Nancy Abrams WV
Although I’ve been a West Virginia writer and photographer for decades, Appalachia has never simply been my subject. It has been my home for nearly all of my adult life. I live here. I have enormous respect for the state and its people and I think you can see that in my work. My photographs reflect genuine affection for a place that has been historically exploited and often ridiculed. My memoir, The Climb from Salt Lick, published this spring by West Virginia University Press, has been called the “anti-Hillbilly Elegy.” Not because I ignore what’s wrong with our culture, but because I notice what is right. I am proud that my photographs are honest and straightforward.
Amanda Buchanan OH
Athens, Ohio has been my home for longer than any other place. I didn’t grow up in this region, but was raised by people who worked with their hands, had their own businesses and spoke in colloquialisms, much like many of the people I meet here. Our community within Appalachia supports all things local, and has a slower pace than other towns. I feel fortunate to be able to live where I can take time to reflect, to soak up the good juju around me, and then to create things of beauty. This brings me joy.
Connaught Cullen OH
When I was a child, my siblings and I played in the woods and fields near our house on the edge of a small town. It was fantasy play, we daydreamed we were explorers, adventurers, super heroes. Dorothy Gale was my role model, the female adventurer that was most prominent in my mind. As I grew older I left childhood play behind. But then I retired and moved to place that is all woods and hills and once again I find myself wandering in the woods. Now when I move through the landscape my thoughts turn to adult matters: problem solving, idea generation, meditation/prayer. But every once in a while my thoughts return to childhood fantasy, I’m stepping out that door into Munchkinland. After all these years, I’m still Dorothy, looking for Oz.
Lacy Davis OH
My grandmother was my first teacher. She was born on the side of a mountain in Wayne, West Virginia in August of 1939. She came from a time and a place where people relied on the land and their knowledge of it to provide for themselves. Mawmaw and I spent a great deal of our time together in our quiet Appalachian backyard. Exploring. Learning. Discovering. From a very early age, she instilled me with a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature. I was taught that wood sorrel tastes sour and is high in vitamin C. Morels like to grow near dead elm trees. We smashed pokeberries and used them as paint, and I was instructed to never to eat them. I learned that my Great Granny’s favorite flower was lilac, and the pink roses in the backyard were brought from Mom and Pop Davis’ garden in Wakefield, Ohio. I hung onto every word. My grandmother’s stories and knowledge are my inheritance. I have used her teachings in combination with known symbolism, folklore, myths, legends, pop culture, and medicinal uses to formulate ideas for visual images that eventually became In Bloom. I want this body of work to act as a tribute to all my Appalachian ancestors, but particularly to my grandmother and to my mother.
Sally Deskins WV
Living in Appalachia for four years now, it has definitely impacted my life and art making; mostly giving me impetus to be scrappier with my craft. Not in close proximity to high profile art supply stores (or really, the cash to order it online), and moreover, not in close proximity to a place with ample arts opportunities for myself and my children, we get resourceful. We make a lot of art. My kids have created so much in fact that we have piles of it, that we either gift, save, or recycle into art, such as these. Moreover, my understanding of the relationship of the body to earth has grown since living in these hills, presenting the idea of “mother nature” in this grounded, childlike way creates an intimate recognition and respect. The results are playful and warm, contrary to the often either objectified or sheltered idea of the nude body.
Julie M Elman OH
Back in the 1980s, when I was a graduate student in Athens studying photojournalism, I fell in love with this region — the town, the people, the hills, the greenness all around me, and the music. Fast forward to 2005, when I returned to this area — the love was still there. I have found that there’s a real down-to-earth attitude here, and a spirit of goodwill and problem-solving towards improving people’s overall quality of life. Living here has given me the opportunity to be myself, explore my art, and find my artistic voice in a supportive environment.
Susan Feller WV
Where you live and who you learn from influences early interests and ways of looking at the world. I was raised in the highlands of Appalachia in rural New Jersey during the 50’s and 60’s. Girl Scouts, a multi-generational family, regional schooling with a variety of ethnics all developed awareness, caring and self-sufficiency traits. Boston for college in the 1970’s broadened my outlook. All of this came with me to our new home base in Hampshire County West Virginia, a place like my youthful origins in mindset. Using traditional textile crafts honors these roots. Today my art speaks out loudly about issues important to me and future generations. I have learned from living in Appalachia our voices will be interpreted by others if not spoken by ourselves.
