In the book "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert, the characters explore one-word labels for the character of cities and towns. The premise is that each city is unique, with a characteristic all its own. New York was labeled "Achieve"; the Vatican's name was "Power." If you play with that idea, conjure up a name for Hollywood; or Pittsburgh; or the town you came from.
I submit that the word to describe Elkins could be "Create." There is lots going on here; it's probable that most people in the county are either involved in the creation or enjoyment of the result of all that talent.
While enjoying a quiet cup of coffee on one of these changing-season days, take a moment to reflect on the great diversity of talent in Elkins and surrounding area. Music, visual arts and performances abound. There's a corner downtown where all those art forms come together. The Old Brick Playhouse on Davis Avenue has been a center for performance art since 1992. Artists at Work Gallery joined them in a portion of that building in 1994 to showcase a variety of visual art. It's an Elkins corner of creativity!
When you attend a movie, play or musical performance you go to be entertained, follow the dialog, music and get the jokes at a comedy performance. Even though we applaud, laugh, and sometimes are moved to tears, we are a passive audience - being entertained.
Visual experiences are a little different and perhaps aren't perceived as entertainment. Visual artists are entertainers, too. Most have their patrons in mind during the creation. Enjoyment of visual art is an interactive experience. Each viewer sees the artist's work through his or her own lens of experience and participates and interprets it in a personal way.
A watercolor landscape will transport you to a memory of a similar place. You visualize just how that birdbath will look in your garden and maybe picture a fluffed-up robin on the edge. Perhaps any two- or three-dimensional object that delights us can be designated "visual art."
Artists at Work Gallery is a place to experience examples of visual artists working with many mediums to entertain you. This eclectic co-op of local artists will delight you with paintings, photography, baskets, textiles, pottery, jewelry and more.
The co-op began as a venue for a few local artists to exhibit and sell their paintings and has grown to include twenty-one artists within a 50-mile radius of Elkins. They create an array of art and upscale crafts and are a great source for gifts as well as fine art and decorative items. Local people and travelers have begun or added to their collections here. The accompanying photo shows several of the members "at work." Wonder about the chainsaw? What kind of artist uses one? What great questions to ask when you visit! The variety and craftsmanship exhibited here is a representation of how Elkins deserves the label "Create."
Members are divided into two categories - on the wall (two-dimensional) artists and "off the wall"(three-dimensional) artists. You'll find painters in oil, watercolor and pastel; photographers who capture the special beauty of Elkins and the surrounding area; potters whose wares include birdhouses and "spas," containers and mugs; and jewelers whose visual impact includes hard to resist treasures. The Shibori-dyed fabrics and clothing made locally can be found here and in shops as far away as Japan. The colors and geometrics of quilted wall hangings, large and small, are stunning. Can you resist a basket of simple pine needles? Or a basket made with bark from local poplar trees? A hand-carved wood sprite may tickle your fancy, or a handcrafted intricate design to take the place of your ordinary light switch plate. Also popular are reproductions of original art, note cards, bookmarks, magnets and other small items.
When you visit, one of the members will be the shopkeeper and may be creating a basket, some jewelry, beginning a painting, or knitting a cap - perhaps from some local wool.
One of the painters has a little sign in her area stating, "Browsers Welcome; Buyers Adored." Some come to browse and find something to purchase that they find a connection with. Either way, the artists want you to come by to entertain yourself and see what is new. There is often a drawing for a special creation that you can sign up to win.
There is another component to performance and visual art. That is the consumer. Whether you buy a ticket for a performance or display an artist's work in your home or office, you're a link to the creativity going on here. Creating can be solitary work. There is a spark, a connection, when someone is moved or relates to a piece of art enough to buy it. That spark fires the artist's imagination for the next project. "I can't draw a straight line" is a commonly heard comment. We all have different talents. Your appreciation and support is the part of the team that keeps art alive. Thank you.
In the last year, there have been improvements inside and outside of the Old Brick building both in the Playhouse and at Artists at Work. Next time you're downtown, stop by and sit on the new benches out front for a spell. Then come in for a tour of what the artists have on display for you to enjoy.
Downtown Elkins has some great architecture - another art form. From those benches in front of Artists at Work you can see some of the detail and craftsmanship in the buildings across the street.
On one of this season's milder days, take time to browse the downtown area. Enjoy the exteriors and drop into the shops. Take in the books, coffee, gifts, and food. Elkins Downtown is being re-vitalized. You'll want to come more than once. Perhaps coming downtown could be addicting.
(Joy Cooper is a native of West Virginia. She is a watercolor artist and member of Artists at Work Gallery. She and her husband, Doug, own Nakiska Chalet bed and breakfast in Valley Head.)