It’s no secret when you live in Wheeling — art is everywhere in this small city. It is evident today, possibly more than ever, that art is a main part of the city’s identity and is here to stay.
Driving down Main Street, you see the metal elephant sculpture, with the mural portraits directly behind it. The parking meters in Centre Market are painted in whimsical fashion. Prompted by Wheeling Heritage, close to a dozen artists are expected to send in proposals for a new mural at the Kossuth Park downtown Wheeling entrance. Even the somewhat mysterious local favorite, the Mount Wood Castle Overlook, got a makeover this summer from West Liberty art professor Brian Fencl who incorporated his art with the graffiti that exists on the structure, breathing new life into the locally famous overlook.
While art is at the forefront of many parts of Wheeling, now it is even popping up in less obvious areas around town — like in newly renovated 100-year-old buildings in alleyways and in former garages. The Clientele Art Studio and the Wheeling Drawing Room are two new Wheeling art spaces that are giving local artists more opportunities to express themselves.
Clientele Art Studio
Will Wallace is not an artist, but he is definitely an art facilitator. He is passionate about artists not having to leave Wheeling to do what they love, even when space has previously been limited. And he understands how difficult it can be to find space to do what you love. The Clientele Art Studio, formerly a garage space at 43 15th St., is Will’s art gallery and studio space. The venue is about to have its second event that will double as a soft opening this weekend.
The idea for a studio came about when Will, the bass player in the local band Concrete Teepee, discovered that finding an adequate space for his band to practice and play proved to be difficult. He realized the same problems could be true for Wheeling artists who often feel that they need to leave the area to pursue their work. So Will decided to do something about it. Clientele allows artists to rent studio space to work on their art and to have a gallery for resident artists.
At the first event, a “naming” party for the venue took place.
“We had plywood and a sharpie,” and the attendees wrote down their best attempts at naming the venue. “This is not about me. I’m not an artist. I have so little creative mojo that I asked for help naming it,” jokes Will.
At the first event, Will was nervous, wondering if anyone would actually show up. And it was at the first event that local tattoo artists Chad Fullerton, Tony Provenzano and Steven Kline suggested another show, this time showcasing the often-overlooked art of tattoo artists.
The result of this conversation is the “Deck the Halls” event set for Saturday, Dec. 15, that will feature the artwork of 13 artists — many of whom are tattoo artists — on skateboard decks that will be auctioned off during the evening. They decided to make the event free, with all proceeds from the art auction to be donated to the Greater Wheeling Coalition for the Homeless. All artists involved agreed that giving back to the community was a great idea. Clientele is paying for the DJ, and Vagabond Kitchen, Later Alligator and Carenbauer Distributing have donated supplies, with local eateries Avenue Eats and The Cheese Melt providing appetizers and light refreshments.
Clientele Art Studio will have two art spaces for rent, one of which is currently being used by artist-in-residence Logan Schmitt. Logan illustrates and screenprints posters for bands and also designs T-shirts. He recently made an official poster for an Avett Brothers show in Connecticut, and Toyota and Eric Church have been former clients. Logan has some pieces currently hanging at Clientele and is in the process of moving in.
“Having a space like Clientele is great because it’s a designated place to make art and a place to stay steeped in the creative mindset to get things done,” Logan said. “All of the current and upcoming events at Clientele are creating a tighter community of makers of all kinds that I think is really important for Wheeling, whether you are an artist yourself or not.”
Will Wallace sees the future of art in Wheeling as being in a better place than it ever has been before. “Wheeling has always had art, but a lot of people in the area either stop making it or feel that they need to move to find a place. I am trying to help fill that void.”
Down an alleyway at 1425 Chapline St., Unit 1, is where you will find Rachel Goodman’s newly renovated space, the Wheeling Drawing Room, where many people walking by have already shown excitement over the new space occupying the 100-year-old building that was once a clothier storefront property.
“I love feeling like I’m in the community, waving at people walking by,” says Rachel Goodman, Wheeling artist and entrepreneur.
It took Rachel over two years to renovate the space — and she is aiming for a proper opening on Jan. 1 — but already she has been busy introducing herself to the community. Just last weekend, she hosted a Holiday Pop-Up event, along with her first resident artist, Rosalie Haizlett, at the Wheeling Drawing Room. The event included a happy hour on Friday featuring the artwork of Rachel and Rosalie, and throughout the weekend Rosalie offered a Painting Winter Foliage With Watercolors workshop while Rachel offered a Salt Dough Play Food workshop.
