Posted: October 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm

By Marisa Matyola, Samantha Redd and Curtis Tenney

Morgantown, W.Va. — For local artists in Morgantown, finding exposure for their work can be as easy as walking downtown.

Several stores and galleries in Morgantown utilize local art to accent their window displays and dramatize their exhibits.

Jeannie Kuhn, executive director of Arts Monongahela, said the art scene in Morgantown is limited but expanding. There are a large number of non-profit arts groups, dance groups, galleries and historical museums in Morgantown. Arts Monongahela serves as an umbrella organization that covers them all and links them together when planning community events.

“I wish people would realize how important we are for the community. They need to realize they need to support us because we make a huge economic impact on the community,” Kuhn said. “We’re here making a positive impression with the talent of Morgantown.”

Kuhn’s job includes seeking out quality art made by local artists to display in MonArt’s professional gallery. The gallery hosts about six visual shows a year.

“I like to find music groups to perform when we have a show, find music that complements the art or to play when somebody performs a reading,” Kuhn said. “I think that’s when we’re at our best—when we’re combining the creative energies of different mediums and they zing off of each other. Many writers get inspired to create different art after writing their book and many musicians get inspired by books they’ve read. Art all works together.”

Shops and galleries that promote local artists benefit not only the artists but the community as well. Sharing otherwise unknown art can help develop relationships between local artists and the community, lead art lovers to discover new artists and explore a variety of media, advance artists’ careers and encourage a vibrant community.

“Promoting for local artists is something very important to us being that we are artisans ourselves,” said Robin Dallas, manager of The Bead Monster on High Street. “Some of the beads that are available in our store were made by local artists.”

The pieces available at the various shops in town are a celebration of the Mountain State’s rich Appalachian culture. Local art not only enhances the community with its beauty and creative nature, but keeps the local economy thriving. Embracing and supporting art can increase revenue and promote tourism.

The featured wares at Tanner’s Alley Leather Design Studio, located in Morgantown W.Va., are crafted one at a time. Owner Charles McEwuen works with local designers and suppliers to offer a unique look and feel. Photo/Curtis Tenney

The work displayed at the Appalachian Gallery located on Walnut Street is almost all made in West Virginia. The gallery exhibits art made by more than 100 artists, more than half of which are from the greater Morgantown area.

The gallery has everything from paintings and pen and ink drawings, homemade greeting cards and wood-work to crocheted finger puppets, handmade toys and jewelry of every kind.

“We have various degrees of professional and amateur artists,” said Laurie Nugent, co-owner of the Appalachian Gallery. “We have some that do it simply as a hobby—something they enjoy doing for fun. And I think it’s nice for them to have their work displayed here. For others, however, their art is their career and their main source of income.”

Nugent has carried work by student artists in the past. A few years ago, a student came to visit with her jewelry that she made a way to relieve stress. The gallery still carries her jewelry today.

Charles McEwuen, owner of Tanner’s Alley Leather Design Studio on High Street, said he usually finds the jewelry he buys to display in his store when customers come in to look around, and he starts up a conversation with them.

“It’s usually people that are just dabbling in jewelry secondarily, but it’s nice for them because it provides some auxiliary income, and if they are interested in furthering their artistry career, this gives them some exposure,” he said.

Rachel White, a WVU fashion design and merchandising student from Charleston, W.Va., recently had her hats exhibited at Coni and Franc’s on High Street. The store utilizes local artists’ pieces such as jewelry, hats and purses in their display windows.

“When Rachel stopped by to ask us about our displays, she showed me one of her hats, and I thought it was extraordinary,” said Connie Merandi, co-owner of the shop. “I hadn’t seen a milliner in a long time. Rachel has finesse and talent. A hat is like a piece of jewelry or an extraordinary handbag; some are boring with no personality at all, but not Rachel’s. They were like, ‘Look at me, talk to me, I’m here.’ I like to showcase artists like that.”

When Merandi asked White if she would like to display her hats at the store, she was ecstatic.

“To have somebody want to look at or buy my hats, it’s the same feeling as seeing a garment you made go down the runway for the first time. It’s amazing,” White said.


West Virginia University fashion design student Rachel White displays her hats and jewelry during the Arts Walk in downtown Morgantown’s Coni & Franc. Photo/ Curtis Tenney