About me

Making Murals in the Mountain State

I was just recently asked some interesting questions  about a mural I recently finished painting at the Barbour County Development Authority’s office in Philippi, West Virginia. This new mural was unveiled on January 23 of 2018 and a guest at the reception asked,”When did you start painting murals, and how long did this one take to paint.” I had to really stop and think about my response. My response was,” I have been making them for over 35 years in public and privet, and this one took about 125 hours to paint.”  I never really went looking to paint murals, painting murals can looking for me!

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General Store Mural Painted at the Barbour County Development Authority office 2018.

I painted my first mural at age 11 or 12 at my hometown elementary school Majestic Heights Elementary  in Boulder Co. I was asked by a teacher if I would come into our class room a few days before the school  year started  and help her decorate a large empty wall in the class room. She asked if I could paint her a lion and some text underneath. I had no idea what she wanted and the only skill I had at the time was to use her over head projector to enlarge a image and trace the image on the wall. I was given a sheet of clear acetate and told to find something in the library to use.  I eventually found a wonderful lion image and proceeded to make a large lion mural on the wall of our class room. I do remember her saying that the reason she asked for me to help her was because I could draw well and she thought It would be fun for me. It was a nice experience and my mom enjoyed seeing the mural during parent teacher conferences.

It seems funny now, when I look back, that I have painted murals for churches, schools, barns, down towns and now businesses offices on and off my whole life. I have never pursued painting these large images, but I seem to get asked more and more to do them.

closeup of tree of life quilt block

Some are very simple and only take a day or two to prepare and paint,while others are large detailed images like the one at the Barbour County Development Authority. This is one of the larger murals that I have painted measuring 12 feet wide by 8 feet tall or ruffly 96 square feet of paint. I painted off and on, over about 4 months. Some days drawing and painting 5 hours and then some weeks not painting at all. The the value of the mural came to about 1800.00 dollars that was donated to the BCDA from Woodlands Development Group to cover the expense of my time.

The mural concept had three full color drawings as different options for the layout and figures in the mural. In the end the we actually had real people who worked in the actual store as models for in the mural. The Director of the BCDA was able to find photos for me to reference when adding the little girl and the meat cutter to the image. Then we were lucky enough to have the little girl behind the sales counter (Anna)  come to the unveiling with her two brothers. Their father, the owner of the building and Smith Grocery , is represented in the mural as the meat cutter in the mural.

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Children of Robert Smith ( man in Mural) and owner of Smith’s Grocery in Philippi WV. Anna Smith is photographed with her likeness as a child in the mural. Jan 2019.   

 As I have matured as an artist I have slowly become less and less realistic with my painting and drawing. I have a degree in fine art and have skills to draw very realistic images but with age and failing eye sight I have begun to make images that are more representative of a feeling or style then realistic. The style of this mural has been described as Folk Art, because its very flat and has little depth. The colors I chose also add to the “Old Timey” feel of the piece . 
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Golden Rule Window replacement mural “Hope” 2018.

The “General Store”mural is only one of four planned art and mural projects for downtown Philippi. I will be working on teaching others in the community how to make panel murals this spring. This time we hope to create three panels with images of quilt blocks and the city seal to be displayed on a downtown building as part of a Philippi  “Gateway Project”. The project includes instillation of a large welcome to Philippi sign, a flower planter, the murals, lights and flowers.  This project is the first time I have worked with some many organisations who want to contribute to making a downtown look better. It is amazing what small communities can do if they join together.  The “Gateway Project” is scheduled to be unveiled in Aug 2019 with about 25 volunteers doing the work.

My hope is that one day I will look back at all the beauty I have helped to create, and feel that I made a difference. I hope my art has made their towns and communities more colorful, friendly and welcoming. That I have begun to help wash away the stereotypes that portray our communities as empty, dead or forgotten. I plan to keep adding more life, color and happiness to every place I work  and adding more positive images to the story of West Virginia.

instillation of Quilt block at YMCA 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: About me, Art, Barbour County, Community Art, Creative Place Making, murals, West Virginia, West Virginia artists | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Saying Goodbye to 3 years of AmeriCorps Service.

Three years is a long time to volunteer to do anything. In 4 days I will finish my last term as an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area (AFHA) West Virginia,AmeriCorps. In those years I have learned the names of 120 other AmeriCorps serving the state of West Virginia. I have worked for 6 different supervisors at 4 different offices. I have painted 13 murals and finished 3 major projects,one involved removing 6,000 pounds of trash from a 1902 building and building one website for a nonprofit organization. In those years, I served over 5,175 hours,engaged and managed 250 different volunteers who also gave over 2000 hours of of their time to our community.I have traveled to 6 conferences on topics as varied as grant writing to creative place making and BAD buildings. Its been a whirl-wind of work, people and silliness but it is truly the most fun I have had my life. I am sad to say good bye but I am ready to fly towards a future of more service.

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 the Elkins community  during the Martin Luther King Day Celebrations 2017 

 

AmeriCorps has been eye opening in so many ways. Mostly about how much a small group of people can change the future. Those 120 different people worked on 120 different projects and worked on everything from preservation of historical locations to saving brook trout, planning city revitalization projects and helping tourists find a special event to make their trip more meaningful. Some work in the National Forest, some for small historical societies, others fought fires and some worked cleaning up after a 1000 year flood. AmeriCorps is as varied as the people who join, but we are all here with a servants heart.

frist day of Americrops working on Heritage Quilt Block Panels

Work on Heritage Quilt Squares for down town Elkins.

It is that commitment to making the world a better place that make AmeriCorps members different. Knowing that you made a difference towards saving a endangered species that’s home range is only with in the mountains of West Virginia is powerful for the future of our planet. To save and protect the site of a Civil war battlefield for future generations is to change the course of our countries future. To help to house the poor is to change the course of a life for future generations. All of this is what AmeriCorps do, it is how we make a difference.

wild food cooking at Old Hemlock Foundation

Teaching at the Old Hemlock Foundation 2018

I have been lucky to make new and wonderful friends through my years of service that I would have never had the opportunity to meet any other way. AmeriCorps travel from all over the country to serve. I have served  with people who came from as far away as Alaska and as close as just 50 miles away. We grow as people because of our diversity and different cultural backgrounds. We are every color and every age,we are gay, straight, religious and not, we are from rich families and from poor ones, but still feel the call to serve.

Pancake Breakfast volunteers 2017

Serving breakfast with the Easter Bunny 2018

These three years have helped me explore who I am, what I find important and what I want to do for the rest of my life. It is not often that you are expected to work so hard and think so deeply about the world and yourself all at once.  I have come away a stronger person,who has an even deeper commitment to making this world a better place. I would have never been able to be the leader, change maker, and advocate that I am today without  AmeriCorps. It has changed the whole path of my life and I will never be the same again.

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 “General Store” mural painted for the Barbour County Development Authority 2018 

 

I have been fortunate to have my AmeriCorps service to lead to new  career choice. I have chosen to become a business owner and continue my work in community development. I  will spend the next three years working on the Golden Rule project that you may have seen me write about before. I will be part of a team of workers who will spend those years working on the rehabilitation of the building and creating several businesses in the retail portion of the building. My duties are wide and various. I am working on the liquidation of all the buildings assets currently and will be managing the  sales of over 1,000 items, that will fund redevelopment of the retail space.  Then I will work on business development and creation of a Artist Market for local artist to sell their West Virginia make products. What a wild ride this has been and what a great future I see ahead. I am so thankful that I made the choice to serve the West Virginia Community.

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My home away for home the Golden Rule 2018

Thanks to the AFHA staff and supervisors for the the support and encouragement they offered these last three years. They believe “We Get Things Done” and keep us believing that we can make a difference everyday that we serve. Without them some days I would have pulled my hair out,  I would have given up trying to work with government officials and  lost patience working on grants that take years to see results from. My chosen field of Community Development is sometimes like a slow moving train. We have all the horse power we need to get from here to there but their are days when you just cant get the fire going fast enough for anyone to see any difference in the scenery.  So a shout out to Phyllis, Logan, Alison,Kyle,Sarah, Karen, Cheryl, Dave and Dustin. Thank you all for making these last three years so wonderful. It has made a difference in my life and my future.

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Donating Documents to the Belington Library from the Golden Rule  2019.

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Helping to support the local Parish House Donation Center. 

 

Categories: About me, AmeriCorps, Appalachin Forrest Heritage Area, community service, Golden Rule, Life Changes, Old Hemlock Foundation, volunteering | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

JoLynn Powers AmeriCorps, Returns 1920’s Christmas Cards to Local Resident.

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1902 Golden Rule Department store at beginning of redevelopment 2018.

When redevelopment on the Golden Rule Department and Furniture store began, no one knew what was hiding in the 1902 building. Woodlands Development Group bought the Belington, West Virginia building in spring of 2018.The plan for redevelopment included 10 apartments with a lower level retail space. Never knowing that the building was a time capsule of Wanda Shinn Mitchell’s life. With help from a local Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps, JoLynn Powers, the nonprofit is preserving the past and returning it to a local family.

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Wanda Shinn Mitchell former owner of the Golden Rule Building age 93, 2018.

When redevelopment began at the Golden Rule the three upper floors over flowed with remnants of the stores past. Empty boot boxes and signage from past decades filled the walls and shelves. “It was like walking into a time capsule. 1970’s shoe boxes filled shelves on the first floor and 1920’s office equipment covered a table on the second floor, nothing had really changed,” said JoLynn Powers AmeriCorps service member responsible for cleaning the building. While working to remove the debris from the building JoLynn Powers discovered that personal and work related items from the first owner’s family were still in the building.

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Table on Second Floor of the Golden Rule with antique office equipment.

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Boot boxes line shelves at the Golden Rule.

When Christmas post cards post marked 1922 address to Luther Shinn and his wife Ida, (builder of the Golden Rule building and father-in-law to Wanda) were discovered in a hole cut in the wall of the second floor storage room, everyone was excited by the find. However, Woodlands Development Director Dave Clark wanted to make sure the cards found their way back to the Shinn family.  With the help from the Barbour County Development Authority, The Belington Revitalization Committee and the Belington Library, JoLynn Powers was able to reach out to Wanda Shinn Mitchell and return them to her. At 94 years old, Wanda was excited to see Luther P. Shinn’s name on the cards dating back to 1920’s and 1930’s. The collection of cards included post cards to a sister-in-law, blank cards and several photos of people.

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Christmas Card sent to L.P. Shinn and his wife Ida, 1920’s.

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Christmas card found in wall of Golden Rule Building circa 1920’s.

When the appointment was made to return the cards JoLynn Powers invited Terri Kettle, of the Belington Revitalization Committee and Freedom Bank, to join her to help record the oral history of the visit. During the visit Terri Kettle asked Mrs. Mitchell if she knew how the cards and photos got inside the wall of the building. Wanda replied, “She had no idea.”  So the mystery of the hidden Christmas Cards continues.

Director of Woodlands Development Group, Dave Clark, is pleased to see the history of Belington preserved and shared with the community. As the buildings remaining assets are inventoried, there are plans for another open house with food, drinks, and a benefit silent auction planned for May of 2019. We hope to make the event a fundraiser for redevelopment costs for the retail space by selling tickets to attend. It is planned that the items not sold during the action will be sold  on-line later in May so that everyone has a chance to support the Golden Rules rehabilitation.

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JoLynn Powers AmeriCorps Volunteer in Elkins, WV.

JoLynn Powers continues to serve the Belington Community as an AmeriCorps volunteer for the next few months at the Golden Rule building. She leaves AmeriCorps with three years of community service to her home state of West Virginia. Future plans are to continue to work at the Golden Rule with Woodlands Development Group and to continue to work in the field of Community Development in the North Central Region of West Virginia.

 

Categories: About me, AmeriCorps, antiques, Appalachin Forrest Heritage Area, Barbour County, Belington, WV, Chris, Golden Rule, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Meaningful and Tired 2018. Year end photo gallery.

abandoned building windows Philippi wv

Abandoned building in Philippi, West Virginia, former ball room.

Meaningful and tired are the words for my thoughts, feeling and photos for 2018. Over the year I was able to take beautiful photos, spend time with people I enjoy, do work that I find meaningful and I am still surprised at that. Being tired was my overall experience this year.I have never worked so hard at something I love so much in my life.  Often I would work my 8 hours and walk 6 to 7 miles a day, up and down 3 flights of stairs. Then spend one day a week processing the items that I had carried down those same stairs. Some how,I  kept my clothes washed, got my son to school and I walked another mile or two with my dog every day. I pushed hard on the weekends too, with updates to my house and trips with friends and family. I think, I finally collapsed  into bed on the 21st of Dec. and just slept… I took a nap that afternoon that lasted 3 1/2 hours and then went to bed that night at 9:30 and slept 8 1/2 more.

So for fun I put together some of my more favorite photos from the year. 50 has been very eye-opening for me creatively. I have found “myself” as an artist and photographer and have finally found a subject matter that excites me!!As you will see, I have fallen head over heals in love with antiques and windows. I never realized how much I love the glow of light through a window and how that light fascinates me. Someone once said that we are always taking the same photograph over and over subconsciously until we discover what we love. Then we can focus on that subject and make a world out of it. Well the world opened up for me in 2018.

So I hope you enjoy my photos from the last year and I hope to do better next year with reaching my goals.

My first few days at the new AmeriCorps location at the Barbour County Development Authority. It was at this court house that I  realized my future was working with the history of this community and it’s treasures.

The following week was an over view of the project that I am still working on today. The Golden Rule building was purchased in April of 2018 and I was brought on board to help clean up the mess and help preserve and liquidate all the assets in the building. Needless to say I am still working on cleaning up the mess but some of the photos I have taken inside the building are priceless.

 

In June my office was invited to a luncheon at the Adaland Mansion ( circa 1841) where we explored and toured the grounds of the historic home in Barbour County. The food was traditional to the late 1800 to 1900’s and everyone dressed in time period costumes. It was a great break from the dirt and dust of the Golden Rule.

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Adding Machines, type writers and cash registers stored one at hardwood table

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Basement full of bottles and plates

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Broken Boy with Grape basket lamp by window.

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Spoiled canned  fish from the 70’s?

As the Summer wore on I found items that were strange, beautiful and unusual in the Golden Rule. My work was labor intensive, being the main person moving 7,000 pounds of garbage into bags and boxes day after day wore me out. But, the pay off was seeing, photographing and sometimes saving pieces of the past that would other wise be lost if the building had belonged to someone other than Woodlands Development Group.

Finally in July we took a few days off to rest and spend time with the family. We fished, hiked and spent afternoons swimming in the river just enjoying a holiday weekend.

the Powers Men fishing off of Laural Fork river near Rich mountain

As summer came to a close it was announced that my home office would be moving and we were able to tour the new location for Woodlands Development Group in Elkins WV.

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Wild Mountain Laurel Elkins WV

In Oct. we watched the West Virginia episode of “State Plate” with Taylor Hicks. I wondered how Tom and I  ever survived cooking and eating on national TV. We both enjoyed seeing what they made out of day together.

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Jolynn Powers and Taylor Hicks cooking in the kitchen.

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Baked Apple Dumplings fresh out of the oven.

Then the Open House at the Golden Rule was an overwhelming success. We had over 100 visitors and gave tours to over 65 people in 4 hours. We raised over 300 dollars to help the preservation and rehabilitation of the building and I must have made 14 trips up and down those stairs again. I was really tired when it was over but it was worth all the work to put it together to see people enjoying my work!

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Golden Rule Building 1902, Belington,West Virginia with window murals

Golden Rule sign

Vacation time came and I celebrated my 50th birthday in the best way. I went back in time and relived the joy and happiness of my youth at Hershey Park, PA. Riding roller-coasters and eating Hershey’s chocolate was so much fun and I got to see several old friends that I love dearly. Could not have planned something better if I tried.

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Alex Smits, Christopher Powers and Tom Powers having fun at my birthday trip to Hershey Park, PA.

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Hershey Tower drop

Halloween is my favorite time of the year and this year I explored two ideas for my haunted house costume. The first was the idea of making myself into some kind of moth-man or fly-man and the other was the evil crow. In the end the mask and wings of a bird won out and I  spent a great night at Christopher’s after-school program volunteering to scaring the heck out of young and old a like. I then went with the kids Trick or Treating as the scary crow and had a ball… the best few weeks of my year!

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Halloween Costume #1 for 2018

halloween costume 2018

The Holidays were a blur, I remember that we had a nice couple of holiday dinners and I got to spend lots of time with my family and friends. I got to see Christopher sing at his choir concert and watched three movies at the theater in 9 days…. so much fun!

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Christopher Powers in Santa hat age 10

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Govenor’s Inn Main Street Buckhannon, WV

So it was a busy year and I learned tons about myself and what I want to do as an artist in the future. I think my photos are getting better and I realized that I do much better with natural light and I am not great at photographing people. I hope to work on that this year. So the goal is set to take at least 6 natural light portraits this year. We will see if I can reach that goal while painting another couple of murals.

Hope your holiday was a good one and I hope you have a productive 2019. Maybe it will slow down just a bit for me in 2019. I can only hope to do more traveling and spending more time with friends and family and continue to grow as an artist. BCDA MURAL 2018

Categories: About me, antiques, Art, Christmas, Golden Rule, New Years Eve, photo review, Photos, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Fresh New Start for 2018

I am starting off my Holiday Season with at fresh new blog address and a updated About Page. It all seem fitting as I just recently turned 50 and the New Year is just around the corner. So I am giving the blog a fresh new start. 

In the five years that I have been sharing stories with the world I have learned so many new things about writing, blogging and myself. So you may see that some of the topics that I write about are little different from 5 years ago but the themes are the same. I love my home in the mountains of West Virginia and I love the outdoors more today then ever before, so that is not changing. But I want to feature interesting people from West Virginia in my blog more often. This kind of thing takes much more time and work to produce. I am willing to put in the work if you are willing to read a story every few months about maybe a local musician, artist, child, or just a old farmer. I have wanted for years to start taking portraits of the unique and beautiful people that I meet and I think this is a way I can explore both sides of what interests me about blogging. I also think that after the resent Presidential Election and  Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations  portrayal of West Virginia’s people, I need to balance what is put out into the world about who we are, not everyone hunts, not everyone works in a coal mine and not everyone is living in a cabin in the woods. I want to talk to the artist that moved here because they could create in peace, I want to talk to a farmer who cares for a herd of animals in the snow at 7 below zero and I want to talk to a African American Southern Baptist Minister who feeds the hungry, and I want to share photos of people who make my home a better place. Just like these two guys who are making my holiday so much brighter. 

Christopher Powers visits Father Christmas at the Beverly Heritage Center in Beverly West Virginia 2018. 

I hope this first post at the new site finds all of you well and preparing to enjoy a wonderful holiday season. I am excited for the New Year and what will inspire me in the next 12 months and I hope to hear about what you enjoy about the blog and what inspires you. Welcome to the official site of West Virginia Mountain Mama. 

Categories: About me, Beverly West Virginia, blogging, Changes to blog, Christmas | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Reflections on Being a Woman of 50; Family, Friendships and Funny Body Changes.

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Easter morning 2018 with Country Music Star Taylor Hicks cooking in my Kitchen, 2018 has been a great year and having a celebrity in the house is even better.

 

Turning fifty has been emotional and wonderful all at once. So many things in my family life, career life and emotional life have given me the most satisfaction that I have ever had the last couple of years. It is so strange to find peace a normal and everyday part of my life. I wish I could share this calm and peace with the younger woman in the family and let them know it will happen for them soon enough.

This transition into maturity has been so refreshing. I finally know my own personality well enough to know that I love having a family and would never have been happy without the total chaos of children, grandchildren, a husband and animals that sneak into to bed with you at 2am. At 18 I imaged my life with a husband and two boys, being a working mother who ran from work to after school activities and concerts. It was hard to be such a young mom with my husband working so far away but I loved our time together more than anything. Now as a mother and grandmother my joy is tripled. There is nothing I enjoy more than spending time with all of them. My deepest happiness comes from hearing laughter that rings out in my back yard when spontaneous water fights happen or when we share a moment of pride together when the littlest of the clan steps out on stage to sing and dance.  I did not know that I could have this amount of love in my heart. That it would swell to include so many people. It seems to me that the more love I give away, the more love I get back. I pour my love out and feel filled up at the same time.

Finding and keeping friends as you age is challenging and not because you can’t find people to relate to. Work and children and other obligations take priority for many years when you are young. But eventually you slow down, kids grow up and there is time to renew old friendships and find new ones. I have been so blessed to have several lifelong friends.  I still have friends who I have known from my school days and ones that I met while trying to get through having young children. They form a group of support and love that I value more every year. They know I am crazy, creative and that I am a terrible speller.  These old friends make my life safe to live. They stand by and watch as the sea of life changes from calm to divesting and never think a thing about not loving me. My new friends are now mostly woman who have seen a lot and don’t mind sharing my struggles with growing old. They have been there and understand how hard it is getting old and have the people you love get old too. Our conversations are much less about men and romance and much more about how are you doing after losing your parents and what to do when an older child is struggling. These topics are harder and much more serious than the conversations of my teens. These ladies know real pain; they know death, divorce and the loss of a child. They have seen cancer up close and come out of menopause saying there is freedom at the end of the tunnel if you can just get through it. I love all of them and am so glad they are part of my journey.

50 is such a strange age for women, you are either entering menopause or you have passed through it, naturally or with the help of a Doctor . For the first time since I was 14 years old I am so happy to be free of my child bearing years. I would not give up my two boys for anything in the world, yet I am totally over it. So in return for losing my fertility, my body is giving me things that no one wants. Things like age spots, wrinkles, and feet that hurt and eyes that don’t see very well. I have traded my perfect skin in for laugh lines, that remind me of the evenings at my kitchen table where all the stories and jokes are shared. I traded my perfect eye sight for the comfort of men driving me around at night like a rich woman. I have given away my perfect body to carry and bring two beautiful men into the world. I traded my high heels and sexy shoes for Merrell work shoes that support me every day in the career that I love. I have traded in my concern for what others think of me for a strength and courage to try new things that I never expected.

