back on living in that 15-room house on Center Street in Ashland. She recalled that her mother appropriated a tiny room next to the furnace room, off the back porch as her art studio. She reminisced how her mom grabbed every second she could in that room, creating some beautiful pieces. “My brothers and I were hard pressed to give her a second alone. We wanted our beautiful mother all to ourselves, “ she quipped. When Julia was an adult, adult, her mom confided in her that those stolen, creative moments spent in that teeny, tiny room kept her sane at that place in time. 

In late 1978, Anne and George went separate ways and Anne continued to nurture her patients, her family, and her art. She met and married Ken Wood in 1981, as all but one of her children had graduated and moved into their adult lives. Ken was a brilliant mechanical engineer, and sadly, Anne lost him to cancer only a few years into their marriage. Anne was strong, and processed divorced and being widowed so closely together, and continued to paint through it all. 

Towards the end of her grief, Anne met Dr. Vernon M. Sylvest, a pathologist and deeply spiritual man; they were drawn to one another, fell deeply in love, and confidently named each other as “soulmate.” They married in the summer of 1986 and made their home in the westend of Richmond. Eventually, they were drawn to the heart of the city and settled in Churchill. Their home on East Grace Street was filled to the brim with her artwork, bursting with life, imagery, and rich color. The Richmond community adopted Anne as their own, and magnanimously manifested an appreciation for her art. She became well-known for her paintings and her art were displayed in reputable libraries and galleries. Patrons of art, including her siblings, described her style as something that makes one grounded and think with a purpose. One doesn’t just stare at it; you try to find the meaning or the story behind it.  Each piece of art was an expression of her inner self – a soul with a purpose. It is like an art in itself, which endears the artist more to the viewer who is able to go deeper than the strokes of the brush.

One of her granddaughters, Lexi thinks that “she not only captured real imagery from the natural world, but had a unique way of creating movement, color and tone that made you feel like the painting WAS the real thing” 

Despite the early artistic display, Anne’s fervor for the visual arts only strengthened after spending years of working as a nurse. She was happily enjoying her retirement, Dr. Vernon Sylvest, with whom she spent the last three decades of her fulfilling years, when she rediscovered her muse. Her stepdaughters, Tasha, Rebecca and Vivian added hues to what was clearly a colorful life.

She and Vernon moved to the Healing Waters Farm in Head Waters, VA (formerly owned by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, renowned psychologist and expert on grief) in their retirement, which was a perfect backdrop for all of her artwork. Her last years were all about the expression of her intimacy with nature – the ever-changing landscape, the pretty flowers in bloom, the cascading flow of the creek, the quaint barns, the adoring farm animals and the view of the farms that gave glints of shadows that meet more than the eye. Anne was able to put a life to these in her canvas using her evidently preferred media – oil and watercolor. The happiness and contentment that she graciously found in life were crystal clear in all her work, even a previous health challenge that she bravely faced and defeated. Her art was a depiction of her psychological and spiritual journey. All of these artistic expressions are currently exhibited in her online gallery.

Tasha Sylvest-Walsh expressed her admiration of her stepmother’s ability to create artistic beauty from small things that could simply be decorating their house, painting an oyster shell on a large canvas or adorning a chicken coop with painted tin can lids. In awe, she gushed, “I’ve always found her artwork to be down to earth and beautiful. Kind of like her.”  Most importantly, she commended her for being great at helping their dad, Vernon stay grounded,  If he went a little too far into theoretical frameworks and approaches to life, she would say ‘Wuffy, you are here and you must participate.’”

 With fondness, she further shared, “One of her large canvas paintings was of a pond with a frog sitting on a lily pad. My dad used to say that it was a portrait of him before Anne kissed him. He always laughed heartily at that and she would chuckle while she rolled her eyes in an endearing way.”

As for Vivian Sylvest, it’s their shared love for oysters that she remembers the most, Whether fried, roasted, or Rockefeller, we could eat our body weight in them. We started making oyster stew a traditional part of Christmas morning. My dad started as the cook, but as the years went by, Anne and I began putting our own spins on the dish. Until, ultimately, I took over the tradition. They would sit at the kitchen table in Churchill then at the farm house waiting in anticipation as I stated each step so they knew I was in line with our tradition. I still make it every Christmas morning and take a moment to relish in the memory of those days.”