Barbara Fisher OH
I grew up in West Virginia, half in the country, on my grandparents' farm and half in the capitol city of Charleston. I was thus influenced by the powers of the natural world, of the cycles of birth, life and death that surrounds a farmer, as well as the faster paced, human-centric world of the city, full of cultural wonders, music, literature and artificial light. The women in my family, both the farm women and city women, were strong, and were the ones who made the world work as it should. They did everything--kept the house, kept the garden, the chickens, drove the cars, did the shopping, did home repairs, nursed sick kids to health, butchered, canned, made pickles, made clothes---all of the things that made life better for everyone else. They also often held jobs outside the home. My work thus often contains mythic images of strong, capable women in Appalachian settings, as well as images of animals and plants of the natural world. Recently, I've begun painting the city I grew up in as I saw it--as an integral part of the spiritual, imaginal realm that I walked in as a child.
Whitney Folsom OH
Growing up, I rejected my Appalachian reality, because early on, I felt that Appalachia had rejected me. There was no room or patience for those of us that played and teetered on the edge of the typical southern Ohio box we were born into. "You shouldn't have an affinity for darkness". But Appalachia, with all its great beauty and history, is a dark place. We are the forgotten. Gravitating heavily to origins and ritual, my work has always reflected prevalent symbolism and commonalities within the area, with an attempt to envelope the beauty within that darkness. The beauty in lineages of independence and survival when a nation gives up on you. As I have gotten older, I have realized my complete love for Home, and a deep sense of pride when asked 'where are you from?'. There is magic here, in the hills, and in its people, if you are ready to see it.
Terry Fortkamp OH
I live in rural Athens County, Ohio, where the beauty of the land, birdsong and flowering plants and trees greets me every spring and summer. My paintings are an expression of my gratitude for this life, my family, my home and the gifts of residing in such a lovely setting. Favorite moments come during summer mornings as I lie in bed listening to birds singing. In my mixed media piece, ‘Birdsong’, I attempt to paint a visual of the feeling of a bird’s sweet song. ‘Spring Dance’ and ‘Two Pink Trees’, painted after a long winter, portray my delight in the saving grace of spring.
Kathy Guest OH
I’m originally from the New York metropolitan area – suburban New Jersey - and even after almost 20 years living in the Hocking Hills I still find it kind of startling to think that I now live in an Appalachian rural community. That said, a community is relatable both through the natural environment and through people and I’m as emotionally comfortable here in my part of Ohio as I’ve been anywhere. My rural surroundings are beautiful and though I resisted living away from a more developed area for many years I’m very happy that I agreed to move with my husband to this part of Ohio in 1998. My art has been about connecting with people for decades and that effort remains with me as well, though I now also find my natural elements entering my more feminine/feminist symbolism. I’ve always been fascinated by and enticed by patterns and now use botanical elements (such as leaves) and often butterflies as elements in my work. I’m originally a printmaker though I now make one of a kind dimensional paper pieces that use paper faces that are made from life molds using a method that I developed. Many of the other elements in my work are embossed from linoleum plates I’ve cut by hand and then cut the resulting paper into other shapes that I also fold and curl, etc. I find myself working to bridge the gap between craft and art using paper faces that are true paper portraits.
Kari Gunter-Seymour OH
Growing up, I spent as much time as possible with my grandmother in these beautiful rolling hills of southeastern Ohio. She taught me to love myself, to learn from nature, look beyond the obvious and to sing, loud and not worry so much about the words or if I was on pitch.
