It was 20 years ago this June that Bethany resident Susan Johnston brought together a group of artists to form the co-op, Artworks Around Town, the oldest surviving one of its kind in West Virginia.
Under her leadership, the original group of 20 artists began exhibiting and selling artwork in June 1998.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary, June’s Gallery Hop will honor the group’s original members, as well its 20th year of holding First Fridays receptions. The works on exhibit will represent a selection of artwork from as many of the founding members as possible. The Gallery Hop is set for 5:30-8 p.m. Friday, June 1.
The artists’ first gallery was in North Wheeling, on the corner of Eighth and Market streets and was called Artworks In Olde Town. The original membership was by invitation only. Jurying new members began the next month, and artists were admitted as they came forth and submitted their work to a jury committee for approval. There were watercolors, oil paintings, drawings and pottery. The original members were Susan Johnston, Liz Neumann, Betsy Cox, Lenora Turbanic, Robert Sako, Robert Villamagna, Marilyn Hughey Philis, Bernie Peace, Wes Wagner, Kathy Thompson, Janet Rodriquez, Deanna Taylor, Herb Weaver, Philip and Kathleen VanVoorst, Tom Doepken and Pat Temple.
After two years at Eighth Street, the corner of 12th and Market streets became the second home of Artworks. The space had formerly been leased to McDonalds, then to a bar. Many member artists put in countless hours scraping black paint off floor tiles and repainting a black ceiling in order to open as an art gallery. It was not uncommon to have questions from customers in jest, “Can I have fries with this?” During this time, the group grew in stature, and Artworks became a destination. Artworks stayed on 12th Street for four years.
In 2004, Centre Market welcomed Artworks Around Town. It was also the same year the organization was awarded its non-profit status and became a corporation, which expanded the co-op’s ability to apply for grants and to better serve the community. After Johnston moved out of town, Liz Neumann took over the reigns, and under her leadership, Artworks continued to flourish. Artists have come and gone, each one giving his or her own special gift to the community. The Centre Market area has grown with Artworks, and both have enjoyed the flow of local and out-of-town visitors through its doors.
Outreach activities have been a long-standing priority for the group and have included Brown Bag lunches as well as Painting with Patients, first at Peterson Hospital and continuing under Janet Sheehan’s guidance at Wheeling Hospital’s Continuous Care Center. Classes in watercolor, drawing and oils have been available for years at the gallery in Centre Market for a nominal fee and are open to the public. Fundraising events including auctions of artwork and lobster dinners have rounded out the group’s activities over the years.
Artworks Around Town, a non-profit charitable and educational organization, operates a gallery and art center for the benefit of the artists and general public. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays.