Artist Spotlight: railroad inspiration

WITH RENOVATIONS TO Green Bank Gallery’s storefront complete, the artists now have additional space to display their work. Above, three of Amy McGrew’s quilted wall hangings are featured on the new wall, and to the right of the cabinet, a selection of McGrew’s satin wall hangings can be seen. C. D. Moore photo
WITH RENOVATIONS TO Green Bank Gallery’s storefront complete, the artists now have additional space to display their work. Above, three of Amy McGrew’s quilted wall hangings are featured on the new wall, and to the right of the cabinet, a selection of McGrew’s satin wall hangings can be seen. C. D. Moore photo

Cailey Moore
Staff Writer

There is a common theme among artisans in the county, and each of them embraces the traditions rooted in Appalachian culture. For some, it’s woodworking and bringing old-time music to life on handcrafted fiddles and guitars while, for others, it’s turning the art of necessity into a fond pastime.

Last week’s Artist Spotlight embraced Jane Beverage’s growth from necessity to pastime in her quilting, and in the midst of her interview, Beverage credited friend and Green Bank Gallery artist Amy McGrew with bringing her quilts to fruition long after she had retired from hand-stitching.

This week, the light turns north to introduce artists from the upper end of the county in the spotlight series.

Amy McGrew has been a member of the Green Bank Gallery for three and a half years, and began her journey into the world of quilting back in 2004. Unlike some of our previous spotlight artists, McGrew did not begin quilting under the tutelage of her family – despite having a quilter and a seamstress for grandmothers.

“My grandmothers passed when I was younger,” she explained, “so I never really got an opportunity to learn from them.”

Rather, McGrew began in the wake of encouragement from a dear friend.

It took some work, but Leana Donner-Thompson – of American Made Heirlooms based out of Ohio – convinced McGrew to keep her company while her husband was ill.

“We scheduled Monday nights as our quilting nights,” McGrew explained, “and we took over her dining room table. The first couple of nights, I would bring my grandmother’s treadle machine and work on that, but I quickly realized I needed another machine. A treadle isn’t exactly something you can tote with you everywhere.”

Eventually, the community caught wind of what Donner-Thompson and McGrew were doing and began bringing unfinished family quilts to the women for them to finish.

“It was in that moment we realized we needed something more efficient,” McGrew said. “We began looking into longarm quilting machines, and once we did that, we never looked back. I think Leana even has two now.”

McGrew has since returned to West Virginia and continues to quilt – drawing inspiration from traditional and nontraditional quilting styles, as well as nine years of experience working as a locomotive fireman at Cass Railroad.

Each locomotive-inspired quilt and wall hanging features a stitched replica of Cass Scenic Railroad engine numbers. Each emblem is hand-painted with metallic paint to mimic an authentic railroad feel.

When she’s not designing and quilting for her railroad line, McGrew can be found quilting in Celtic and traditional styles, specializing in star pieces. She begins her process by searching for a focal fabric. Once she’s found a fabric that speaks to her, McGrew then begins to build her quilt.

For her non-traditional quilts, McGrew does the exact opposite. Rather than searching for a focal fabric to begin with, McGrew starts her non-traditional quilts with an idea already in mind and works back, searching for fabrics that will showcase her original design.

“I’ve got quite the embarrassing stash of unused fabric I keep adding to,” she admitted with a laugh. “Right now, I primarily work with cotton fabrics, but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of working with satin. I’ve done a couple of pieces here and there, but I haven’t fully branched out into it yet.”

Just as McGrew’s processes vary, so do the times it takes her to complete each project. For small quilts and wall hangings, it might only take her a couple of days to complete, but for others – such as the larger pieces – it can take McGrew as long as 100 hours to finish.

“It all just depends,” she added.

A couple of McGrew’s works – including quilted, railroad and satin wall hangings – are currently on display at the Green Bank Gallery, but for a more in-depth look at what McGrew offers, examples of her work can be found online at CassShop.com.

The Green Bank Gallery is located at along Rt. 28/92 and is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The gallery can be reached at 304-456-9900.

Fifth in a series of articles highlighting artists in the county.

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