Maria Freed Grimm OH
A native child of Appalachia, I grew up in rural areas and small towns and found social acceptance just beyond my grasp; I just wasn't like everyone else. I escaped into my imagination and found peace and serenity in reading and creating art as a child. There was no other time or place in school that I felt as comfortable and in my element than in art class or doing art projects. Even before the difficulty began, I had decided at the age of 6 that I would be an artist. After high school, I enrolled in Ohio University and later, Columbus College of Art and Design, both to study art. At that time, my passion was for our local and regional woodland Native American History, and was led into creating commissioned historical style art pieces for the next half decade. Due to injury, politics, and circumstance, I sank into an artistic dead zone for the next 15+ years. Seemingly by divine intervention, I was led to pick up watercolor painting completely anew around 2015. This time, I am painting for my heart's content, rather than the soul-killing philosophies of the reasons to create art I had previously held. My watercolor is about my highest aspirations, and I have found much of my inspiration and subject matter in the scenery of my region. My work is expressly about images and scenery that light my heart up and touch my emotions, something that no one would likely find a reason to disagree with or argue about. The road of my life and my art has been as bumpy, twisted, and rutted-out as the back roads out in the hills and hollers with road signs either missing or unclear. Unintentionally but certainly, Appalachia is the landscape into which I have cut my path.
Cheryl Ryan Harshman WV
In my twenties, after college and grad school, I chose to spend my life in Appalachia, along the Ohio River and on the West Virginia side. I have lived deep in the country, on our small farm where we began an apple orchard and grew 40 different bean varieties. I put up hay and butchered with the old farmers, a generation or two older than I, on our ridge. I drove the back roads in three counties delivering new books and offering story time to all the small libraries. I leaned into life on the back roads and was given the gift of deep friendships and ancient country wisdom. Choosing to stay in West Virginia did not allow for big salaries or much in terms of career advancement. There were deeper, more personal benefits from staying put. My first children’s book, SALLY ARNOLD, honored my life on that ridge top farm and the neighbors who are now all gone. My visual art is a reminiscence of my West Virginia life, often in an impressionistic, idiosyncratic style and in several different media. The tragic beauty of this place I call home haunts my personal vision and must necessarily come through the words and the paint I use to speak.
Jen Hernandez OH
Growing up in an Appalachian family brought many challenges. My family dealt with poverty and alcoholism on a daily basis. There were always struggles and a nagging sense that somehow we would never be good enough. I believe that this angst comes through in my work as many of my paintings focus on identity; women’s identity in particular. The struggle to be who you are and not who the world wants you to be. I am neither your typical Appalachian or your typical woman, however; I’ve known the struggles of both. Watching the subjects of my paintings evolve as I do, has been a true growth experience for me and I hope that it speaks to others as well.
Tina Kelsey OH
Living in the Hills of Appalachia keeps me centered and calm. I am surrounded by natural beauty and have learned to express gratitude for it every single day. Lately, I’ve been using a lot of leaves and insects in my work. I live in the woods and it was just a matter of time before the pieces of my life took over my work. As much as I love working with rhinestones and bling, working with leaves, insects and other themes from nature brings me all kinds of joy on a whole other level. I love that moment when people realize that there are very beautiful bugs on my work. I want them to stop and focus on the beauty. Then maybe they will think twice before going after that spider, who wandered into their house, with their shoe.
I am 4th generation to live in Appalachia. The strong women in my life are my inspiration for making tiaras. I learned how to take charge of my life and lead others by watching my mother and grandmother and hearing stories about their mothers and grandmothers. I learned how to speak up for myself and others by watching these really strong women help those around them by working to affect change and finding their voices.
Tracy Leinbaugh OH
I live in Appalachia in a rural setting outside of a small town with a university that attracts many students from Appalachia. My house is over 100 years old, and was built to replace an earlier farmhouse built 50 years earlier. The people on my road, my friends, and many of the students at the university at which I work part-time are grounded in Appalachia and proud to be Appalachian. Although I am not originally Appalachian, my husband of over 40 years is, and I identify with the culture. It fits me well. The closeness to nature has strongly influenced my art, especially my fiber art. I use locally sourced wool as much as possible and do my own fabric dying using plants found on my property. My fiber art reflects my love of nature and the handcrafts of people who have lived here previously. The tree-covered hills. wild animals, wild flowers, people committed to their communities, families, and the traditions of their forbearers, and their acceptance of new members to their communities all have contributed to inspire my life and my art.
