If you’re not an artist, the world of art seems like another dimension. When we walk the halls of a gallery, buy a piece of jewelry or admire a hand-crafted dining room table, we only see the finished product. We don’t know what went into the creation of that piece.

Still, I often imagine it. I wonder what went into the watercolor on my wall. Did the artist make a sketch, first? Did they just wing it? Were they working from a photograph? How long did it take?

On April 27th, you’ll get a chance to take the third annual Artists Studio Tour and find out what the process looks like for several Ohio Valley creatives. Hosted by the Wheeling Arts & Cultural Commission, the goal is to highlight local artists and support artistic programming in the valley. It’s a driving tour, and participants get a map of all the studio locations and can visit as many as they chose to.

FINDING ARTISTS

Cheryl Harshman is a local artist and member of the Arts Commission. She and her husband, West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman, have been featured as a stop on previous tours.

“Wheeling really is such a creative, interesting place,” she said. “And there are so many amazing people quietly working away in their studios. This is a great opportunity for the public to meet these really, really interesting craftspeople who are doing things out of the box.” She explained that without a studio tour, we’d never know about the creative and hard work that’s always going on in little studios around us. To understand what she meant, I dropped in on a few artists ahead of time.

ART BY SHERRIE

One stop on the 2019 tour is Sherrie Mestrovic’s studio, Art by Sherrie, at 2194 National Road. Mestrovic was recently chosen to paint a mural on the wall of Kossuth Park on Main Street. The Wheeling Heritage project was decided by 34,000 local votes. When I arrived in her studio, there it was on the wall, finished. Mestrovic and her husband, Al, were looking forward to seeing it installed. Together, they do a good bit of traveling to art and craft shows.

Mestrovic offers art and paint-n-sip classes in her studio when she’s not at a show or festival. She paints on canvas, slate and even turkey feathers. The latter is an interesting avenue for a painter: people bring her turkey feathers. She says it takes forever to do one feather.

I asked her when she started down the artistic path.

“They knew in kindergarten,” she said. “They told my mom to start saving my artwork. And my high school art teacher said, ‘You need to go to art school.’ So I went to art school.”

Sherrie Mestrovic poses with her winning mural. It will soon be installed in Kossuth Park on Main Street

Mestrovic explained that her creative process isn’t linear. Some days, she says she paints. Other days, when the inspirational juices aren’t flowing, she just “pushes paint around.” She wondered aloud what people might be interested in seeing when they arrive and mulled over the idea of working on a feather painting, in which there’s no room for error.

According to Cheryl Harshman, opening your studio to strangers can be intimidating. The artist may feel exposed. After all, the creation of art is often a solitary endeavor, and letting people into your personal space requires some vulnerability. Fortunately, she found that visitors on past tours were excited, engaging, and most of all, respectful. Mestrovic looks forward to sharing her love of painting with visitors to her studio.

“I love talking to people,” she said.

RENEW REFINISHING & RESTORATION

In another part of town, Brandon and Melissa Holmes also welcomed me into their new studio, Renew Refinishing & Restoration, at 2128 Main St. They’ve been in the business of restoring and refinishing furniture for two and a half years now, but recently the business outgrew their home space. I saw doors, tables, dressers, knobs and hardware, and an enormous corner cabinet, and all were in various stages of repair.

Brandon and Melissa restore and sell the pieces they find, but a great deal of their business comes from folks who want to renew or repurpose a family piece. And some of those can be a challenge.

“We get a lot of things that were Grandma’s or Great-grandpa’s,” Brandon said. “And sometimes it’s been used and abused over the generations. Or it just needs a new finish. It needs refreshed. We’ve done pieces that are full restorations — we had an old secretary desk that the customer brought to us in boxes. It was broken apart. It’s falling apart as we were bringing it in. And we took it completely apart. It was like 236 pieces, and we put it all back together, stripped every piece down, refinished every piece. Some of the pieces had to be re-made. There were some that were splinters that had to be re-attached to connect with together. That’s kind of an extreme case.”

Melissa said they do a ton of research before starting on a piece. It’s important to know a piece’s place in history before she can start work on it.

“You have to be a research nerd,” she said. “I will rabidly look for answers. What’s this hardware called? What’s this technique called? How do you mix this to match that? And sometimes we get pieces that come in, and we start looking at it, and it has to sit in the shop for a little while until we figure out, OK, wait, this is the right way to go.”

Much like Sherrie and Al Mestrovic, Brandon and Melissa often work in the studio together. She does a lot of the finishing work, and he does a lot of the repairs. They seem to draw on one another’s strengths while also finding freedom in solitude. It’s a great partnership, and they’re eager to welcome visitors to their new studio.

Brandon and Melissa Holmes with a restored Singer sewing machine base.

DRAWING, POTTERY AND WOODCARVING AT STIFEL

No stop on the tour would be complete without a journey into Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center. On any given day, it’s humming with creative activity; on tour day, director Rick Morgan told me that visitors will get a peek at several different groups at work. On the first floor, the Independent Artists’ Group — a collection of local artists that gathers weekly at Stifel — will be demonstrating figure drawing. They regularly work with both clothed and nude models, and their work will be for sale and on display.

Meanwhile, down in the basement, you’ll meet what Morgan calls the “pottery ambassadors,” as well as the Oglebay Woodcarvers. Each group will be demonstrating their craft, and it’s a great way to get a first-hand look at the range of classes offered at Oglebay Institute. And for anyone needing a pit stop or a shot of caffeine, the Stifel Center will have you covered.

I found such excitement and creativity when I visited these studios, and you’ll find that same energy and joy in all of the studios on the Artists Studio Tour. Wheeling is blessed to have a thriving and ever-expanding art community, and the best way to support it is to visit these talented, creative people. Come take a look at what they do and how they make our community a better place.

This year’s studio tour will be held from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturday, April 27. Fifteen artists, writers and craftsmen will be highlighted on the tour. Featured this year are:

    • Cecy Rose, paintings and prints
    • Sarel Venter of Adventures in Elegance, historic renovation and wood treatments
    • Eric Dye of Eric Dye Art Studio, drawing, painting and sculpture
    • Melissa & Brandon Holmes of Renew Refinishing & Restoration, wood and mixed media
    • Alan Fitzpatrick, jewelry, painting
    • Greg Sgroi, wood
    • Hall of Frame, photography, wood, mixed media
    • Jennifer Hastings-Schunn, clothing, fiber, jewelry, mixed media
    • Sherrie Mestrovic of Art by Sherrie, painting, drawing, mixed media
    • Oglebay Institute’s Stifel Fine Arts Center, ceramics, drawing, woodworking
    • Martyna Matusiak, drawing, mixed media, printmaking
    • Aaron Anslow, ceramics
    • Jes Reger, painting
    • Clientele Art Studio, artwork on display, painting
    • Howard Gamble, stained glass

Tickets are available for purchase online through EventBrite and via the Arts & Cultural Commission’s Facebook page. The cost is $10 each and children under 16 are admitted free.

The 2019 Greater Wheeling Artists Studio Tour is a program of the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commission, which serves the community with art and culture programming while supporting working artists. For more information, email arts@wheelingwv.gov  or call 304-234-3617.

• Laura Jackson Roberts is a freelance writer in Wheeling, W.Va. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University and writes about nature and the environment. Her work has recently appeared in Brain, Child Magazine, Vandaleer, Animal, Matador Network, Defenestration, The Higgs Weldon and the Erma Bombeck humor site. Laura is the Northern Panhandle representative for West Virginia Writers, a blog editor for Literary Mama Magazine and a member of Ohio Valley Writers. She recently finished her first book of humor. Laura lives in Wheeling with her husband and their sons. Visit her online at www.laurajacksonroberts.com.

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