One of her cousins, Sally Zea Cromelin, was quick to share, “I have several of Anne’s works. We grew up together, attended the same grades in school, so she was a huge part of my life.”

Her stepdaughter, Tasha, proudly mentioned about the couple of paintings which were created from the photographs of their yard and pets, “I remember when she gave us one of a flooded creek with our dog, Tess, standing in the water. It was during the time when she was just getting back into painting, and she was so pleased to share it with us. She talked about the challenge of getting the reflection of the water ‘just so’ – and it’s beautiful. It still hangs over our fireplace and I look at it with fondness.”

Christian was spot on when he paid tribute to her, My mother was a woman of grace and beauty. She did her absolute best with all that she was equipped with, and made a real difference with the artwork that she created for those who are around her. Her memory lives on in the beauty of her art.”

Anne Sylvest’s paintings have reached the walls of those who not only conveyed their acknowledgement of a work of art, of a masterpiece, but also the spaces of those whose admiration about Anne are way above and beyond what is visible to the naked eye.


Like the two faces associated with theatre or the cinema, Anne’s life was a balance of tears of joy and sadness. She endured challenges that many ordinary humans have to face head on in the midst of this transitory life- for her, they were a challenging divorce, single parenthood and cancer, and being widowed, which she all survived like a diamond polished into perfection. Her step grandmother, Ren Crawford has beautifully summed up Anne’s refinement-by-fire:

A diamond in the rough, she was as beautifully faceted, polished and strong as the diamond suggests. She had a core strength that had evolved from much sadness before I knew her. I only knew Anne in our later years from the time I became her “stepmother”.  We were as alike as two sisters, linked by our minds and talent. 

Anne was an admirable artist. She also fulfilled her talents to some degree in writing and she could belt out a Country Western song with the best of them.  I supported her talents and her gifts. 

She raised the four children she was left to fend for alone. She trained as a nurse and was the best looking one around. Unfortunately, her patients were surgical cases so they never knew her.  However, Dr. Sylvest noticed and married her to complement their spiritual goals and gifts of healing,  and just because he loved her. All of these happened  about the same time when I entered the time stream.

I remember the cancer years and her bravery.  She was such a lady in her carriage and in her manner of expression.  Her genuine classiness is shown in the art she produced, in her landscapes of Virginia and some striking portraits of women and other subjects. I hope that photos of her paintings will be exhibited and generations to come will understand the power, spirituality, grief and true passion which was the fire in her soul. It was a true connection to earth and sky. So, time will note that she was a spiritual traveler and that we were just lucky to have known and loved her.”

William Thomas C. Wiles, her youngest, mostly remembers his mother as a survivor, someone who had her own struggles but would still find ways to lend a hand in his own rough times. Tom confided, “I think she was struggling the last few years.  She had some good and aggravating times when we would visit her. I can tell, retrospectively, the years were taking their toll. I could tell she was satisfied with her life, which she had made. I irritated her and she let me, just to show she cared. She was a tough cookie, still never had much time for herself. I only know my end of it; there are three others too! I like the stories, good and bad. She was a survivor, until she didn’t. Missed by all that knew her. Never afraid to tell you like it was. She helped me, spiritually, through some very tough times.”

Anne was full of self-awareness and honesty too, as she was able to see the ways in which she had grown and hoped to continue to grow throughout the end of her life. She found the most clarity and purpose in the midst of her marriage with Vernon, during which she wrote the following endearing and revealing poem. 

There once was a spirit named Anne
Who lived with her head in the sand.
Her ego she trusted
Her heart, it got busted
Her life was really a sham.

Then Anne met a spirit named V.
His light she could instantly see.
As together they moved
Her vision improved
She hopes they’ll become as “I Am.”   



Anne has moved on and she has left a legacy of tremendous artwork that her family would like to publicly share, in order to celebrate a life of art and pay a deserved tribute to it.

In every canvas, her brother and sister remember the young Anne whose indomitable and adventurous spirit has brought her from Strasburg to Richmond to Head Wates that gave her homes that undeniably nurtured that spirit. The sister will always think of  “The Catch of Strasburg” who unabashedly devoured a delicious pecan pie with her as the errant brother cast his mind into the several occasions that she covered up for him, and the playful way that she would set him up with her nice and attractive classmates at Mary Washington College.