Robin McClintock WV
I grew up urban and chose to make my home in rural Tucker County. Understanding the "how and why" of things is intrinsic to my way of negotiating of world and my paintings are about documenting lost evidence as much as they are about mark-making, scale, architecture, atmosphere, a sense of place and the residual effect of the extraction industry on the natural environment. I pay homage to the 19th century rural West Virginia extraction industry, its’ architecture and laborers and how the current conditions of the local landscape were shaped. The Appalachian landscape has been irrevocably altered and what we see is as much about what isn’t there as what we do see.
Carol McDonough OH
My work before Appalachia was all about form and surface decoration, mostly geometric with clean colors and precise lines. After I bought the farm things just changed gradually to more organic forms, clearly influenced by the lush green hills, trees and water. Some abstraction still abides but the inspiration and source are more visible. I’m also much more open to experimentation and ready to take a leap into the unknown as my original leap into the country paid off and taught me so much about who I am and what I’m capable of doing.
Susan Nash OH
Having grown up and lived most of my life in Appalachia, my artwork is informed by the many women who came before me, and the work of their hands. I attempt to bring new life and respect to their cast aside needlework, photographs and tools of everyday life.
Corie Neumayer KY
When I think back to my time growing up in Eastern Kentucky, the first thing that comes to mind is the richness of my experiences. My parents rented a small house with room for a garden, chicken coop and a place to raise pigs. There was also a creek with shallow spots to catch minnows, look for soft red rocks (that could be crushed and used for "rouge"), explore the hilly woods, learn to sew, and so much more. I doubt that, at the time, I appreciated those everyday rural experiences, my "farm to table" meals, but now, I can see it was one of major influences in my life. I am thrifty, grow some vegetables, still sew, cook most of our meals..but I do buy my cosmetics , believe in the goodness of people, and try to live and use art to show my love for my Eastern Kentucky heritage.
Marcy Nighswander OH
Southeastern Ohio is visually very different geographically from where I grew up on the flat farmland of northwestern Ohio. Today I am influenced by the rolling hills and beauty of the countryside. When I work on photography for personal satisfaction I am drawn to take pictures of landscapes or a section of a scene. I love driving around the area with no set destination and being awed and inspired by what is around the next corner or right above me.
Lisa Orr PA
I am a native Appalachian with deep roots in West Virginia where generations of my pioneer ancestors settled and resettled in the 19th & 20th centuries. After two decades in California studying and practicing, I returned to pursue my life-long fascination with Appalachian vernacular landscapes, particularly cemeteries. I am a landscape architect, a teacher, a cultural landscape historian, and a landscape photographer. With this photographic work I seek to reveal Appalachian culture through images of the region’s often overlooked sacred landscapes, especially those that have been damaged or are in peril.
Ashley Parker Owens KY
When I moved away from Kentucky to go to college, people made fun of me for being a hillbilly. I felt ashamed but didn’t understand why. Over time, as I’ve matured, I’ve come to realize that it is easy to bully those you think are less than you. I came back to Kentucky after getting an MFA in visual arts and raised a baby in the hills of Richmond. I had an opportunity to go to the Bluegrass Writers Studio and get an MFA in creative writing at EKU. I also formed an independent press (kystory.net) focusing on the southern Appalachian ‘voice.’ I switched to words because I thought my art was dismissed. Now that I’ve opened my soul back up to visual images, adding words or micro poems to some of them, I feel more sure of myself and accept myself as an Appalachian experimental artist.
Sharon Phillips OH
As I drive into a different life after the death of my husband several years ago, it seems that all I want to do this year is move on and keep up with the changes that are happening all around me. The landscape on the inside of my life is shifting and morphing so I find it really comforting to be surrounded with the cocoon of hills and valleys of Athens.
Melissa Rohrer OH
My work is often influenced by my natural surroundings, but sometimes the people of this Appalachian region sneak in to my thoughts, as well. I find myself wanting to capture the attitudes and inner lives of these people in my work.
