Not many of the visitors entering the north market house from the 22nd Street entrance walk to the Soup Shack or Oliver’s Pies without first admiring the artwork along the way.
They can’t help it, and that’s because of Artworks Around Town, a fixture in Centre Market since 2004 and a staple of the arts community in Wheeling since 1998.
“The vast majority of the people who walk through the galleries do take the time to see what we have along the main walkway on their way to other businesses,” said board member Judy Minder. “So, we do get a great amount of foot traffic, and our busiest season is the Christmas time, but we also have a lot of tour buses that visit Centre Market.
“Most of those visitors tell us that they are amazed with the artistic work produced right here in this area. The talent here really is amazing, and we have people whose work is a lot different. We have painting, photography, pottery, calligraphy, wood carvers, knit work, and jewelry,” she explained. “There are not a lot of galleries that are that diverse.”
Susan Johnson founded the organization with 20 original members, and at one time Artworks Around Town was one of 36 artistic co-ops in the state of West Virginia. The original location, Minder reported, was at 8th and Market streets, and then two years later Artworks moved into the former McDonald’s location on 12th and Market.
The Centre Market location is the best yet because it offers plenty of square footage for the artist members but also for workshops and live music every third Friday of the month. Today, Artworks has 30 artist members and several more involved individuals, and local artists wishing to join can do so by submitting at least 10 professionally presented pieces to the board of jurors every three months. The galleries are staffed from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
“The system that we have is a good system for everyone involved,” Minder said. “Every panel here at Artworks is leased to our artists for $55 each month, but we take no commission when one of their pieces sells. Most galleries do take commission, and sometimes those percentages are pretty steep.
“In the larger cities galleries do take that much just because they are showing your work, but we take none and can still keep afloat,” she said. “There’s the $55-per panel charge, and each artist pays $100 to join Artworks, and we have a jury system that meets every three months to consider new artists. The members of the jury are all professionally trained, and they are the ones who make the decisions as far as who can exhibit here.”
The current president of Artworks Around Town, Howard Gamble, endured that juried process about a year ago because he had been producing stained glass pieces for years and was teaching the craft at the Stifel Arts Center, too.
“It was something that I got into because one day my father asked me to try and make a lamp. I decided to take some classes on it and then was doing it and teaching it at the Stifel, and then I decided to try to become a member here at Artworks,” Gamble explained. “One of the reasons that I decided to join was because Artworks is local and because all the displayed work is local.
“As far as my work, the materials I use are local, too, and one day I looked at the pieces I had hanging in the house, and eventually you run out of windows, so I submitted just like everyone else,” he said. “And I got in, and anyone who is interested should come down to Artworks.”
Gamble, who is the administrator of the Ohio County Health Department when not in his garage forging his art, welcomed the opportunity to lead the Artworks membership because it was obvious to him soon after becoming a member that the involved people are very dedicated.
“Because there is a great group here at Artworks, being president isn’t much work,” he admitted. “Everyone involved works in a lot of different ways because we all know that if we do not do that, the program fails. That’s why everyone we have has contributed in some way as often as they can.
“When the past president was ready to move, I was asked if I would do it, and I said I would,” Gamble said. “For how long I will, I’m not sure because there could be another new member who has a lot of talents and can do the job, too.”
Artworks Around Town is more than a few galleries in the north market house because the membership also reaches out to the Wheeling area through many programs involving local non-profit organizations like the Marion House.
Those efforts, Gamble insisted, will continue under his watch.
“The main idea is that it remains and continues to grow. We would like to see more artists join, and we hope the organization reaches out further than it does now,” he said. “One thing we do right now is the ‘Paint with Patients’ program at the Bishop Hodges Center, and we also have several other projects, so we are helping our surrounding community the way we can.
“Over the years the members will change because members leave, and new members come in, and the key is we always have someone new down here. That means we’re guaranteed to have new work displayed,” Gamble added. “There’s not a grand scheme for the future because our goal is to continue doing what we’re doing so we can continue to grow.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney; cover photo of Duane McCausland’s “Master of Disguise”)