Rachel is offering a space for creatives and freelance professionals to rent where they can go to work in a professional atmosphere. A lot of freelancers and artists work from home, “sometimes in their pajamas,” and the Wheeling Drawing Room is offering a place to feel professional that is free from the normal distractions you might find at a coffee shop. The new space includes elegant light fixtures and white walls, with new furniture on the way. Rachel plans to promote a healthy workspace all around, with desktops mounted on the walls, desks that can be moved around, storage space for all artists, pre-made smoothies and coffee on hand, and eventually a place for workers to relax in a loft area.
Rosalie is enjoying being the first artist-in-residence, saying that the Wheeling Drawing Room “is perfect for someone like me who travels a lot and can’t commit to a year-long lease.” And she likes getting out of the house and actually driving to a designated space to be productive. “If I’ve committed to pay, I want to be really productive.”
Rachel has a degree in communication design, specializing in Adobe Illustrator. She is from Canada and met her husband in Chicago, who happens to be a native of St. Clairsville. When the two moved to Wheeling five years ago, she was faced with a little bit of culture shock after coming from the art-rich streets of Chicago.
“I decided that instead of throwing myself a pity party, I would find people like me. And I’ve met more creative people in the area than I ever expected. Because Wheeling is smaller, you get so much more support versus in the bigger cities.”
Rachel recently designed the logo for the newly opened Sarah’s On Main restaurant and bakery, and she is working on a line of yoga attire made out of designs taken directly from her own paintings. She wants to use her space for workshops and even a place to hold discussions, as she strongly believes that art “can bring people together to help solve problems in the community.”
The future of the Wheeling Drawing Room will also include workshops for the younger artists, ages 8-11, that will give them a chance to pick a drawing project, plan out the process and see it through to the end. Also, a Weekend University class could be on the horizon, where professionals offer classes in sewing and other arts and crafts to help grow the talents of those interested. The weekend events will continue, and the Holiday Pop-Up that took place last weekend paved the way with classes that were “a great way to prep for the holidays.”
2018 brought something new to the city with the first-ever Handmade Holiday that took place at the Wheeling Artisan Center on Dec. 1. This event showcased many local artists and gave the public a chance to buy handmade goods as Christmas gifts, rather than having to settle for the typical store-bought options.
This is not a new concept to Wheeling — Oglebay Institute’s Holiday Art Show and Sale has become a six-week holiday show tradition that features goods from some of the region’s most talented artisans at the Stifel Fine Arts Center on National Road and the Schrader Environmental Education Center at Oglebay Park. More than 50 vendors have an opportunity to sell at this event, which gives them a marketplace environment — a nice change for many who primarily sell their goods online.
Chris Villamagna, project manager at the Wheeling Artisan Center, is definitely a fan of these types of “maker market” events, particularly ones she has attended in Pittsburgh over the last decade. A favorite of Chris’ is Pittsburgh’s Handmade Arcade, which took place last weekend.
“It’s really inspired me, and I’ve always thought about doing something like that, on a smaller basis, at the Artisan Center.”
The Artisan Center opened in 1996, led by Wheeling Heritage, and included the retail shop and museum on the second floor. Chris began working for Wheeling Heritage toward the end of 1999, and her job duties today include curating the 3rd Floor Loft Gallery, managing the second floor retail space and coordinating events, such as the annual Wheeling Celtic Celebration.
The 3rd Floor Loft Gallery hosts around nine exhibits a year, and all artists for the gallery and the shop go through a jurying process so Chris can ensure a variety of mediums is represented.
A variety of vendors was also apparent at Handmade Holiday, where one could buy pottery, jewelry, T-shirts, candles, knitted goods, drawings and watercolors. Some of these local artists approached Chris earlier in the year about wanting to have an event where they could sell their handmade goods. Photographer and ceramic artist Erin Yaeger, artist Aimee Thorne, and Adam Bedway and Beth Patsch of Wheeling Clayworks were just a few of those at the first meeting for Handmade Holiday. Thorne studied fine art and graphic design at West Liberty University and found the Handmade Holiday to be more of a success for her than the Wheeling Arts & Culture Fest that took place this past summer, and hopes to do Handmade Holiday again next year. Yaeger says the event was “worth it for me financially and spiritually” and that these types of events in Wheeling are needed to keep the art scene alive and thriving. She sincerely hopes that Homemade Holiday becomes a tradition.
