The art of collaboration – Artist draws plan, contractor brings it to life

The artist and the contractor – Ron Radcliff, left, and Ken Jones, stand on the under construction porch at Radcliff’s home in Green Bank. Radcliff designed the addition and Jones is “nailing it.” S. Stewart photo
The artist and the contractor – Ron Radcliff, left, and Ken Jones, stand on the under construction porch at Radcliff’s home in Green Bank. Radcliff designed the addition and Jones is “nailing it.” S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

When it came time to add a wrap-around porch to his house, Green Bank resident Ron Radcliff took matters into his own hands, to an extent.

Radcliff, a talented artist, drew a plan to suit the vision he had for the porch and took it to his friend, contractor Ken Jones.

Jones took the drawing and is in the process of creating the roofed porch which will double as an art studio/gallery and gathering place for friends.

“It has a lot of potential for me,” Radcliff said. “It’s a big step for me since this area is not the same as the area I came from. I came from an area with nine hundred, fifty thousand people and a lot of artists. I come over here and it’s mostly craftspeople, but the need for fine arts is there, too. For me, this is my special place.”

While most homeowners use a porch for relaxation or a place to visit with friends and family, Radcliff plans to expand on that concept and turn it into his pottery and painting studio.

“At times this is going to be an outside gallery,” he said. “I’ll have pottery out here. Sometimes, this will have paintings hanging on it and we’re doing track lighting above so it will look like a gallery. I’ve always thought of having slide shows on that wall that’s blank out there and whenever I have my pottery firings, which are raku, then they can see the potter, or see other things and use it as a teaching experience.”

In the plan, Radcliff created an eye-drawing entrance to the porch which will entice visitors to explore the porch and find the art on display.

“With the trellis on that end – it’s going to have flowering vines on it and it will be a draw,” he said. “That’s the whole point behind this, to let people know I live here, and that I’m an artist, and that I do pottery and painting.”

Working with Radcliff, Jones was able to meet the specifications of the porch and added his own artistic elements to the project.

“It’s kind of one step at a time,” Jones said. “We work together on things like how far the stairs come out. I made these stairs a lot wider than what common stairs are made because they’re way more comfortable like that. I didn’t really know what I was wanting to do with the beams at first and I woke up one morning and had the idea in my head to put a box beam up here and wrap it in cedar. We’re playing it by ear, really. It has evolved essentially.”

Throughout the collaboration, the two artists have learned a lot about one another.

“He comes up with things I wouldn’t have thought of and if I had been building it, believe me, it would have fallen apart by now,” Radcliff said. “He knows what he’s doing. For one guy to do this, it’s been a real challenge.”

“I like to be challenged,” Jones replied. “I have previous experience from other projects. I’ve been exposed to a lot of neat stuff, and I don’t like things that are common. Creativity is working with somebody who has an idea, but then you have to put the practicality and the engineering part of it in, too.”

Although Jones has been a contractor for nearly seven years and has worked on a lot of projects, he’s never worked on a house quite like Radcliffs. The house was originally built in Edray around 1849.
“It was rebuilt by Jim Shepard, piece by piece, the old way and then he had that extension put on it and he used all recycled wood,” Radcliff said. “Even some of the flooring is out of the original house. I think it was a hay barn at one time.”

The land where the house originally stood and the land it is on now both played interesting parts in the history of Pocahontas County.

“They tell me that the road where this house was, there was a vee. You go down that road and it stood at that entry where there’s a parish house now,” Radcliff said. “That was a Confederate camp at that time. Now they tell me this is where the Yankees camped when they came through Green Bank and fixed food out of a garden that was right there. These women here were Confederate sympathizes that chewed tobacco and spit in the food they gave the Yankees, so there is history, whether it’s true or not, it lends to the area.”

Radcliff said he also has a photograph of the house in Edray. In the photo, a cow is leaning against the house, which reminded him of the Lee Marvin movies with a leaning horse.

