There have been a couple of occasions when she was forced to look to the left and peer to the right when finding her future resting at a crossroads.
Her career? And where?
“From a very young age I knew I wanted to be an artist when I became an adult, but I also know that I really settled on it during my sophomore year in high school,” recalled Amanda Carney, a 26-year-old Wheeling-based artist. “That’s because I also used to play the piano, and there was a time when a piano class and an art class conflicted. I had to choose one or the other, and I went with the art class.
“I had to think about what I was going to spend the rest of my life doing, and down deep I knew that I really wanted to be an artist,” she continued. “But I know I didn’t really dig into doing professional art work until I was out of high school and heading to college, and that’s because I had started working at Michael’s doing framing.”
Carney is a native of the North Wheeling area, a 2007 graduate of Wheeling Park High School, and a member of the Class of 2013 out of West Liberty University. She encountered, though, another big decision the moment she turned her Hilltopper tassel.
“I do feel like I am a part of Wheeling, and I have always felt that way,” she said. “I’ve felt that way since I was little. It’s my hometown, and when I graduated from college, I was at a crossroads. I had two things I could do. I could go to my dream school in New York and continue my education, or I could take Uncle Mike up on his offer to learn the business and take it over when he retires.
“I went to New York, I visited the school, and I met a lot of people. And realistically, I could have done it,” Carney explained. “But I decided that it would be better for me to stay in this city, be a part of what is happening here, and join my Uncle Mike here at Cat’s Paw Arts Studio.”
Located along Market Street in the Centre Market area of Wheeling, Cat’s Paw offers a wide selection of art supplies, and one area of the store contains an inventory of “slightly used” supplies like sketch books, pencils, paints, and pens. The studio also offers framing services, jewelry, a gallery of Carney’s creations along with those of others, and archived materials concerning the history of the Friendly City.
“My Uncle Mike started the business, Cat’s Paw Art Studio, about 10 years ago because my Aunt Lenora is a painter, and she wanted to have her works framed, matted, and so forth. What they found was that places in the area were just too expensive,” Carney explained. “So my uncle learned how to do it in his basement at the time, and then my aunt had friends who were also artists, and they started to ask him to do it for them, too.
“Then it became a business, but now he’s preparing to retire, so when he retires the whole business will become mine,” she continued. “Right now we’re in the process of me learning how to take over a business, and it’s a business that is steady and pays for itself, but I’m not making much money at this point. I’ve survived, for the most part, by selling my art, and because I have a wonderful boyfriend (Nathan Knapp) and great friends.”
It all started, ironically, with a school assignment that involved composing a poem while Carney was a first grader at Madison Elementary on Wheeling Island. She didn’t stop with the poem, of course.
“When I was in first grade, I wrote a poem about my cat, and I illustrated it, too,” Carney remembered. “And then it ended up being put into a student poetry book. I did it about my cat because I loved my cat. She was a source of inspiration for me.”
Many of Carney’s creations these days travel far from the family feline, but it’s inspiration that still spurs sketches of anything from the petals of a rose to a man with a compass for a heart and a house as his head.
“I’ve really never have taken myself too seriously, so when I create art, it’s always something fun because I am a fan of comic books and cartoons and horror movies and things like that, so a lot of what I do comes from those interests,” she said. “I can do the serious stuff, too, but when I am just being myself, it’s whatever comes out.
“I work with water colors and washes because the price is right and I love the way it appears when I am finished,” Carney continued. “What sells really depends on the audience because I have sold my art at showings and at galleries, but I’ve also sold pieces at comic book conventions. And I’ve also found that a lot of people do not buy originals because they don’t have the money for originals, but they do like to buy prints because they are less expensive. That lets them take art home, and I think that’s a very good thing because I don’t think art should be exclusive.”
When an idea arrives, she sketches almost immediately, and Carney also has used her skills to serve the Wheeling community in a plethora of different ways. One very recent example is the new signage she painted last weekend for the Junior League’s Janie S. Altmeyer Playground near Heritage Port, and another involves her action very soon after she learned that a council candidate’s campaign sign was defaced by a racist.
