The Women of Appalachia Project brings together women, from throughout Appalachian Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, that have various fine art and spoken word backgrounds, to take on the Appalachian stereotypes, and present a different side of the region in which these women reside.
Earlier in January, I was able to sit down with the founder of the Women of Appalachia Project, Kari Gunter-Seymour, and several of the artists and volunteers, as they were hanging their latest exhibit, to discuss their involvement with the Women of Appalachia Project.
Historically, the Appalachian Region includes all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission the Appalachian Region covers 420 counties, almost 205,000 square miles and is home to more than 25 million people.
Founder and creator Kari Gunter-Seymour first started envisioning the Women of Appalachia Project back in 2004, which took several years of planning until it would come to fruition.
“There was some really beautiful art coming out of this area, both male and female,” Gunter-Seymour said. “A friend once told me that ‘It was a lot easier to make a job, than it was to find a job’, and I thought it would be easier to make a show and make a performance than it would be to actually find a performance that several of us could be in. That was the thought, how can I help myself, and several of us that are just like me, who are looking for a warm environment, that the artwork can be of diverse genres, and that would welcome emerging artists as well as established artists.”
The first year the Women of Appalachia Project started with nine artists total, five visual artists and four spoken word artists, all from Athens County. The following year the call for artists opened up to women from surrounding counties. This year marks the seventh year of the project and includes visual and spoken artists from Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.
“I’m very excited and I feel like in this seven years’ time there has been amazing growth,” Gunter-Seymour said. “I can’t take all of the credit for this, I have to speak to the artists who take this leap of faith with me, and to the multitude of volunteers who step up to help with whatever I ask. I think that there is this energy that comes along with this project that makes people feel really good, number one, being an artist, and number two, being a volunteer, doing something really valuable for this area of Appalachia.”
One of the new artists this year is Barbara Fisher, from Athens, Ohio, who is a multimedium artist who uses various forms on canvas, such as acrylic, paper, pencil, ink, watercolor and found objects. Fisher wanted to become involved in the project because she felt that she had a story to tell, and a region to represent.
“West Virginia is the only state in Appalachia that is completely confined to the Appalachian Region, all of the other states are only partially in Appalachia,” Fisher said. “So I was steeped in the culture of Appalachia completely. I feel very strongly that the women of Appalachia have been a backbone of their own communities. They have been very strong, and have a vision that relates not only to our lives, but to the region in general.”
Fisher has two artworks on display in the current Women of Appalachia Project exhibition that is on display in the Multicultural Gallery at Ohio University, which runs until April 30. As a mother and a part-time filmmaker, she has felt the struggle of Appalachian women being recognized for their artistic talents and abilities.
“Female artists traditionally have had a lot of trouble getting exposure, have had a lot of problem even getting recognized as artists,” Fisher said. “I think it’s really important that the women in the 20th century are starting to get exposure, and people are going ‘Oh you’re an artist?’ not ‘Oh isn’t that cute? That’s a craft. Isn’t that nice?’ I think it’s important that we all work together and support each other.”
Founder of the project Gunter-Seymour shares a similar viewpoint. She wanted to create a group of creative, supportive women that would be able to grow and help one another.
“We all make friends, we share each others’ triumphs,” Gunter-Seymour said. “We share details about exhibitions and possibilities of exhibition submissions that others can submit to. When one of us prospers, we all prosper.”
The latest Women of Appalachia Project exhibition takes place at the Ohio University Multicultural Gallery (Baker University Center, 2nd floor) and features a mix of paintings, quilts, prints, sculpture, pottery and other artwork. The exhibition runs now until April 20, 2016.
The exhibition will have a special Opening Reception on Friday, February 12 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. that will feature spoken word poetry performances by Women of Appalachia Project artists. During the Opening Reception the first Women of Appalachia Appalachian Advocacy Award will be presented to a local woman, not a fine or spoken artist, who has been nominated for her work in her Appalachian community.
If You Go:
Women of Appalachia Project Art Exhibit
January 12 – April 30, 2016
Ohio University, Baker University Center, 2nd floor
Exhibition Opening Reception
Friday, February 12, 2016
5 p.m. – 8 p.m.