‘JOY’ at JMU

How one painter found inspiration on the Quad — and shared it with Madison

JMU News

by Jamie Marsh


Artist Krystal Bilberry (’05, ’07M), who signs her bright, bold paintings with the alias JOY, closes her eyes when she thinks of Madison. Then she can describe her favorite spot on campus:

“I start at Carrier Library, walking between Carrier and the older buildings, toward the Quad. There’s a hole where I come out from the shadow of the buildings and trees, and that’s my place. At that opening, there’s instantly sunshine; I see the contrasting reddish-orange rooftops against the blue and white sky; I feel the sun and the breeze; There’s a mountain backdrop; And it smells like French vanilla cappuccino from the machine that used to sit in Wilson. It is a perfect moment, a perfect day, and I know very deeply that anything is possible.”

Sunset looking out down a sidewalk, over the Quad at JMU

During the spring of 2020, this memory became her “Happy Place.” When everything was shut down, Bilberry was suddenly overseeing online school for her four children and adjusting to her husband, David Bilberry (’06), working from home. She joined a virtual art club, seeking “some fun and some freedom,” and was given the prompt: Draw your Happy Place.

“People shared sketches from Florida beaches, of course, but others drew their local post office,” she remembered. “I spent maybe five minutes sketching mine, just my watercolors and an old journal book. The experience of closing my eyes and going back to campus soothed my anxiety entirely. It brought me such joy.” 

She posted the painting online and asked if anybody else was missing Madison. “I didn’t view it as something to sell,” she explained, “It was just a simple sketch to share.” Within days, she had received hundreds of comments and requests from around the country. Bilberry later offered the illustration to JMU’s Office of Annual Giving, which will send a thank-you card featuring Bilberry’s artwork to everyone who made a tax-deductible gift in 2023. Plans are to mail the card to donors in November.

Portrait of Krystal Bilerry
Bilberry said she loves that the university is now able to share her work with other alumni and friends: “At JMU, I got to be completely myself for the first time — an artist, a good friend, a leader — all in this beautiful place. I want everyone to have that."


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Published: Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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