Great artists often feel their skills are wasted unless they pass them on to someone else. That was true for renowned Pocahontas County photographer Doug Chadwick, who taught evening photography classes in the bus garage at Pocahontas County High School in the early 1980s. Chadwick taught students and adults how to use a camera, develop black and white film, print a contact sheet, choose the best photo, make a print, and finally, analyze what makes a good photo and why they liked it.
Retta Blankenship, a gifted-student schoolteacher at the time, assisted Chadwick and also took the training.
“He came in to help us with photography with the kids,” Blankenship said. “It was a wonderful class, for both the kids and me.”
Blankenship continued her avocation in photography and advanced to a high level of skill. Recently, she created stunning landscape photography from locations in Pocahontas County, which she used to create a 2014 calendar. Her artwork has been juried and selected for inclusion in the Pocahontas County Artisans’ Cooperative, which operates galleries in Marlinton, Slaty Fork and Cass. Blankenship’s calendars and other artwork currently are available at the Fourth Avenue Gallery in Marlinton.
The locations Blankenship chose for her most recent project were not randomly selected.
“I didn’t start out to be an artist, I wanted to take pictures of the Quilt Trail,” she said. “I realized there were 12 and I could have a calendar. All I had was an article from The Pocahontas Times to find them. I had a terrible time finding them. But I started to think, ‘If I can’t find these, and I’ve lived in this county for 30 years, how’s anybody else going to find them?’”
Blankenship planned to create a calendar which would not only feature her photography, but also serve as a travel guide to help tourists find the 12 Pocahontas County quilt blocks. She didn’t think of it as an art project until she spoke with Brenda Harman, with the Artisan’s Cooperative.
“She said, ‘these are beautiful, these are wonderful, we would love to have these,’”
As part of a multi-county project, the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau produced eight-foot square quilt blocks, painted on plywood, to draw tourists to the area. Each block features an example of a quilting pattern. The carpentry class at Pocahontas County High School volunteered their time and installed the blocks on the sides of barns and sheds throughout the county.
The brightly colored quilt blocks provide a striking contrast to the aging gray barns on which they are mounted and the pastoral surrounding countryside. The 12 locations in Pocahontas County range from downtown Marlinton to far-flung, back-in-the-hollow farm fields. The amazing take-away from Blankenship’s photography is the stunning beauty of each of these sites.
What’s next for the newest member of the Artisan’s Cooperative?
“I realized we don’t have a lot of people promoting what we have,” said Blankenship. “People ought to be able to have pictures of what we have here. I’m thinking about another calendar, but I’m not going to tell, because I’ve got a cool idea.”
As a service to its members, the Artisans’ Cooperative offers scholarships to attend the John C. Campbell Folk Art School in North Carolina. Cooperative members selected Blankenship to receive the scholarship awardee and attend the school this spring.
“It’s a big deal and I’m so excited,” she said.