July 2012 Issue
The natural beauty and easy pace of Ohio’s Appalachia inspires a thriving arts enclave that continues to grow.
Bustling. It’s not a word many would think of to describe the nightlife in Nelsonville. Especially not the locals, who take pleasure in the quiet and unassuming nature of their small southeastern Ohio town. But thanks to Final Fridays — the town’s signature art event – residents now say that Public Square comes alive with music and art enthusiasts on the last Friday of every month (except in December).
It’s a resurgence of sorts for a town once known for coal, clay and boots. Now the original city of the “Little Cities of Black Diamonds” microregion — named for the area’s importance in the mining industry — shines as the unofficial arts capital of Ohio’s Appalachian region, an expanse of more than 30 counties hugging the Ohio River to the south and reaching along the state’s eastern border.
Final Fridays — Nelsonville’s signature event — attracts hundreds of people who intermingle with street musicians, dancers and craftsmen as they flow in and out of the two dozen or so galleries and shops lining the square. It’s a vivid revitalization for a community that just a decade ago “was a ghost town,” says Barbara Campagnola, executive director of Paper Circle (papercircle.org
), one of the first galleries to open shop on the square. Today the bright white walls and wood floors of the former hardware store provide a radiant backdrop for colorful paper and book art displays, plus space for a fully equipped papermaking studio.
Just a few doors down at another founding studio, owner Ann Judy prepares Starbrick Gallery (starbrick.com
) for one of several national exhibitions that will be held in Nelsonville this year: the Starbrick Clay National Salt and Pepper Shaker Show, opening July 27th. Judy and her husband Aaron Smith helped revitalize five spaces on the previously empty square and founded Final Fridays in 2002.
“We are both artists, and we added more elbow grease than money, which was exactly what was needed,” says Judy. The community benefited both aesthetically and economically as a result of their hard work. “Now there are always fabulous, cutting-edge shows here in our little part of the world,” she says proudly.
And she should be proud. Nelsonville’s success with Final Fridays has added a serious boost to art interest in the entire Appalachian region, prompting several cities to create their own weekend art walks. First Friday art events are held year-round in downtown Zanesville and in Coshocton from May through September. In the months of June, July and August, Marietta hosts Merchants and Artists Walks on second Fridays, and the Historic Downtown Chillicothe Shop-N-Stroll events are held on second Saturdays.
Art, whether visual or performance, has always been an important part of Appalachian culture. From the storytellers and musicians to the carvers, painters and potters, their work is known for beautifully reflecting the lifestyle and struggles of the Appalachian people. Artistic authenticity continues to define the region’s artists, with the creative community now being recognized beyond its traditional folk-art roots. Jane Forrest Redfern, executive director of The Dairy Barn Arts Center (dairybarn.org
) in Athens, believes Appalachia’s new distinction as an arts destination is well deserved, if not long overdue.
“In the Athens area, we’re blessed. There’s recognition of cultural art and fine art, but most importantly recognition that art is an expression of the community and the person,” she says, pointing out that several critically acclaimed artists have called Athens home. Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was raised in Athens, but few recognize her as an Appalachian artist, explains Forrest Redfern. Official White House photographer Pete Souza has also called Athens home.
The community’s willingness to blend and embrace all art forms has been in existence since the late 1970s when The Dairy Barn hosted its first show, Quilt National. The intent was to celebrate Appalachia and to promote quilting as an art form, but what grew from the center’s inception was much more. Artists whose quilt work had been rejected at previous shows now had a venue to showcase their talent. Quilt National has since grown into a world-renowned exhibition merging contemporary and traditional arts, and The Dairy Barn’s 5,423-square-foot gallery now features all forms of media from both local and international artists. Currently on display through September 2 is “Beyond Words: The Art of the Graphic Novel,” featuring 44 artists from around the world.
Beyond Athens County
Athens and Nelsonville, located less than 15 miles from each other, are two of the most popular art destinations in Appalachia, but a drive in nearly any direction from Athens County leads to a number of other studios, galleries and museums.
