Artists at Work fighting for survival
ELKINS — Artists at Work, located downtown on South Davis Avenue, is one of the oldest artist cooperatives in West Virginia. It was established in 1993, has never been closed and has even been used as a model for other artist cooperatives.
The gallery features 18 artists, including photographers, painters, a jeweler, one wood turner, an author, poets, zine and fiber artists, and textile artists.
“This is pretty much the only place in Elkins where you can buy handcrafted, genuine art. Everything in here is made by an individual, or two individuals working together. It’s handmade art,” said wood turner Dave Shombert, president of Artists at Work.
Unfortunately, the gallery is currently facing the possibility of closing. This would be a cultural and historical loss for the town, members of the cooperative said.
“Elkins is trying to promote itself and reinvent itself as a place for tourists to come,” said jewelry maker Marj Moses, vice president of Artists at Work. “Any time tourism is being promoted, nowadays, it’s not just the surroundings and the environment — you can bike, you can hunt, you can fish, you can ski — but to have people come into town. I’ve heard Elkins described as the three-legged jewel of art, music and food. That is what a thriving downtown has to have. We really provide the art.”
Currently the gallery is in a transitional phase, as several longterm members have moved away or decided to opt out of being in the cooperative. Artists at Work is now welcoming younger members who are artistically gifted to join this colorful business.
Emily Prentice is the newest and youngest member of the gallery. Prentice’s zine and fiber art is less traditional than some of the other pieces in the store.
“I grew up here in Elkins and remember always coming in here and loving it. It was my favorite place to come,” Prentice said. “Being an artist in Elkins, a lot of times people think that you can’t make it in rural areas and in a smaller community. I have not found that to be the case, and I really wanted to invest in my community rather than selling my work online.”
The gallery is welcoming to all kinds of artists, but they are currently searching for glass artists, basket makers, weavers, leather artists, clothing makers and wood makers.
“We are always looking for new talents!” said author and Artists at Work member Joe Shipp.
Over time, the gallery has had customers from Washington State, Oregon and Europe.
“When tourists stop by the shop, they become very excited because they almost always find something to take home and show off their findings to their friends and family! We think and wish that when someone is shopping for something for their walls or for a gift, that local people would be just as excited as the tourists to come here,” Moses said.
“I had two ladies from Clarksburg two months ago that specifically came to Elkins to come here! That kind of thing always lifts your spirits,” Shipp said.
The best thing local residents can do to help the cooperative survive is to come into the store and show their support.
“It is surprising that so many people who are local will come in and say that they have never been here before. Sometimes I wonder if it is that we call ourselves a gallery, or if they look in and see paintings and don’t come in because of the preconceived notion that it is sterile and stiff. This is the opposite of what we are as an art gallery. Our door is always open, we have music playing, and we are welcoming of our customers,” Moses said.
Artists at Work plans to have more public events and open their doors for all First Friday events this summer to help save the gallery.
Those who are interested in showing support may stop by at 329 Davis Avenue or call 304-637-6309. The Artists at Work gallery also has active social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram.