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Howling Wolf, (above)
by David Dewey and Visiting Artist Mark Hackworth.
Monoprint. In the Collection of Wayne Lawson.


May 15, 2003
Artists and entrepreneurs are shaping the vision of a new Appalachia
By Susan Green

The following article appeared in the Spring 2002 Ohio Today. Part one appeared in Monday's Ohio in Focus.

The land and buildings that comprise the Eclipse Village, located off the Hockhocking Adena Bikeway in The Plains, were purchased from owners of the defunct Eclipse Mine five years ago by local entrepreneurs and artists. The venture is a true experiment in the arts as a vehicle for economic development.

"What this project is all about," says Fisher, "is economic development, human resource reclamation and product resource reclamation."

In addition to Fisher's restaurant, the tiny woodframe miners' homes house The Bone Gallery and Frame Shop, the medical office of Dr. John Coppinger, a Buckeye Forest Council office, On The Path Wholistic Healing Center and the Eclipse Textile and Fabric Collective. The remaining buildings still are in need of restoration.

At the end of the lane, within a stone's throw of the 17-mile bike path that runs from Athens to Nelsonville, is The Company Store. It once served the needs of the mining town of 1,200 residents who lived and worked in the Eclipse Mine. The mine was abandoned at the end of World War II, and the company store has remained closed save for a brief occupation by the VFW.

"We reopened the store in 2001," Fisher explains, "but now we are mining art."

Fisher's involvement began nearly two years ago when Mitchell decided to expand Passion Works by adding a second studio and gallery space at The Company Store. Together they are working to raise money to make the relocation a reality.

For now, The Company Store's two floors and basement are filled with installation pieces and artwork by School of Art faculty and students, local high school students and community members. Many of the pieces are made from materials found in and around the building that, while structurally sound, is in disrepair. A recent exhibition titled "Found About and Rounded Up" consisted of art entirely made from items found on the grounds. One installation features slate shingles taken from the roofs of the original cottages. They are streaked by decades of rain, creating images that one first assumes to be the work of an artist.

The ground floor serves as a combination gallery and gathering place. Musical performances are held in a stage area every Friday. Fisher says The Company Store eventually will house gallery, studio and production space; a stage for performances; and banquet seating. A juice bar is planned for the second floor.

Paul MacFarland runs The Bone Gallery and Frame Shop, which features the work of local artists in shows that rotate every two weeks. When the gallery is open, a wooden bone hangs on the front porch from two lengths of chain.

"We are selling a valuable product, art produced here in Appalachian Ohio," MacFarland says. "The shows represent the best of Appalachian modern art."

MacFarland's passion for - and deep roots in - Appalachia is shared by Gunter-Seymour, president of the board of Foothills School of American Crafts in Nelsonville. As a longtime basket maker, she has experienced firsthand the challenges of preserving tradition, culture and an endangered craft while trying to maintain a self-sufficient lifestyle.

"I struggled to make a living for years, and it was clear to me that other artisans and craftsmen were struggling as well," says Gunter-Seymour, who works as a graphic designer for the University. "We needed help."

Foothills School is one source of assistance. Incorporated in 1989 as a nonprofit educational agency, Foothills was established by craftsman David Baird, educators and civic leaders who saw the need for a supportive environment for regional artisans. In addition to teaching design and fabrication, the school equips students with general and craft-specific business skills and is committed to preserving endangered regional crafts.

"Foothills is all about promoting the overall welfare of the Appalachian region by supporting and encouraging the artistic community," Gunter-Seymour says. "We feel strongly about creating programs and facilities that contribute to the development of economic activity."

In partnership with Hocking College, Foothills offers four five-week classes in Appalachian art for college credit: Native American flint-knapping, copper enameling and jewelry making, ceramics and sculpture, and stained glass. The courses, taught at Foothills, count toward either a humanities requirement or an elective. A weeklong Appalachian Arts Camp will take place at Foothills this summer to acquaint prospective students and their parents with the new art programs at Hocking College. The collaboration is the first step toward an accredited associate degree program in Appalachian arts and marketing.

Located in a restored century-old building on Nelsonville's Public Square, Foothills houses the Baird Gallery and an artist resource center that accommodates six G-4 Macintosh computers, a color laser printer, a scanner, a digital camera and a research library - everything struggling artists need to market their work. The second floor houses workshops for students whose art incorporates metals, sewing or stained glass. Individual studio space also is available for rent, and an auditorium on the third floor is undergoing renovation.

With Foothills School and Stuart's Opera House as anchors, the square in Nelsonville, Gunter-Seymour says, is the perfect location for a regional arts operation that could accommodate hundreds of artists - performing, visual and culinary - in an area ripe for economic development. (In recent years, plant closings or relocations have meant the loss of nearly 750 area residents' jobs.)

"I'm not thinking about creating a shopping destination, but about creating an artistic experience," she says.

"I envision a place where visitors can spend time working with artists and craftsmen to truly learn how the work is created."

The Dairy Barn Southeastern Ohio Cultural Arts Center, the oldest and most independent of the area arts organizations, also is mulling over the benefits of a unified effort to promote the arts. Housed in an old dairy barn, the organization offers juried exhibitions, including Bead International and Quilt National, art classes for children and workshops for emerging artists needing advice on the business side of art. Director Crista Campbell says there have been discussions among board members about forming a consortium of local arts organizations, but there are some reservations.

"I'm not sure we want to add another level of administration. There is a very strong feeling of free spiritedness in Athens County," Campbell says. "It would have to be a consortium rather than an arts council that would serve the community, and it would have to go beyond Athens County to include southeastern Ohio."

Historically, partnership and collaboration have not been front and center among Athens' arts organizations. While it's true the players want one another to succeed, they are cautious about who should assume a leadership role to move the arts forward. The hesitation, says Campbell, is based on a fear that individual organizations could lose their unique identities.

Yet there is one point on which everyone agrees: A more cohesive arts community has the potential to create a healthy economic base in one of the poorest counties of southeastern Ohio. If that happens, perhaps tarpaper shacks, dilapidated trailers and coal mines won't be the first images that come to mind when people think of Appalachian Ohio.

Susan Green is a media specialist for University Communications and Marketing


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