I guess when you are faced with graying hair, and wrinkled skin and children who have grown and don’t need a babysitter any more, you have two options. You become the person you have worked your whole life to be or pretend that you are something you are not. I don’t fake anything well, never have, so this is me take it or leave it.

laughing at the Mystery hole

I have chosen to fall in love with myself at this age, at this time. To take care of myself better, to enjoy myself more than before, to share my love more freely, to live more fully and regret less. I have opened the door and left the past behind me, it is time to find MY best future ahead.

To be a woman of 50 is to be free and I hope to enjoy every single minute of it!

Categories: About me, ageing, Birthday, Change, family fun, family memories, Friendship, Love, Taylor Hicks, West Virginia | 3 Comments

Appalachian Food, Trend or Tradition?

So after appearing on the TV show State Plate where my family was featured making traditional Appalachian foods and now that CNN’s Anthony Bourdain  has traveled to West Virginia in his show Explore Parts Unknown, I am a little confused if the food of my home is now trendy or traditional? I wonder what it is that we as people are looking for when we have come back and taken the simple county food that my family eats and made it trendy.

I wonder if our nation has had so much world food exposure that we are looking for something that is truly American, something with traditions and stories that reflect our basic American history. Many Americans have never eaten self butchered meats, home-made breads,home canned fruits and veggies from the garden. So to these people my family and the mountain communities that surround me seem novel. Yet, I view myself and my way of living as traditional to Appalachia and not unique in any way. In reality it is not unique to most  Americans either, just forgotten for a few generations.

Christopher and Cody picking Pumpkins with Paige on the way to pick them up

Christopher and Cody picking pumpkins and Paige on the way with the wagon

Food is just one aspect of a life here that is lived believing you will only be able to count on your family and yourself in an uncertain future. Families still raise gardens to provide valuable nutrition, they hunt, fish and forage as a normal part of the seasons. They can and dry foods for the winter and share the bounty with those they know and love. It is simple and direct to make food from what is growing near by. It saves money and is better for you because it is less likely to have chemicals and pesticides.  It only seems odd or novel to outsiders who would never think of eating wild rabbits or making your own wine from plants that grow like weeds. It also takes skills that many have forgotten over the generations. They say time stands still in the hills, so in this way we are fortunate to have kept the skills alive.

To my surprise, I was recently invited to be part of a historical “Foodways” museum exhibit at the Beverly Heritage Center  in Beverly, West Virginia. I shared some of my families recipes and our way of preparing several items that have been in the family for generations. I even shared some of the cooking tools we use for the display, some being over 60 years old.

BHC cooking display board

As part of the display the Museum created this panel about my family’s food history. It will be on display for the summer placed on a dinner table with 5 other panels. Each one sharing a Appalachian food story and a couple of recipes. Then during opening day Jenny the curator of the project will serve several of the foods that the families have shared with her during the collection process. I hope to make the apple sauce cake for her and the visitors and share some more of my families stories. The exhibit opens June 9th in the lobby of the Beverly Heritage Center in Beverly, West Virginia. 

After my interview with Jenny, I began to reflect on the resent fascination with our rural foods. Our interview reminded me of why country families and mountain communities have such attachments to their food. Food is the link to each other and the communities that they value. As Jenny and I chatted, I found myself saying that it is often times food that brings us all together. It is church dinners and family holidays, birthdays and funerals, fairs and festivals, that whole communities will gather together to share in someones pain or celebration. Our foods are about nourishment, not only of the body but of the soul. We have family time, say Grace, and keep in touch with friends, families all with food. It is these connections with food that is different in the world today. Today’s families rarely sit down at the table to eat a meal together. Holiday meals are not home-made anymore. Never allowing everyone to get involved in the preparations.  Here in Appalachia often we know who butchered the meat, made the beer and wine that we toast with, know the woman who made the jams, jellies and the children who made the cookies sitting on the table our Thanksgiving table.

Today people have no idea what the ingredients are in their food or even how they  are grown or raised. Kids eat in the car and we get milk in plastic bottles. We have lost touch with the joy of our food.

Appalachian food is about being authentic and natural, full of stories and traditions. Sometimes it is fancy and other times it is simple and filling, but it is often more about who you share a meal with then the food on the plate that is important.

Categories: About me, canning, cooking, country cooking, Country life, Dandelions, family traditions, Foraging, Hand Pies, history, hobbies, Holidays, Jam, State Plate TV show, West Virginia, wild food | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Joy of CreatingCommunity Art

When I graduated from college with a degree in art, I never thought that I would be a public art advocate or a muralist. Of course, I never thought I would be on TV or an AmeriCorps Service Member either. Today working on community art projects is one of the things that gives me the most joy.

