For at least 40,000 years, humans have created art. A local group was hampered in its efforts to foster the arts in Pocahontas County, but has launched a new effort to expand art opportunity and training.
For three years, the Pocahontas County Art Guild lost more than half of its studio space in Marlinton, for use as a temporary fitness center. Parks and Recreation officials set up a mini-gym in the studio as they awaited completion of the town wellness center. The arrangement provided a small fitness center, but disrupted guild classes and meetings.
Now that the gym equipment has been removed, the guild is re-starting art classes and recruiting new members.
Guild President Cyla Allison began her art career at the guild seven years ago.
“When I started out here, I didn’t know which end of the brush to use,” she said.
Allison, who specializes in watercolors, now sells her paintings at a local gallery.
“This year, I sold 10 paintings, which for me is phenomenal, that someone likes my stuff enough to put it in their house and pay money for it,” she said.
Now that the guild has reclaimed its studio, Allison is leading an effort to revitalize the group.
“It was a gym and we couldn’t work in here,” she said. “Now we’re back and we’re going to give it a whirl and see if we can get back to what we were doing before.”
The guild welcomes artists of all skill levels.
“If you’re a beginner, come on down and try it,” said Allison. “An advanced person can come here and work and share with us. If you want to come here and sit in a corner and do your own thing, that’s fine. We have a pot of coffee, so just come in and say hi.”
Allison’s husband, Eric Stahl, teaches pottery classes.
“I started here about six years ago,” he said. “I teach occasionally. If two or three people want to get an introduction, I’ll do an introduction. We’ve got clay; we’ve got two wheels. I’ll get you started. We’ll start with, ‘this is clay, this is a wheel, here’s how you center it, here’s how you bring up the first couple of pulls.’ And if people want to go further, I’ll work with them.”
Guild members rallied at the Marlinton studio on Saturday to talk about why they joined and what they get out of it.
The guild’s newest member, Amy Cimarolli, joined to give herself a little “me time.”
“I have a little watercolor set and I’ve been trying on my own and was ready to take some lessons and spend more time on art,” she said. “So I showed up here and met this great group of people. I’ve gotten a lot of help here and I learn so much every week, because I’m a beginner. Everyone is very open and willing to share what they know. I’ve connected better with artists in this community and I’ve also learned about the network of art instructors in the Greenbrier and Pocahontas County area, so I can find more lessons to attend.”
The guild provides an opportunity to learn painting, drawing, pottery and sculpture. Michelle Jeffers, of Hillsboro, said beginners should not feel embarrassed.
“I’m still learning and trying out,” she said. “I initially started in the fall, then I semi-un-retired and I’m working again. But when I get the opportunity I like to come down. Whatever Cyla is teaching for the day, that’s what I’m learning for the day. I’m a pre-beginner in terms of art. I’m the person that, if anyone would have any hesitation about coming down here and trying something – they just need to look at my abilities and what I don’t know and feel very comfortable.”
Jeffers experimented with different types of painting and pottery since joining.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I’ve met a lot of people. I don’t know how I would have met them otherwise. It’s just the companionship and working with each other that’s great.”
Ellie Gay, of Marlinton, is an experienced painter who creates beautiful watercolors – but still calls herself a beginner.
“I’m always going to be a beginner, in the sense that there’s so much more to learn,” she said. “That’s the exciting thing about art. You never learn everything because everything always expands. Something leads to something else and you take another tangent or another style or another method of painting. You go on and keep growing.”
Gay said guild membership has its advantages – including good fellowship.
“Primarily, being with this wonderful group of people, under Cyla’s direction,” she said. “She’s just been outstanding in getting the group going. She’s given so much of her time and energy. She’s so helpful with people who are beginning.”
The oldest known cave art is in Spain – crimson hand stencils – possibly made by Neanderthals. Modern man has learned that creating art is a healthy and productive emotional outlet.
“My life is science,” said Cimarolli. “I’m a forester, so the chance to be creative, I just crave it. It’s just something I need to do, is do art. It’s a different avenue to express yourself.”
“I think people want to comment on their world,” said Allison. “I think we’re all part of it and we need to express how we see it. I see it differently from you and from everyone here. You can see that in my paintings.”
“I started painting to learn something new,” said Jeffers. “As you retire you look at where you’re going to go with your interests and your life. I had no artistic background, but I wanted to learn something new.”
Individual guild memberships cost $25 a year and couples can join for $35. The fee covers the use of the studio and basic supplies. On February 7, the guild is sponsoring a pastels class with artist Rose Dobbins at the guild studio, in the lower level of the Board of Education building in Marlinton. The cost of the class is $25 and a guild membership is not required. For more information on the Art Guild, call Cyla Allison at 304-653-4164.
“We want to open this up to the community,” said Allison. “It’s a wonderful opportunity, a wonderful facility. We’ve got some very knowledgeable people here and artists need to be supported. That creative urge, that we all have, needs to have a place where other people can support it and give it some tools to move along.”