Not all who participated in Handmade Holiday were seasoned craft show veterans. Natalie Kovacs of Bethesda, Ohio, who describes herself as sort of an “art hermit,” is no stranger to selling online and frequently completing commissioned work, but Handmade Holiday was her first official all-makers market event. Being able to sell her goods, which included drawings, embroidery and her take on different cryptids, such as her amusing “Mundane Mothman” series, which got a lot of laughs at the event, gave Natalie confidence in selling at a market setting. The event was successful for her, “more so than expected. It made me feel … proud … and … confident, which is weird to me. I don’t know if that’s humility or awkwardness (or a bit of both).”
Natalie’s perception of art in Wheeling is changing a little bit as well after experiencing Handmade Holiday. She used to find some of the art scene in the city lacking a little in what interests her personally, but Handmade Holiday proved there are more outlets in the city for artists.
“I do think the art scene is growing, and more voices are just putting themselves out there. Creating their own niches. The vibe at Handmade Holiday felt different, diverse and promising.” She is looking forward to seeing how the art scene continues to evolve in Wheeling.
Villamagna points out that social media is playing a part in getting the community to be more aware of local artists and support them. “I think Wheeling has always been welcoming to artists, but what’s happening now is that the community is supporting the artists even more.”
Handmade Holiday will happen again next year, and the plan is to have it the second Saturday after Thanksgiving every year. “There was so much I wanted to add this year to the event, but ran out of time. I would like to include a ‘maker’s area’ at the event where people can create something simple and take it home with them. It would add to the visitor experience,” Chris said.
AN OLD FAVORITE: ARTWORKS AROUND TOWN
One of the favorite Centre Market attractions for Wheeling locals and visitors alike is the Artworks Around Town gallery and shop. It is also the oldest art cooperative in the state. Centre Market is the third location Artworks has had in Wheeling, and it is the one that has been occupied the longest — around 15 years. It is a nonprofit art gallery dedicated to promoting local artists as well as serving the community. The gallery often showcases art of area schools and organizations, and provides educational opportunities for all ages. The artists who display at Artworks are voted into membership, with most artists staying indefinitely. It is one of the only galleries in town where an artist’s work is displayed and can be purchased year-round.
Artist Anne Foreman has displayed her art at Artworks since the early years. She is an oil painter and specializes in pet portraits — a type of work that she finds especially rewarding.
“I loved to draw, even as a little girl. In high school, at Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy, I had a wonderful teacher in Sister Cecilia,” Anne said, remembering how she got started in art. She participated in a four-year art program at the Mount, in addition to regular college preparatory studies. She went on to study art at Chatham College and eventually took time off to raise six children. Around 20 years ago her aunt urged her to get back into drawing. She was juried into Artworks and has been happily displaying and selling her art there ever since.
Anne believes the Centre Market has “really blossomed in the last five years, with new shops filling the storefronts surrounding the historic market house.”
Artworks Around Town is open 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday and Saturdays. It is open10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays. There is a Gallery Hop the first Friday of every month, and a coffee house often featuring local music on the third Friday of every month.
As for the future of art in Wheeling, Anne is hoping for even more opportunities and galleries. “When there are more artists in a community, everyone wins. More galleries draw more interested participants and buyers.”
Villamagna agrees that more art venues in Wheeling are very good for the city. “Art can appeal to any gender, ethnicity or socioeconomic group. Attracting more artists to the city to live and create benefits everyone in that community.” Chris also believes that “rather than seeing other venues as ‘competition’ for business, we should support them through referrals and shared advertising of events.”
And artist Erin Yaeger sums up the Wheeling art scene this way: “There are some powerful positive forces in the Wheeling arts right now that we are fortunate to have nurturing our bubbling arts scene,” pointing to East Wheeling Clayworks and Villamagna, who have been crucial in organizing events and being supportive of other artists.
Erin says that all local artists “are responsible for helping keep the fire going, and it really does take a village” to keep the art scene thriving.
This village of Wheeling seems more than ready for the challenge.
• Kelly Strautmann lives out in the country of Cameron, W.Va., and proofreads in the city of Wheeling. She has a supportive and talented husband and two ridiculous daughters who keep her busy and full of love.