Artists at Work set to celebrate anniversary

ELKINS – During the summer of 1993, Elkins noticed something new in an empty store front on Davis Avenue: the lights were on, the facade was freshly painted, framed art was on the walls and the sign on the glass announced “Artists at Work.”

Two and a half decades later, on Saturday, there will be an open house and “birthday party” celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Elkins art cooperative Artists at Work. The public is invited to join the celebration which will run from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.

Artists at Work (AAW), is one of several artist-run cooperatives in West Virginia, but in 1993 the model was relatively new in West Virginia.

The brain-child of well-known watercolorist Kathryn Gillispie, AAW was formed to showcase and sell local fine art and craft, to raise public awareness about art and art education and tie the arts to the business community. The name reflected the commitment that the artist on duty would be at work on his or her art when visitors came in to the shop. The “work table” is still the centerpiece of the gallery.

Since its inception, Artists at Work has never closed or been on hiatus, has received accolades from the state of West Virginia’s arts departments and agencies, was featured in the book The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America, has offered art classes to children and adults and has served as a business model for other art and craft cooperatives within West Virginia and other states.

Gillispie explains, “What made AAW different at the time is that we set up business principles that we stuck to: we had by-laws, artists shared equally in paying expenses and working shifts in the shop, but were paid in full for art sold. We started with five members and in a year expanded to 20. We knew we had to be open consistently to be taken seriously as a business and to successfully make sales, and it worked.”

Gillispie credits many Elkins people and organizations like the Seneca Trails Art Guild, Mary Frances Shepler, the GFWC Women’s Club of Elkins, Jerry Metheny and Max Armentrout for lending business knowledge and support in the early years.

Artists at Work started out with five members — Gillispie, Susan S. Johnston, Jesse Reed, Marjory Moses and Linda Piccarillo — at 220 Davis Ave.. The late Bill McWhorter joined soon after.

When the group juried in 14 more artists, the gallery moved to its present location at 329 Davis Ave., beside the Old Brick Playhouse. Many well-known artists in Randolph County have been a member at some time during the 25-year history of the co-op including Ruth Blackwell-Rogers, Leslie Gordon, Cindy Sandeno, Michael Davis, Laurie Gunderson and Brad Basil who designed the logo. Today the gallery also features artists from Webster, Upshur, Barbour, and Pocahontas counties.

Pam Roberts, who creates jewelry, paintings and music, has been a member consistently since1995, and says that she’s proud of the commitment AAW has always had to nurture the arts in the region.

“After one of our craftsmen, Charlie Willett, passed away,” she said. “Our members wanted to do something to honor his spirit, so we created a fund for a woodworking scholarship at the Wood Technology Center in Elkins, The person who won the scholarship, Dave Medlock, is now a member of the gallery — it’s nice to have that connection continue.”

The artist roster at AAW has changed over the years as life changes like family and professional commitments or moving have caused some members to leave, some of whom later re-join like current AAW president Dave Shombert. Shombert has praise for Gillispie who was president of the co-op for 20 years until moving to Pocahontas County where she is currently running another art co-op in Green Bank.

Shombert said, “The camaraderie and being part of a community of creative people drew me back to the gallery which we think is the longest- running co-op that is open every day in West Virginia. If you’ve never been in Artists at Work or you think it might be a stuffy ‘art gallery,’ we encourage you to stop in — you’ll find it’s anything but that.”

Current members include Anne Beardslee, Joy Cooper, Grey Darden, Alice Gervais-Sabatino, Sara Golden, Kate Goodrich-Arling, Don Hall, Kate Harward, Denise Heckel, Christine Keller, Kirsten Medlock, Dave and Jake Medlock, Marjory Moses, June Proctor, Linda Walker Roberts, Pam Roberts, Jo and Lynn Rudloff, Kate Searfoss, Joe Shipp, Linda Silva, Dave Shombert, Debbie Sorensen and Gretchen VanNostrand.

Their work includes paintings, prints, photographs, pottery, jewelry, CDs, books, cards, woodwork, basketry and textiles — all quality, original and hand-crafted.

Artists at Work invites the public to stop by the anniversary open house from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday for refreshments, mingling with artists, music and shopping for unique, fine art and craft gifts. The shop is located at 329 Davis Ave. in Elkins and is open seven days a week, year- round except on major holidays.

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