Emalea Rupe OH
Living in Appalachia, everything in daily life becomes an influence in my work. Art is a reflection of feelings and the way in which we live. It just comes natural to recreate what is familiar; our emotion, our struggles, joy, and pain. Life is a race we are constantly running, the chasing of a dream! Often we feel invisible, struggling to find a place in this world. In my photography, I have tried to capture just that. Compromise, compassion, and the forward pace of our existence leads us to the realization that we need to enjoy every moment, to embrace those we love. For life is just a vapour.
Teresa Sager OH
So often I can't quit looking at the trees and at the sky and the clouds and the hillsides and the way the sun and the shadows play on the rocky ledges along our roads. I'm constantly yelling "stop I have to take a picture!" to my husband-a good sport- who begrudgingly backs up the car not all, but most of the time. Reference pictures to sear this important information into my mind so I can later pay tribute to the sweetness with my paints.
Tiffany Salamone WV
There are many stereotypes associated with the people residing in Appalachia - lazy, dirty, and dumb are just a few that come to mind. It's very disappointing to me when people make assumptions about my home. Where I work, I have the opportunity to meet people different states and different countries. I take this opportunity to showcase how beautiful and diverse West Virginia is, and they are often surprised. Through the photos I take, I hope that people can see what I see - how Appalachia is full of wonder.
Andi Stern OH
My mother was born in Harlan, Kentucky, and my father was born in Glouster, Ohio. Both of their families moved to Michigan for work, and while I was born Yankee, I was raised Appalachian. Porch swings, sweet tea, handmade quilts and phrases like "y'all" and "over yonder" were part of my life. Summers were spent visiting my grandparents in the hills of Ohio and the foothills of the Smokies. The sparkling light as it hit the green landscape in the humid summer mornings are reflected in the many pieces that make up my work.
Stacey Riley Stewart OH
I have never been away from Appalachia Ohio for long. It is home. Friends and family are always near, and the community is very supportive. As a native Appalachian, I have become increasingly aware of my accent and the judgment that goes along with it. Through my art I explore the perceived connection that exists between the ability to speak and write “correctly” and the level of intelligence, attempting to dispel the stereotype.
Cheryl Todd OH
Growing up in the Appalachian foothills, I spent most of my free time outdoors so my love of the landscapes of my native region runs deep. When I retired, I knew that I wanted to reconnect with nature and engage in creative work so I began my quest to become a better photographer and to capture images of the woods and waterfalls, hills and hollows, animals and plants that are our part of our Appalachian legacy. As an artist, I hope my work evokes a spark of wonder in others and kindles a longing to explore and protect our embattled and subtly vanishing natural world.
Wendy Minor Viny OH
I am a mother, artist and craftivist. My current work is an exploration of balancing the demands of raising two young kids with a self preserving need to create; all against the backdrop of the beauty and heartbreak of Appalachia. What started out as a mundane task has become my absorbing errand. Each day that I pick up my children from school (a 25 minute drive, one way through rural Appalachia) I shoot photos with my iphone from the window of my truck. Shooting blind from the window allows for accidental beauty and for the later discovery of what's been captured. What once was a drive consumed by thoughts and worries of daily life has now become my new creative space.
Roger May is an Appalachian American photographer and writer based in Charleston, West Virginia. He was born in the Tug River Valley, located on the West Virginia and Kentucky state line, in the heart of Hatfield and McCoy country. His photographs, essays, and interviews have been published by the New York Times, the Guardian, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera America, National Geographic,Southern Cultures, Huffington Post, Quartz, the Oxford American, Le Monde diplomatique, and others. In February 2014, he started the crowd sourced Looking at Appalachia project. May speaks about his work, about the visual representation of Appalachia, and photographs on commission. He blogs at Walk your camera.
Randi Ward is a poet, translator, lyricist, and photographer from Belleville, WV. She earned her MA in Cultural Studies from the University of the Faroe Islands and is a recipient of the American-Scandinavian Foundation's Nadia Christensen Prize. Ward is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Vencil: Anthology of Contemporary Faroese Literature, World Literature Today, and other publications. Her work has also been featured on Folk Radio UK, NPR, and PBS NewsHour. Cornell University Library established the Randi Ward Collection in its Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections in 2015. Whipstitches, Ward’s second full-length poetry collection, was published by MadHat Press in 2016. For more information, please visit randiward.com/about.