Considering the history and the age of the house, Jones was met with a few obstacles, but he managed to work around them.

“He’s had his problems with this house,” Radcliff said. “This house was not built to specifications that were perfect. Let me tell you, we’ve had a learning experience about that.”

“This is a very well-built house, but these walls come in and out,” Jones added. “Usually, you just have straight walls, so each one of these rafters was custom cut. I couldn’t make just one pattern and be able to knock out all my rafters. Everything was custom because of the nature of the home. It has been a lot more challenging on that aspect because it’s more time consuming and you have to fit everything in place. It was tough.”

While Jones is used to working with more modern homes – he’s been a contractor for The Greenbrier for two years now – he approaches every project in the same manner.

“Everything you do from the beginning affects the project throughout,” he said. “If you don’t have everything done right from the foundation of the project, everything is going to follow suit. Everything you do has a consequence in this. When you’re really in the heat of doing something, you don’t want to make too many mistakes that are going to set you back in time and frustration later on, because it affects everything.”

Through his work at The Greenbrier, Jones has learned about design and materials which are popular in architecture right now. He brought that knowledge to his work on Radcliff’s porch.

“It’s been a neat experience,” he said. “Those are really beautiful homes. Just like the cedar fascia was my suggestion because I’ve been exposed to this type of material in what I do. Copper goes good with cedar and that’s why they use it in higher end areas like that. It gives you a nice look.”

The collaboration between artist and contractor won’t end when the porch is finished. Radcliff said he is far from done with additions to the house and he wants Jones to be the one to make the additions.

“I’ve still got other things to do myself,” Radcliff said. “We probably have other things in mind. I have a lot of plans, I just don’t know if I have all the time in the world and that’s why I’m hiring him. He was the right choice. There’s no doubt about it.”

It is obvious when the two speak about the project that they have grown to be friends and colleagues. They both have an appreciation for the artist abilities of one another.

“When he did the sketch of this lattice work here at the end for this trellis system, it impressed me because he put it together so fast and it really looks nice,” Jones said. “It’s going to add a whole other element down there. I think it’s really neat that he’s able to do that. He has the creativity and the ability to put it together.”

“He can also tell you from the sketch what the construction issues are going to be and that’s one of the things we’ve dealt with,” Radcliff added. “We think we’ve got some of those whipped because I threw it at him after the fact. That does make a difference.”

By the end of construction, both men will come out of the project with a better understanding of one another’s craft and have gained inspiration for future projects.

“It’s fun for me because I like people who are different, from different areas who don’t have the common, run-of-the-mill type thinking,” Jones said. “To me, I like that abstract thinking and I just relate well with people who are…”

“We mentor each other,” Radcliff interjected.

“Absolutely,” Jones replied. “It is refreshing to me because I enjoy people and working with them. I think it’s neat to make somebody’s dreams happen. I mean that. I think that’s an important part of life that we have to see other people’s dreams, and through that, your dreams come true, also. Even something that may seem insignificant to some, can mean the world to others.”

With the porch and what it will become within his grasp, Radcliff is inspired and ready to return to creating pottery and painting the scenes around him.

“This is my inspiration to do more than what I’ve done here, too,” he said. “I intend to start doing raku again and that’s one of the reasons I need this, too, is because people can stand on this deck and watch me fire. Raku is where you fire outside and you use propane, or you can use wood, too, and you use oil drip, wood fire, and saw dust firing. Raku is something that is visual and once you see it come out of a kiln, it’s hot and then there’s a smoke. It’s kind of exciting to watch.”

Jones plans to have the porch completed in the next few weeks, at which time, Radcliff will return to his art. The materials for the project were purchased at Deer Creek Supply near Cass.

Radcliff is a member of the Pocahontas County Artisan Co-op and has work for sale at the 4th Avenue Gallery, in Marlinton.

Suzanne Stewart may be cotnacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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