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AmeriCorps Volunteer murals start to appear in the windows of the Golden Rule Building, Belington, WV

Art has always been a passion of mine but taking my skills to the size and scale of murals to be displayed in public spaces is new. I have always used art as a tool for my personal  expression, never thinking about doing art for the public. Now as a mature artist, I am sharing the feelings and passions of communities, programs, and groups of people. The change is fundamentally new to my understanding of what it means to create and to be a creator. I see my work now as a tool for positive change in a community. A gift that will have lasting effects in many of the small rural towns where I live and work.

 

Over the last month, two more quilt panels that I was the project manager for and head artist have been installed, 6 window murals have been installed that I helped to create with volunteers, and the beginnings of an office mural, that I am personally painting, is ready for paint application. I am also on the board of an Art organization called Mountain Arts District that is in the process of installing a collection of student art work  in a city park in June. It is over whelming when I stop and look at the amount of people and projects that have passed through my life in the last 3 years.  Yet, this is not my main job and I only do what I can for non-profits who rarely have the funds to pay for such projects. I am doing most of this work as a part of my AmeriCorps service but also as an educational experience to those around me. Public art is a niche skill just like any other field and the leaders of our communities rarely understand or feel comfortable talking with arts, I aim to change that.

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line drawing on the wall of my new office Barbour County Development Authority, Philippi, WV

 

I often paint with non-artist volunteers and spend much of my time helping and teaching interested community members skills that they can use to make community art themselves. It is a joy to share in the process of watching an idea come to life, then see people learning to make art, then watch the pride that comes to their faces when they walk through a downtown seeing art that they have helped to make. It is sometimes the only real change that they can point to and say “I did that” in their community.

Community art is best when people who live and love a place take part in the creation of their culture. That could mean painting murals,  taking part in community dances, attending festivals of live music or creation of community gardens. It is when people begin to see that they have the power to create positive change that things begin to thrive.

Even if I never planned to be doing this kind of work and I am surprised everyday that I get paid to create these images, I am thankful to AmeriCorps for allowing me to share my skills.I am fortunate to work at sites that have allowed me the time away from the “office” to work on these up lifting projects and I will have the best memories of my service time.  It is my final wish that as I leave AmeriCorps next spring that I can continue to make a difference in my community with art in some way. I know that it has changed me for the better and I hope it is always part of who I am.

instillation of Quilt block at YMCA 2017

installation of one of the 8 panels I helped to create for the Elkins Main Street project 2017

 

Categories: About me, AmeriCorps, Art, Barbour County, Community Art, Elkins Main Street, murals, Painting, Quilt Trails | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Different Presective on Life: Macular Degeneration.

wildflowers Monongahela National Forest Elkins WV

Yellow Flowers at Stuarts Park near Elkins WV

So about two weeks ago I was told that the inherited eye disease that my family carries is beginning to do damage to my eyes too.The usual end result is legal blindness, although they say I may still be able to see some at the edges of my vision field. I am not sure if we ever knew what blinded my Grandmother but we are positive that my mother has battled “wet”  Macular Degeneration for about 20 years. She began to notice the changes in her sight in her late 60’s with a very quick loss of vision over about three or four years. In my case I have a type of “dry” macular degeneration or Age Related Macular Degeneration. The outcome is almost always the same with either disease,  although the my condition is a chronic slow loss of vision and my mother had a very acute fast-moving loss of vision, we both will end up blind at one point or another.

So far there is no real treatment for this type of vision loss and they can not predict when or if I will go completely blind at any point. So I am faced with the most challenging obstacle in my life. A unknown cloud  will slowly yet steadily take away one of the things I have enjoyed most in my life and make even everyday tasks become almost impossible to do on my own. This new challenge has changed my perspective on things that I can hardly explain here.

How do you quantify the value of your sight, or hearing, or the ability to touch taste or smell??? How do I explain the feeling of loss that is trying to drag me into the darkness without even allowing me to try to fight back. There is no recovery,  rehabilitation, cure or corrective device for this progressive loss of sight. So how do I learn to keep my balance in life when I am not even given something to fight against. I am left with trying to make peace with my situation…. and if you know me at all, making peace is not my best quality, by nature I am at my best when the fight is on.

The Dr. suggest that I change my diet to lower my blood pressure and lower the sugars in my diet to at least slow the progression of my loss. Diabetes and high blood pressure cause all kinds of damage to our vision. If  I can reduce my risks for other complications I may reduce the chances of going blind faster. Strange that I am hoping to just slow down something I can’t control in the slightest.