Some of the more recognizable places for pottery past and present are located in the eastern part of the state, north of Athens. Zanesville, once known as the “Pottery Capital of the World,” has nine working pottery companies as well as several shops and studios dedicated to the craft.
This month, the Zanesville Museum of Art (zanesvilleart.org
) is exhibiting a collection of 70 cookie jars from the Nelson McCoy Pottery Company dating from the 1950s to 1970s, and The National Road/Zane Grey Museum in nearby Norwich is featuring Zanesville art pottery from 1880 to 1920. A perfect time to visit both is July 10–15 during Zanesville Pottery Lovers Week, an event that attracts thousands of collectors and potters from across the country.
The art of handcrafted glassware is celebrated at the National Imperial Glass Museum (imperialglass.org/site/museum.htm
) in Bellaire in Belmont County. Produced from 1904 to 1984, Imperial Glass evolved in both form and function, from utilitarian glassware and lampshades to decorative gift items in a variety of patterns and shapes. In addition to display cases, the museum offers a video presentation and exhibits of the tools and implements used in the company’s mould shop.
Due west of Athens in Ross County is the Pump House Center for the Arts (pumphouseartgallery.com
). Housed in the 1883 Chillicothe Water and Sewer Company pumping station, it now serves the community as a gallery and art education center.
Thirty miles south in Jackson is the Markay Cultural Arts Center (jacksonohio.org/markay.htm
), run by the Southern Hills Arts Council. Executive director Barbara Summers says the 1930s Art Deco movie house has undergone several stages of restoration since 1996. Currently, the auditorium is being renovated and, when open, the Markay will be the only live performance venue in Jackson County. Summers is excited about the current exhibition — six life-size bas-relief sculptures created for the Markay in the 1940s that have been fully restored. They will be placed in the auditorium area when the renovation is complete.
Summers also recommends visiting the Market Arts Center Gallery (pikeartsguild.wordpress.com
) in Waverly (Pike County), the French Art Colony (frenchartcolony.org
) in Gallipolis, (Gallia County)and the Southern Ohio Museum (somacc.com
) in Portsmouth (Scioto County). The latter is the permanent home of the Clarence Carter Collection, which shows the work of the 20th-century American scene artist born in Portsmouth in 1904. At age 30, he became the first Ohioan to sell a painting to New York’s venerable Metropolitan Museum of Art. While Carter’s pieces often depicted the early 20th-century lives and work of rural Ohioans on canvas, a modern-day Appalachian artist has created a studio where many of those forgotten skills are being taught to a new generation of artists and craftsmen.
Steve Herndon built Maple Creek Artisan Center (maplecreekart.com
) in 2005 to be an artist retreat, gallery and teaching studio in the tiny town of Moscow in Clermont County. Many in the town of 200 who watched Herndon build the center say it was a labor of love and a work of art all its own.
Herndon, who specializes in restoring historic log structures, constructed Maple Creek with materials from two dismantled 1820 log barns. The result is a gorgeous 5,000-square-foot gallery where contemporary glass, pottery and wood pieces are displayed alongside diminishing art forms such as iron and leather work, knifesmithing and weaving.
Visiting artist Kim McKisson has worked beside several of the artisans at the center. As a painter and photographer, she often uses the grounds at Maple Creek as a muse, but she says her true inspiration is the artists themselves.
“Our regional artists, whether contemporary or traditional in nature, have a spirit and substance to their work that is truly unique and moving,” she says. “There’s just something about Appalachia — it encourages artistic talent to stream straight from the soul.”
Be sure to check each gallery’s schedule before you take to the road; some locations have limited hours.
Summer and early fall bring a variety of art festivals to Appalachia.
Pottery Lovers Celebration
Y Bridge Arts Festival
Salt Fork Arts and Crafts Festival
60th Annual Parade of the Hills
Foothills Art Festival