Artists at Work will host an artist tribute in honor of Kay Gillespie, founder of Artists at Work and co-organizer of the very first Augusta Festival, from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday.
The event will showcase Gillespie's unique artwork and will focus on the many contributions she has made to the Elkins arts community. A special reception will feature an assortment of refreshments and live music from the old-time band Elm Street Alleycats.
In 1968, Gillespie and her husband moved to Elkins after graduating from college, and she began her career as a high school art teacher. She quickly realized that the arts weren't being promoted in Elkins and she began pulling together interested and active people in the community.
Kay Gillespie — shown here with four of her grandchildren, Sophia, Catherine, Clark and Jack — will be honored this Saturday for her work in the Elkins community, specifically as the founder of Artists at Work.
Gillespie was fortunate to have the chance to mentor under Dave Wilson, a local drama teacher who had spent time in New York before returning home to Elkins. Together, Gillespie and Wilson were a driving force behind the development of the Randolph County Creative Arts Council.
The Randolph County Creative Arts Council functioned as a granting agency that brought state funding to the county to spotlight and promote local artists and musicians. Randolph County quickly began to benefit from these efforts. In fact, the council secured the funding for the very first Augusta Festival. At that time, the event was held at Davis and Elkins, but was completely separate from the school.
The first festivals focused on heritage arts and provided funding for local artists to teach these important skills. The festival began as a grassroots effort to showcase and honor the local expertise of artists in the Elkins community.
Gillespie served as a coordinator for the festival for the first three years. During this same time, she continued to teach high school art.
"I loved working with high school students," Gillespie said. "They were so receptive to learning and they were really starved for arts."
Because of her role on the Randolph County Creative Arts Council, she was able to fund the purchase of pottery equipment for the school. That same equipment continues to be used by the students today.
After close to 10 years of teaching and contributing to the Randolph County Creative Arts Council, Gillespie decided to go back to school. Within two years she received her master's degree in art from West Virginia University. It allowed her to further develop her artistic abilities, as well as make it possible to teach at the college level.
Already accomplished in working with clay, she became very prolific as a painter and started winning awards for her watercolors and oil paintings. Some of her pieces received "best of show" awards from the Mountain State Arts and Craft Fair in Ripley and from the Forest Festival. Her work also has been published 11 times in the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Calendar.
As she began selling her artwork in earnest, Gillespie began to realize how difficult it was to be a professional artist. She was constantly setting up for one or two day shows all across the state. This labor-intensive process gave her the inspiration for one of her most successful ventures - establishing an artist co-operative in Elkins.
What started as six artists displaying their artwork in the vacated storefronts in downtown Elkins became a thriving community and business opportunity for more than 20 local artists. Artists at Work started with the mantra that by sharing the workload and the expenses, artists could develop a successful business that would enrich the Elkins area.
Artists on display at Artists at Work keep 100 percent of the proceeds from the sale of their artwork. Instead of charging a commission, Gillespie's idea was that all members pay modest monthly dues to cover the expense of a shop and help staff the gallery.
Members are asked to work at least 1.5 days each month to keep the gallery open. This provides a unique opportunity for visitors to meet and talk to the artists.
The gallery has been successful because the artists are committed to keeping the gallery open whether their artwork is selling or not, and because Elkins has been so supportive of the arts.
"Elkins has become a destination," Gillespie said. "Many of our city's visitors are looking for the local flavor of our community. Artists at Work provides just that."
Gillespie has served as president of Artists at Work since it was started in 1993. She also started a similar artists' co-op in Pocahontas County in 2007.
At the end of this month, she will focus on her newest project, an art co-op in Green Bank.
More information about Saturday's event at Artists at Work, located at 329 Davis Ave. in Elkins, is available by calling 304-637-6309.