Loma Nevels, a 31-year veteran employee of the city of Wheeling, retired last year and decided to run to represent Wheeling Ward 2, a district that includes Wheeling Island, much of North Wheeling, the downtown area, and the Fulton section. Nevels is a self-proclaimed, “…black, outspoken woman who is not afraid to offer her opinion,” but one of her signs was spray-painted by someone who scribbled, “KKK” in one corner and covered her face with black paint.
The sign was situated on her father’s property along Mount Wood Road, so Carney removed it, transformed the hatefulness, and placed it back where it initially rested.
“I wanted to do something to erase the ugliness, and I knew there was something that I could do and that was to cover it with something beautiful,” Carney said. “I was mad like a lot of people were mad, and I’m kind of impulsive. Plus, the sign was located on my father’s property, so we took it down and made something else out of it. It’s what I do, I guess.
“Let’s just say that if I don’t create a piece for a day or two, for whatever reason, I start to feel down, and I get the shakes, so to speak,” Carney said with a laugh. “Even if it’s something small, I do it because otherwise I feel like it was a waste of a day.”
Mayor Andy McKenzie created the city’s Arts and Cultural Commission in 2009, and since the Wheeling Arts Fest has celebrated the arts community and what it has provided the Friendly City for more than a century. This June 18-19, in fact, the festival will expand into a two-day event that has been moved from the West Virginia Northern Community College campus to Heritage Port because of its growth in popularity and a new partnership with the Wheeling YWCA. Carney will be one of 25 artist venders offering their work for sale during the event.
The Arts Commission and the Arts Fest are two of the most significant signs of progress Carney has witnessed in Wheeling, but she is aware the city has long owned an arts foundation thanks to organizations like Oglebay Institute.
“I think the arts in Wheeling are very alive and very strong right now, and that’s thanks to a lot of great things that have happened during the past five-or-so years,” Carney said. “There are a lot of young people like me who are making art in this area, but they don’t have the luxury of being able to go anywhere else. But I can’t tell you how many friends I have who have graphic design degrees who are working with Williams Lea and Tag right now, and that’s just a perfect fit for them, and it’s allowed them to stay close to home.
“In this area there’s a really exciting arts culture, and a lot of it has always been here, but it’s now being noticed much more than before because of the creation of the Arts and Cultural Commission with the city of Wheeling, and the creation of the annual Arts Fest has really, really helped,” she said. “And what’s happened here in the Centre Market area has just been amazing because when I was a kid it was only a bunch of antique stores but today there’s a whole lot more.”
Erika Donaghy, the chair of the Arts and Cultural Commission, is a fan of Amanda Carney. Not only does Donaghy admire Carney’s dedication to her community and appreciate her support of volunteer projects such as the meter painting surrounding the market houses, but also she’s hung a Carney creation in her home.
“Amanda has been very helpful with any arts project that has taken place here in Wheeling,” said Erika Donaghy, the chair of Wheeling’s Arts and Cultural Commission. “And before the parking meter project here in Centre Market she contacted me to make sure that all of the necessary arts supplies were available so the right paints and supplies were used by all of the other volunteer artists.
“And when we had one artist who had a crisis because they purchased the wrong paint, there was Amanda to the rescue,” she continued. “Without her we would have had a much rougher weekend when the meter project took place.”
Donaghy also has recognized much more than Carney’s cooperation with public art projects. A frequent customer of Cat’s Paw Studio, she adores the store as well as the artist who chose the path to stay in Wheeling knowing that struggle, perhaps at first and maybe forever, would be a part of it all.
“I love Amanda’s work because I really like some of the surreal stuff she creates,” Donaghy said. “But I also love her tea cups because she uses a paint pen when she is doing them, and they are really, really cool.
“Plus, her store has tons of supplies, including some slightly used supplies that I buy a lot of because I have children, and they love to create, too,” she said. “I think Amanda will be a driving force with the arts culture for a long time here in Wheeling.”
It seems there is no canvas too large or way too small for Carney.
Her whimsicality can be roped in when necessary, but she’ll create whatever it is when she wants anyway, whether it’s something commissioned or a piece straight from that compulsiveness of hers. An as artist possessing a penchant for non-mainstream genres of comics and films, Carney is a classic example of a painter not restricted by the palette of predictability.
“My eyes are always open,” she concluded. “And I see what I see, hear what I hear, so that’s where it all comes from.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)