So you may see posts from time to time about my new situation and how it changes my perspective on things in both a literal way and a figurative way. I have a new pair of glasses which I hate… and can’t hardly use comfortably. I now have to see my eye Dr’s every year with other visits if I discover any changes. I was lucky I went for an annual exam when they discovered the changes were more drastic than I thought or could have imagined.

I now  live and look at things with a more studious eye. Drinking in the colors and textures of the things I love as if I may not every see them again. I will continue to read as long as I can. I will read all of your wonderful blogs and drink in the words as deeply as my heart allows. I have made it a point to enjoy more books too. Real books with paper pages and smells of old books stores with torn edges that I can annotate and dog ear. I will reread and re-watch my favorite books and movies until I know them and they become a part of me. I will create this blog until the time comes when I can not see the words on the page but only get to hear them read back to me with a computer voice. I will learn to work with it, around it  and through it and move forward into what ever wonderful things that God still has for me.

In a decade they guess I will no longer drive or clean my house. So I must have something wonderful to do some other way…. Maybe I will become Agatha Christy who dictated every one of her books and had a wonderful editor who transcribed them for her? Who knows maybe I am to be a painter of impressionistic flowers that tour the world as “works of the blind”?? Or  Maybe a Philosopher who spends too much time alone thinking about the meaning in life and discovers the “One Thing” that explains life as we know it.

So my perspective is changing on many things, but mostly on what beauty is and how we express it; What is Art and how do we enjoy it and what is Joy and how to find it.

 

 

Categories: About me, blindness, blogging, family health, health, Love, wellness | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Serving AmeriCorps and AFHA the Second Time Around

 

Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 
― 
Fred Rogers, Methodist Minister and Host of the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

As my first year of AmeriCorps service at the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area was quickly coming to a close I found myself feeling like my work in Randolph County, West Virginia was not complete. That I had just started to see the impact of my service and I was not willing to walk away. I was not willing to end the project I was working on and was not willing to leave the many people who I was serving every day. In my heart I knew I was helping and making a difference and just did not want to stop making this community a better place.

So by September of 2016, I signed up for another year of service to AFHA, AmeriCorps, Elkins Main Street and the Community of Elkins West Virginia. It was the same day that a new group of AmeriCorps members were sworn into the program. The day was filled with speeches, group photos and getting to know the other volunteers who would join me in the Appalachian Mountains and small towns. It was also the day that I knew that I would never leave the life of service that I had been building for the last 12 months.director-of-volunteer-west-virginia-2016

Executive Director of: Volunteer West Virginia Heather Foster speaking to new enrollees.

I know that many who join AmeriCorps come for the education awards and the on the job training. Some come to explore job possibilities and some come for the travel to a new place with pay. I on the other hand came because I love the state of West Virginia. I understand my states weaknesses and challenges because for 27 years this is where I called home. I understand its proud nature, where her people do not want a hand out, but a hand up. They want an equal chance at raising a family; have steady work and a chance to live in warm safe homes. West Virginians prefer to do it on their own, on their own terms, and if you want to join them in a battle of any kind, they bless you for fighting alongside them. Together they battle to make things better for everyone.I serve next to them so can add my skill, education, strength and love to help bring a brighter future to a mountain community.

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”― Kahlil Gibran

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Members of AFHA, AmeriCorps enrolling for the 2016-2017  year Morgantown, West Virginia.Sign says “Volunteer West Virginia the state’s Commission for National Community Service. AmeriCorps West Virginia.”

I believe that the AmeriCorps program achieves what it sets out to do. It brings together caring, helpful, educated people who want to make a difference in a location where there is need for support. With guidance, service members do the work in areas of our state that most are not willing or able to do. We aid in making a positive change in the communities doing all kinds of work from preservation and redevelopment of historic buildings, tracking trout populations to building non-profit websites and giving historical tours at local sites. We are here to serve the people and enhance their communities and make them stronger.hands-on-team-working-to-reglaze-and-paint-windows-at-the-historic-darden-house-elkins-west-virginia

AFHA, Hands on team members re-glazing windows on the historic Darden house Elkins, West Virginia.

Being an AmeriCorps member over the last year has opened my life up to new people, new opportunities, and the joy of service. I look forward to my second year of service with Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, AmeriCorps and with the people of Elkins, West Virginia. I can only hope to give them back what they have already given to me. A fresh new outlook on what I can do for the people and places that I love.Thank you AFHA, AmeriCorps and Elkins Main Street for the best job this 48 year old has ever had.

Categories: About me, Appalachina Mountains, community service, Elkins Main Street, Elkins West Virginia, Nonprofit, Randolph County | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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