March 29, 2006
By Christine Shaw
March may be designated as the month to recognize women's history, but through an annual event, "The Women of Appalachia: Their Heritage and Accomplishments Conference," Ohio University-Zanesville has been celebrating women's contributions to American culture for years. The conference's goal is to provide a new generation of Appalachian women with an opportunity to learn, grow and appreciate their culture. This year, the conference is scheduled for Oct. 20 and 21.
"The concept for the conference grew out of wide input from faculty and staff who recognize the importance of our Appalachian culture," said Zanesville Campus Dean Jim Fonseca. "This, coupled with a high percentage of female students on the campus, made it a logical focus of interest." He explains that the conference is successful due to the efforts of the planners and the Zanesville campus community. The participation from university departments such as Social Work, Women's Studies and Nursing strengthens the conference.
The Women of Appalachia conference is designed to create a dynamic educational experience. Those who study Appalachian history will share their knowledge of the culture through various presentations by adults and youth including poetry, art, cooking and storytelling. While history plays a large part in the conference, the true celebration is focused on the continuation of the Appalachian culture for future generations of female leaders.
Presentations spotlight achievements, enhance understanding
Appalachian cultural stories and writings have been important to the conference in the past and will be this year. In 2005, Ohio University Press published "Beyond Hill and Hollow: Original Readings in Appalachian Women's Studies," edited by Elizabeth S.D. Engelhardt. The book features highlights from early Women of Appalachia conferences. Ohio University-Zanesville values this opportunity to share stories, research and knowledge of Appalachia.
"Based on these storytellers' perspectives, stories accomplish more than preservation of cultural values," said Christina Walton, author and Women of Appalachia conference participant. "Stories are dynamic and ever-changing with each telling. Through the lens of the story, storytellers' personal interpretations are transmitted to audiences." Walton is an expert on storytellers, who wrote "Professional Storytellers: Life History Informs Performance Content."
The Women of Appalachia conference will also highlight the important artistic contributions that keep Appalachian culture alive. Each year, the conference celebrates such achievements with its juried art show featuring female Appalachian artists. Juried by renowned artisans, instructors and directors, Appalachian female artists are encouraged to share their work.
In 2005, jurors from The Works and The Central Ohio Regional Director for the Governor's Youth Art Exhibition reviewed 89 pieces of various works of art including jewelry, woven products, painting, photography and sculpture. Eleven student artists and 67 adult artists participated.
Appalachian accolades, unique learning
The Young Appalachian Writers contest was a new addition to the 2005 Women of Appalachia conference. An initiative of Candy McBride and Jeanne Bryner, the contest was designed to celebrate the accomplishments of young Appalachian women. "I was motivated to start the Young Appalachian Writers' Competition because I feel it is our mission to provide opportunities for women in Appalachia," says McBride, director of continuing education at Ohio University-Zanesville. "We need to provide opportunities that allow them to expand, explore and celebrate who they are."
The inaugural contest garnered entries from high schools throughout Appalachian Ohio. The top three entries were published in an unedited collection. Jeanne Bryner, author, nurse and supporter of the arts, reviewed the entries. The top three writers were: Chelsea Adams from John Glenn High School with her work, "Whispering Wishes;" Kasie McCreary of Minford High School with her piece, "While Waiting;" and Hilary M. Post of Morgan High School with her work, "Fitting In, Breaking Out." In the end, Post shone through as the top winner and read her piece to the conference audience.
The youngest participant at last year's conference was eight-year-old Sarah Bonnelle-Roberts. She attended the conference with her mother, Kate, who is associated with the Department of Social Science at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Mich. "She has already returned to school and presented talks on making paint from veggies and how to find your ancestors," says Kate. "This conference provided a learning experience that never occurs in the day-to-day school life of our children."
The 8th annual national The Women of Appalachia: Their Heritage and Accomplishments conference is scheduled for Oct. 20 and 21. The Ohio Arts Council is among the many partners who made this conference possible.
Christine Shaw is the grants, special projects and public relations coordinator at Ohio University-Zanesville.