The sound of engraving tools mingled in the air with pencil scratching and acoustic guitar music on a recent Friday afternoon as Wheeling’s Artworks Around Town Inc. celebrated its 13th annual Paint Historic Wheeling plein air event. In their Centre Market gallery, artists chatted together over coffee while others took the opportunity to work on projects. A few even worked together to teach new techniques or learn something new.
Gathering to share their work and ideas with each other and the community at large, the organization can look back with pride on 20 years of artistic expression, display, sales and community outreach.
“In 1998, a few folks came together to display their art in the community and do a few educational programs in the community,” said Howard Gamble, Artworks board of directors president. “Now we operate as both a place to showcase and sell art and as a resource for artistic education.”
This enclave of creative minds reaches out to a variety of demographics to spread awareness of artistic thought in the community. For example, Paint Historic Wheeling features artists going out into Wheeling to find and capture the natural and architectural beauty of the Friendly City. The Student Show of Excellence brings the artists together with school-age kids while Painting with Patients provides a respite to those struggling with illness or injury.
“It is great to be able to bring artistic expression to others, not just to ourselves,” Gamble said.
There is no paid staff running the gallery; as part of their membership in the organization, artists are asked to contribute time each month to manage the gallery. Becoming a member of this creative collective requires completion of a jurying process. A committee observes the candidate’s work and decides whether or not they are accepted. Artists may submit multiple forms of artwork, but each alternative art style must likewise be juried in. This is done to ensure a balance of artistic styles. While the number of featured artists fluctuates, Gamble said it usually averages around 30.
“There are photographers, a ceramic artist, a woman who carves magnificent birds, oil painters, acrylic painters, a calligraphy artist, watercolor artists and a stained glass artist, a sculptor … jewelry makers as well. Most artists sell prints and note cards as well as their original art,” said artist Anne Foreman, who has been with the organization since the beginning in 1998.
“We are the only entity locally that provides space for juried artists to display and sell their work. The other galleries in the area sponsor shows but they do not provide a permanent space. … Upon acceptance, an artist pays a nominal admission fee and a monthly rent payment. The gallery takes no commission at all. One hundred percent of the sales are kept by the artist,” she said.
“In the Ohio Valley, we have some great artworks and art venues. This place, the Stifel Center, Oglebay and the local universities all have strong art components,” Gamble said. “Art is here, and it has a lot to give the valley. We want to be here to showcase that.”
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The Wheeling-based artist co-op collaborates with the Bridge+Tunnel Collective to link up with live performers, especially for their Third Friday events where they highlight a musical or spoken artist. They also work with the Steubenville Art Association to share artistic assets between communities.
“Our community has grown and changed in 20 years,” Gamble said. “It has become more dense, and we are always looking for new ideas to showcase. Whenever we find something new, we invite the community to come see it and learn.”
The current home is its third, with the first at Eighth and Market streets in North Wheeling, before moving to 12th and Market in downtown.
Foreman attributes its longevity with its ability to change, grow with the times and maintain a strong sense of community.
“Even though people have come and gone, it’s a very dedicated group,” Foreman said. “These kinds of events help us get together and get to know each other.”
To bring in even more learning opportunities, the 2018 Paint Historic Wheeling event also featured workshops hosted by visiting artists Christopher Leeper and Brian Fencl.
Foreman and Gamble both credited Artworks as a strong force for artistic development, both personally and as a community, and they both have high hopes for the group’s future.
“I would not be able to display my work without this opportunity here,” Gamble said. “Art is an important part of my life, a great release.”
Art has been a crucial part of Eric Dye’s life’s work since long before he joined Artworks almost two years ago. During his career as a teacher within the West Virginia Department of Corrections, he helped inmates improve their chances for a normal life outside the prison system by training them in graphic design and the printing process. When he retired, he felt that pursuing his career as an artist was a natural next step.
“I have been an artist all my life,” Dye said. “I knew several of the people in Artworks Around Town. and they encouraged me.”
The encouragement of his peers remains strong, Dye said, as his piece titled After the Rain featuring Wheeling’s Heritage Port won a prize of distinction during the Paint Historic Wheeling weekend events.
“As it grows, and we develop more community outreach, Artworks has a very hopeful future,” Foreman said.
(Photos by Daniel Dorsch)
• Born and raised in the Ohio Valley, Daniel Dorsch brings a rich background of research and writing to Weelunk. He studied at West Virginia University and Duquesne University and has worked as a historian, a journalist and a marketing communications expert. Daniel’s personal philosophy is that every person and every place has a story to tell, and he makes it his mission as a wordsmith to help tell them. Daniel lives in Weirton with his wife and son.
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