Laura Dean Bennett
Professional wildlife artist Kathryn Lehotsky joined the Pocahontas County Artisans Co-op in November 2019.
Lehotsky has worked as a university administrator, a director of tourism and the executive director of a community art center, and she’s been a professional artist for most of her career.
Lehotsky was born and raised in West Virginia, spent much of her adult life in Ohio, but has now happily returned to her home state to be closer to her family.
“In late 2019, my husband and I were thrilled to move to Caldwell,” Lehotsky said with a smile.
“Over the last eight years, I began to use a medium that was new to me – watercolors.
“My husband and I spent six of those years in a remote area of Western North Carolina.
“We lived in a log cabin, and my studio looked out onto a trout river where I could observe wildlife up close,” she explained.
“I used that experience to hone my skills as a watercolorist.
“Soon, animals like the bobcat, coyote, beaver, bear, raccoon, trout, owl, hawk and eagle all became subjects of my paintings.
“During that time, I built an inventory of my newest artistic undertaking, one that took me two years to perfect.
“Using a 000 brush, I paint on 300 pound Arches watercolor paper with thousands of tiny strokes,” the artist detailed.
“This process transforms a completed watercolor painting into what resembles oils by coating the finished work with a special material, applying a finish, then mounting the piece to a wood ‘block.’
“Once complete, the painting does not have to be framed under glass.
“Instead, it can be seen and touched in its purest form without harm. I believe the process enhances the lively and colorful nature of watercolors.
Lehotsky refers to the work as “art blocks,” and they can be hung on the wall, placed on a shelf or mantel, or put on a table.
Her current subjects include fish and birds – from songbirds to raptors – and all manner of other animals.
Her talent surfaced early and she began her art education at a young age.
“I was nine years old when my mother hired an acclaimed artist from Hungary, who was living near us in St. Albans, to teach me about drawing and painting portraits,” Lehotsky recalled.
When she was sixteen, she entered a statewide art competition and won first place.
The prize was an invitation to stay on campus at WVU that following summer and study with master artists and take art history classes from university professors.
“It changed my life,” Lehotsky said, beaming.
“From that point on, I knew what I wanted to do with my life – paint!”
Lehotsky went to Ohio University’s school of art and design, majored in painting and met her husband, Alexander Lehotsky, who is a retired Social Security executive. She continued her art education at Kent State University while working there as an administrator.
“I worked at Kent State for almost ten years,” she said.
“At the same time, I painted at home and like many people in the arts, I started selling my oil paintings at church craft shows and nearby city festivals.
Lehotsky then began travelling across the country to sell her work at art shows, craft shows and galleries.
“I spent 20 years on the road, selling my work that way,” she said.
“I am most proud of the fact that with my two hands and the sale of my art, I put our son through his bachelor’s degree at Ohio State and helped him pay for his law degree at the University of Kentucky.”
Over the years, Lehotsky has been honored for her art many times.
She received the Yankee Peddler Craftsman of the Year award twice and won several art competitions and awards in shows throughout the country.
In addition to her love of painting, she also worked as the director of a community art center and gallery, and wrote numerous federal, state, and local grants to support art projects and programs in her community.
“One was from the esteemed Ohio Humanities Council for a grant that I wrote and implemented on the art and history of the Underground Railroad in Southeast Ohio,” she said. “That exhibit had to be extended several times since thousands of people came from far and wide to see it.
“Along with historians in the field, I was asked to testify at a Congressional Committee in Washington to support the preservation of UGRR sites throughout the United States.”
She has participated in the Columbus Ohio Art Festival, Three Rivers Art Festival in Pittsburgh, Yankee Peddler Festival, Sugarloaf Festivals in Gaithersburg, New Jersey, Michigan, Maryland, Virginia; Ripley Art Festival and Richmond Art Festival.
Her work is on display at the National Folk Art Museum in New York City, and at the Hermitage Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 2012, Lehotsky was invited to display her framed watercolors of songbirds and raptors in a one-woman show at the prestigious Glen Helen Atrium Gallery in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Her brilliant bird portraits are currently on display in several galleries and shops in Ohio and Virginia.
The Lehotskys were living in Murphy, North Carolina, when they began to look for a new place to live – someplace where Al could enjoy hiking and biking.
“I really wanted to move back to my home state of West Virginia to be near my family in the Charleston area,” Lehotsky remembered. “I had seen a TV show where they featured bike enthusiasts who rode in a bike club in Lewisburg.
“We checked it out and found that Greenbrier and Pocahontas County had the Greenbrier River Trail that goes from Caldwell to Cass for more than 75 miles.
“My husband, a biking enthusiast, was intrigued, so we visited Lewisburg and felt it would be a good place for us to spend the rest of our lives.
“Al walks our dog, Murphy, twice a day on the trail and he runs on it almost every day and bikes in good weather.”
The couple settled in and Lehotsky began to explore the art scene in the area.
In December 2020, her work was accepted at Tamarack.
“Being a Tamarack artist has been one of my greatest achievements, and I’m so proud that my paintings are often on display in the Dickerson Gallery there,” she explained.
Lehotsky also joined the Pocahontas County Artisan Co-Op.
It came about, like so many of life’s important moments, through a chance meeting.
Not long after they’d moved to Lewisburg, they went to the Lewisburg Farmer’s Market and ran into Brenda and Woody Harman, artisans from Pocahontas County.
The Harmons were demonstrating their work – Brenda’s brooms and Woody’s ironwork –and, as they were members of the PCAC, they had Pocahontas County Artisans Co-Op fliers on their table.
“I asked her a lot of questions about the Co-op and decided to go to Marlinton and look it over,” Lehotsky recalled.
“I had spent six years in Murphy, in our log cabin, painting birds, and it was wonderful, but there were no artist co-ops and no galleries within a hundred miles – no outlets for my work.
“So to find an artisans co-op in a town so close to our new home was an absolute answer to a prayer,” she said, smiling.
“Now my goal is to reach out to other West Virginia artists to share some of the skills and experiences I’ve had over a lifetime of working in the arts.
“I am also looking forward to learning from them for the same reasons.
“What gives me the most satisfaction is creating something that engages the viewer and helps me grow as an artist,” the artist mused.
Kathryn Lehotsky’s remarkably lifelike and unusual nature watercolor paintings are available at both Pocahontas County Artisan galleries – 4th Avenue Gallery in the depot in Marlinton and in Cass at the Shops of Leatherbark Ford gallery.
They are also available at Anne Walker’s shop, Handmade West Virginia, on Droop Mountain.