Whether their work documents the period or adds commentary or levity, five Wheeling artists who are creating art throughout this COVID-19 time report the same ends to their artistic means.
Artists Cindy Fluharty, Anne Foreman, Robert Villamagna, Julia Payne and Cheryl Ryan Harshmann have experienced a calm sense of peace when working in their various media.
HER HAPPY PLACE
Cindy Fluharty, who is new to the collage art world, creates work combining a quote with appropriate visuals.
“… I find a graphic that could be a digital download of an old photograph or illustration, and then I think about what that picture means to me and then think about what quote would bring that picture to life. Sometimes it works in the inverse — sometimes I find a quote that I love, and then I go in search of a graphic that will highlight the quote,” she said.
Three of her recent works speak to the pandemic.
"There’s No Place Like Home"
"The World Awaits" and "Summer of 2020"
"The World Awaits" and "Summer of 2020"
One is an illustration of a woman looking out of a window toward the mountains of West Virginia. The quote she added — There’s no place like home — “… conveyed to me all the peace and tranquility that I was feeling being at home during the pandemic — safe from harm.”
A second piece she completed in recent weeks was inspired by “thinking about what people would look back on during this time period and what they would remember. A lot of people are regretting the fact that they have travel plans that have they’ve had to put on the back burner.”
This particular piece shows a woman — also looking out of a window — with the quote, The world awaits.
A third piece shows two girls dressed up in party dresses. “I thought, ‘well that’s not going to happen this summer!’” She added the quote, All dressed up and no place to go, to illustrate summer 2020.
While some days, Fluharty — who is an attorney for Jackson Kelly law firm — isn’t quite in the mood to work on her art, she said that diving in turns her mood around.
“When I did make the effort to go back and start working on collage, it almost instantly made me feel better and more at peace. It has been a release for me and it’s my happy place when I’m working on one. My mood will go up several notches as soon as I sit down and start working on the collage.”
She had been traveling from Wheeling to her firm’s Morgantown office — until the coronavirus sent employees to their home offices.
And she found time to reflect on life during this self-isolation period. “… to think about what’s important … and I found that I am so happy in my home in my own space and always have been somebody who’s been happy to be alone. I never get lonely, and so I just was almost giddy with the idea that I had so much free time on my hands without social obligations.”
LIGHTER SIDE OF HEAVY METAL
Mixed-media artist Robert Villamagna — who works in found materials such as photographs and tin objects — has created a few pieces inspired by the coronavirus. “She Named Her Cat Carona,” “Social Distancing” and “Social Distancing II” speak to the times.
“I cannot imagine any artist, musician or writer not responding to something as big as COVID-19. I mean, it’s historic! This thing is vast and hits so many of us in so many ways. I know there’s a very serious side to this … the hospitalizations, the death, the loss of loved ones, the economy, etc., but I tend to focus on the lighter side, the pain-in-the-ass side — wearing masks, social distancing, relationships,” he explained.
“Social Distancing” — repurposed lithographed metal, nail, on panel
“She Named Her Cat Carona,” — repurposed lithographed metal over found “painting,” nails, on panel.
“Like so many people being affected by COVID-19, I feel pretty much helpless and unable to control this crazy thing. However, I can wash my hands, wear a mask, avoid groups of people and MAKE ART! I can control my art making, and that feels so good. Plus, I’ve created and mailed about 100 of what I call my ‘COVID-19’ mail art pieces. Does it change the recipients’ life or make the pandemic go away? Of course not. I just hope the receiver feels good for a few moments knowing they are not alone, and that we are all dealing with this crap on some level.”
DOG DAYS OF CORONA
Anne Foreman’s painting, “Pug With Mask,” certainly gives you a reason to smile — even if that smile is behind your own mask.
She was motivated to create that piece because of her own health issues — four broken ribs as well as some nasty sinus issues that required surgery.
“I was stir crazy,” recovering from the broken bones, she said. She couldn’t paint the deck, so she painted the pug.
“I wanted to do something … quick, in one sitting. I’ve done a lot of pugs, and the sketching went fairly quickly. And of course I didn’t have to do the bottom half of his face, so that was easier, too.”
She noted that she thought about putting the mask up around his ears, but it didn’t quite work. “I thought that it might be kind of fun to just have it on one ear … that might’ve been more fun and funnier. And I might still do that.”
Subscribe to Weelunk
Foreman, a member of Artworks Around Town, usually photographs an item for Artworks’ “Pic of the Week,” and because Artworks had been closed, she thought it would be nice to feature the work the artists who were still creating. Artworks has since reopened.
Her masked pug, an 8-inch by 10-inch oil painting, is for sale at Artworks.
WHAT IS ENOUGH?
