May 2005 Issue
Inheriting the Arts
The region is filled with unique treasures and opportunities for learning and exploration.
Art galleries and artists' studios are sprinkled along the highways and byways stretching from Nelsonville's Public Square to neighboring Perry County. An area whose economy once depended on coal, bricks and pottery for economic stability is redefining itself, and art is playing a significant role in development efforts.
Foothills School of American Crafts was one of the first artist groups to settle in Nelsonville, and many attribute the recent influx of artists in the developing Public Square Arts District to the arrival of the school.
Previously located in Amesville, Foothills decided it had cleaned up after one too many floods, so it began looking for a new location. In 2000, this creative group - which promotes art education by providing art training while making economic contributions to students and the region - arrived on the Public Square. With the school came Foothills Gallery, the showcase where the work of about 60 artists is sold. Foothills artists soon began establishing studios on the second and third floors of storefronts lining the Public Square and, before long, classes ranging from copper enameling to bead art and stained glass were being offered.
In an effort to expand its board, several people from Hocking College were asked to join the Foothills governing group. Norm Fox, site manager for Robbins Crossing, the living history interpretive museum on Hocking College's campus, is the current president of Foothills' board. It wasn't long before a solid partnership developed between Hocking College's School of Arts and Sciences and Foothills School, and Hocking students enrolled in some Foothills classes benefited by receiving college credit. This, however, was only the beginning. Soon efforts were under way to create a new two-year associate degree program called American Crafts Design and Marketing.
Claudette Stevens, vice president of the School of Arts and Sciences, says the goals of this unique program are twofold. "Students spend quality time in the studios with local artists as they learn techniques and skills from successful and accomplished professionals." But, Stevens says, the learning doesn't stop there. "We want artists to look at the practical side of their business and to be more understanding of the basic business practices they'll face such as permits, pricing, distribution and tax issues."
Making their mark
Ceramic artist Ann Judy is the owner of Starbrick Clay, a cooperative gallery for ceramic artists. Her amazing work includes masks and "face pottery" that often adorns whistles, ocarinas, rattles and vases. She came to Nelsonville with Foothills School and was the first artist to branch out by opening her own business on the Public Square.
Her protege Jennifer Tvorik owns Nelsonville Pottery and Art Supply and is also a Starbrick Clay artist. Jennifer's business was previously located in the space at the rear of Starbrick Clay, but she recently moved to a storefront on West Washington Street.
Both Judy and Tvorik are instructors in Hocking College's American Craft Design and Marketing program. They are at the forefront of gallery owners who teach and mentor aspiring artists. This spring, about a dozen classes are being offered as part of the new program. Other Public Square artists teaching classes include Skip French, wood block printing; Jonathan Silbert, jewelry making; Sara Gilfert, paper making; Yilmaz Tuncay, introduction to clothing design; Aaron Smith, life drawing and oil painting; Danny Roush, Native American flint knapping; and Mamerto Tindongan, basic wood carving.
Artist Mark Hackworth is coordinator for the American Crafts Design and Marketing program. Hackworth specializes in printmaking and drawing. As coordinator for the American Crafts Design and Marketing program, his responsibilities range from teaching foundation design courses to advising students and developing new courses He understands the value of working with aspiring artists to develop business acumen as well as to help them hone their creative techniques. "The most important thing that we do for beginning artists is to create an environment that helps them build confidence to accomplish their own goals," Hackworth says.
Another artist who contributes significantly to the American Craft Design and Marketing program is the talented stained-glass artist Bonnie Proudfoot. Her art career began when she created Tiffany-style shades for a New York company. She serves as a teacher for both Foothills School and Hocking College, and her highly sought-after creations are available at galleries across the state.
These artists and others exhibit their work on the Nelsonville Public Square, with most of the 19 galleries open Thursday through Saturday, and some on Sunday. An ideal time for visiting studios and galleries is Final Fridays, the last Friday each month (except December), when galleries stay open late to host special activities such as opening exhibits or receptions. When the weather permits, activities spill out of doors where live music, street vendors and other artists who offer original work set up for this special evening.
Whether it's the scenic beauty of southeastern Ohio that sparks the creativity of artists or the comfortable and relaxed lifestyle afforded there, an abundance of creative souls have chosen to make the area their home.
While there are many galleries and studios that are easily found in the Public Square or along the main streets of other communities, there are just as many along the back roads that visitors may never find on their own. Luckily, there are some guides available to help.
Foothills School offers Studio Tours to locations off the beaten path where artists can be found working in their private studios. Van tours that accommodate only a handful of people preserve the casual intimacy afforded only to small groups. Take this opportunity to meet some of the area's finest artisans.
Each month, 20 to 30 new pieces come to Outback Gallery at 30 Public Square in Nelsonville, a location shared with Hocking Hills Travel. Outback offers a unique collection featuring art with a travel or nature-related theme and specializing in local and regional art.
Hocking Hills Travel provides travel planning for arts and culture immersion getaways throughout Athens, Hocking and Perry counties. Take a quilting class or try your hand at making paper or at the potters' wheel. There are many galleries where instruction is available upon request. For the shop-till-you-drop set, the possibilities are endless, with art to satisfy all tastes and budgets. Contact Hocking Hills Travel, 754/753-4445, to learn about travel packages designed especially for those who wish to visit arts and cultural sites in the area.
While you're visiting, take the time to indulge in some other unique pleasures within the Hocking Hills. Pedal or hike along the 17-mile Hockhocking Adena Bikeway that begins near Robbins Crossing, take a ride on the Hocking Valley Scenic Railway, or fish along the banks of Lake Snowden Education and Recreation Park near Albany.
For another view of the region, students in Hocking College's Eco-tourism class conduct historical and environmental and tours of sites within about a 20-mile radius of Nelsonville throughout May.
Dining doesn't get any better than at Rhapsody, the region's newest fine-dining experience on Nelsonville's Public Square. Top-notch chefs and aspiring student chefs from Hocking College's award-winning Culinary Arts School use the finest natural and locally grown ingredients in preparing outstanding cuisine. Rhapsody is open Wednesday through Saturday for dinner; if you visit early, between 7:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., you can see students in the throes of food prep as they finesse the menu filled with upscale American food. Students of Hocking College's Junior Hot Foods Team took top honors at this year's American Culinary Federation's North-east Regional Competition and are competing for the national title in July. Enjoy dinner before a performance at Stuart's Opera House, the century-old performance center in Nelsonville that has been restored to its former glory. Go for dessert after the show at Rhapsody or a little farther down the street at FullBrooks CafÃ© for a complete evening out.