In every stroke, her children think of their mother whose sacrifices are mirrored in the purpose-driven lives that they are also trying to abide. They think of the creative ways that she lightened their loads amidst the rather challenging family life that they had. 

Christian distinctly recalled that shortly after their parents divorced, they were taken on a trip down to the Outer Banks of Carolina where their mother would take pictures of seagulls and lighthouses and ocean fronts and just about anything that she could. 

“I remember being on the ferry boat and of her taking pictures of seagulls that could be standing on top of the pile, the posts that held back the sand and gave stability to the ferry dock. I remember her taking pictures of these birds, and then of her painting some of those. For me, looking back, it seemed like she was trying to keep a sense of familiarity and consistency in my childhood.”

In every hue, her grandchildren see an optimistic reflection of what they can possibly be. For them, she was not only a woman of grace and beauty, but someone who had uniquely made them feel special and assured them that in and with her, they would always have a home.

Julia’s son Jordan Wiles often shares that he misses his Granny, as they all called her. He reflects, “She was one of the greatest women that I had ever had the pleasure of being in my life, my family’s, and my loved one’s life. Such a beautiful and graceful woman. Wish she was here to give me guidance. I miss you so much my beautiful grandmother, especially the guidance and great attitudes towards the wisdom of positivity.”

With vivid clarity, Lexi shares about her grandmother’s 3 special treasures for her, “The first  was a brass metal horse doorstop with a “King’s Genius” nameplate on the front. I just turned 10 then and was so interested in horses at that time and she must have known- I did some research and the horse was one of the “greatest Saddlebred sires” of all time, and this piece was sculpted in 1938 in Waynesboro, VA. I taped a little note to the bottom that says “Note to self: Give this to your granddaughter when she turns 10 years old. It was given to you by Granny.” 

The second gift was a set of 4 bottles of oil paints. I love painting myself but had only ever used acrylics, and I remember her saying, “Now, you know you can make any color in the rainbow out of these 4 colors.” It was a special way of her wanting to share her love of painting with me. 

The third gift was a necklace made of blue stones that she gave me at my college graduation. She and Wuffy joined us for a nice lunch after the ceremony, and I remember feeling so happy that she had come. It seemed like she wanted to pass on her love of funky jewelry to me as well.”

It is with great affection that Jessica also disclosed, Granny opened up her home to me when I needed to get away from my regular life for a few weeks. I had the privilege of staying with her and Vern at the farm while being their only guest. Most mornings, Granny and I would have coffee on the porch and chat about nothing in particular. She helped inspire me for art projects I completed while I was there, and we took turns cooking for the house. I think my favorite memory is just of her scolding the dogs. She loved them so much but they drove her crazy and she was so funny about it. I wish I had known then how special that time at the farm would be, and I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity and have those memories.”

In every line and shape, they all lovingly reminisced how Anne selflessly tried to be the best granddaughter, daughter, niece, sister, cousin, aunt, wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, friend and colleague that she could in her side of the world.

For Anne’s family and friends, she was a successful woman. She lived well. She laughed too often and the echoes of those laughters still ring in their hearts. She gave herself up and loved too much. She gained the respect of her peers in her careers as a nurse and as an artist. She was well-loved by her family. She filled her niche in the world of art. She accomplished what she needed and wanted to do. She exhibited a profound appreciation of the beauty of the world and never failed to express it.. She always tried to see the best in others and gave the best she had. Above all, she left the world better than she found it.

As for herself, it’s not hard to imagine Anne saying these: “Art has always been an important and necessary part of my life – a life-saving part at times.  My method, developed over time, is to begin a piece with an idea, work on it until the piece begins to speak – to develop a voice of its own. Usually, by then my “idea” is long gone and  good riddance. The excitement begins when I need to attend to the needs of the piece. Here is where a bit of trust comes in handy. The result is when I can give up control and let the piece speak. I call this method “painting from the inside out.” Painting from the outside in never works for me. My inner self knows what it wants to express. The trick is to get out of the way.”

Truly, Anne R. Crawford- Sylvest lived a life of art. A life of art is a life well-lived. A life that is a legacy and that therefore, lives on.

Anne with Vernon
Anne _ Vernon - October 11, 1986
Anne in Front of Healing Waters


I call this method 'painting from the inside out.' Painting from the outside in never works for me.
My inner self knows what it wants to express.
The trick is to get out of the way.