Julia Payne’s work is steeped in the question, “What is enough?”
And what she’s trying to achieve in every piece she does is “an eternal sense of peace.”
But when the coronavirus hit, she realized her work was “rigid.”
“I realized creating a real sense of symmetry and lines and geometry almost made me feel more in control. … I felt worried for our world, worried for the vulnerables beyond the COVID patients, the millions of unintended consequences.”
Payne’s work is mixed media collage — mostly paper, but sometimes bits of cloth or maybe a rusty screw.
Lately, many of her pieces have names such as “Cracking the Whip on the COVID Dragon,” “Behind the Mask,” “You Can Still Go Fishing” “Broken, How to Put Humpty Together Again,” “Party Time in Lockdown!” and “Wash Your Hands!”
"The Dragon COVID"
“Cracking the Whip on the COVID Dragon”
“Broken, How to Put Humpty Together Again”
"Finding a Center of Calm in Simplicity and Geometry"
"Task at Hand"
"Who's in Charge Here, Anyway?"
“You Can Still Go Fishing”
"All Will be Well and All Will be Well"
She said she has recognized lately that she gets “a really serious sense of peace” from her work. She’s also participated in a few Instagram challenges that are COVID-19 related.
One such challenge was called “Finding a Heart of Caring for Others.”
For the challenge, an artist will complete a collage, then send it to someone with the intention of showing the recipient that you care. “I chose various people who have been really wonderful mentors to me with art.”
Other challenges she engaged in were titled “Finding Calm While Wait” and “Don’t Panic.”
Payne — who has retired from careers as a nurse, yoga teacher and yoga therapist — said her art has “become a daily practice. … it’s sort of like you get up and meditate and have breakfast. I do a collage and post it on Instagram as a daily practice.”
ART WITH HEART
Cheryl Ryan Harshman started researching the pandemic in late January and February. “I was glued to tracking the virus,” the retired librarian said.
But before that, Cheryl was making some changes. Her work, she explained, goes in two directions. “One is the folk and funny line: chickens, dogs, horses, flowers. The other is abstract, dark, edgy.” Her whimsical pieces “pay the bills,” but the dark abstracts and clay prints “get me into the juried art shows.”
She thought she needed to put some real effort into her clay monoprints — her edgier side.
“… the past 12 months have been a HUGE adjustment and change of direction in my life. I made no art. Wasn’t even sure I knew how to any more. If I were to continue with the important work of the clay monoprints, I needed to start over from scratch, build a new clay board and structure and lay on lots of clay. HUGE PROJECT! I wasn’t sure I was physically and emotionally up for this solo endeavor,” she said.
She also was facing a heart valve replacement.
“With the stay-at-home order, I had what we all had— TIME. And so I did stay busy [with] things to keep from facing my mortality— baked bread, washed walls, straightened closets and drawers, planned supper menus for the upcoming week. All of this to keep from thinking. Finally, I had a talk with myself. If I were going to be serious about art making again, then I had to take the first step and just start.
“I knew that what I really wanted was to make BIG art. Go Big, or Go Home! I built the new clay slab — 36 inches by 36 inches — and I ordered the largest wooden art panels I could find. Somehow, in the physicality of preparation, my spirit and intuition were forming an idea, a theme, a big concept for this big art. The actual making of the art only took a few days. I was flying,” she said.
So what about these times inspired her new monoprints?
“Fear. Fury at the government. Reckoning with death and mortality. Remembering my mother and father and feeling so grateful that they are not in a nursing home this year. My aorta, my valve, my heart.
“I was flying as I made these four. I had purpose and vision. I had skill. I had the absolute clarity that this was my important work, and that it had to be done. A powerful force flowed through me as I created and mounted one each day for four days. Flow, spirit — I don’t know what it was, but I felt the rush of it.”
COVID Angel — The angel of death? Or the angel fighting death like healthcare workers? Viewers’ choice.
Malaise — Eight weeks at home — “What do I feel? Who do I miss?” French writers called this ennuie.
Open Heart — This piece began as two separate pieces. The red circle in Japanese art is Enso and represents completion, serenity. She sewed these two rectangles on the machine to create a large piece, and in doing so, cut and appliqued other clay pieces of a broken heart. These symbols can be read as personal —her aorta and broken heart. Or universal — serenity and wholeness shattered.She added stitches and staples/sutures to mend the heart.
"Open Heart" before becoming one piece.
Piecing It All Together — “I love to sew! I love to quilt!” With clay scraps, Harshman built a log cabin- style quilt. Traditionally, log cabin quilts have a red square in the center to represent the home fire in the center of the cabin, the center of life and the family.
• Having spent nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigal now serves as Weelunk’s managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.