From an early age, Jude Binder was creating.
“I started making things when I was a small child, and I would bring home stones and pieces of wood and construct things,” she said.
At 74, the momentum of the Calhoun County multidimensional artist’s career has only picked up. Most recently, the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts selected Binder as the 2017-18 Master Artist Fellowship recipient. Through the fellowship, her work will get a year-long national marketing campaign.
Marketing is an unfamiliar concept for Binder.
“Except for FestivALL, I don’t promote my work,” she said. “I’m very involved at home with the school ... but I don’t have a website.”
Heartwood in the Hills, the multidisciplinary nonprofit school for the performing arts she founded in Calhoun County, does have a website that stresses the school’s mission.
“I don’t promote my work, and my dream has always been to receive commissions so that I could carve wood and create something and know that it was going to be sold. And know that Heartwood was going to have a new roof when it needed it or all the things that make life expensive,” Binder said.
“I thought that if I could get something like this fellowship, I would be involved with people who could give me some guidance and help me achieve this goal of mine. And recognition is a lovely thing.”
She’s a dancer, woodcarver, painter, mask-maker, actor, playwright, graphic artist and teacher. Most of the painting she does is on her masks.
She creates both Balinese wooden masks and cloth masks made of tarlatan, an open-weave cotton fabric. They aren’t meant to be hung or put on display, though. She creates them mostly to dance in.
She started wood carving around 1976. She had injured herself dancing, was in the hospital and started carving, she said.
Before using tarlatan on masks — something she picked up in the ’80s — she relied on paper-mache and chicken wire.
“I was torturing my dancers and myself by putting chicken wire in the masks,” she said. “The paper-mache masks are brittle, so these are really incredible.”
Now she can make a mask that fits so perfectly she can wear it for an hour or more at a time and dance in it, she said.
She adds embellishments like beads and jewels or enhancements like flowers or ribbons to give her masks more personality.
Probably her best known role or performance is as the FestivALL princess. The nickname “princess” started about 11 years ago during her first year with FestivALL. She dressed up in a pink Marie Antoinette-style wedding dress that belonged to her daughter-in-law. Children called her a princess, and the designation stuck.
Binder still wears the dress during some days of FestivALL, but she makes a new mask each year.
“When I’m in my studio, I feel like, especially when I’m making the masks for FestivALL, I have a platform for what I do,” she said.
The colorful costumes, masks, persona and performances are all created by Binder with support from seamstress Lynda Milliron.
When in character as the princess, Binder often will approach people and bow down to them. She wants to make them feel special, she said.
“I go up to people, and I just shine this attention [on them], thinking that people don’t get that kind of attention that much,” she said. “Then I bow down and try to make them feel like the only reason I’m there is because I knew that they were going to be there. ... It’s a great way to spend your time because you come out of it with all of these beautiful encounters in your mind. It’s the loveliest job I’ve ever had.”
She describes her FestivALL performance as a combination of mellow ballet, mime and acting.
“I do a lot with my eyes. Most of my masks have open [eyes], and I communicate with my eyes. I do a lot with my hands, but my body moves. I’m very limber,” she said.
The performance aspect of her art started with a desire at a young age to be a ballerina. She saw a ballet when she was 7 years old and fell in love with how the body moves. At 9 years old, the age then required in Washington, D.C., where she grew up, to start taking ballet, she began learning technique.
“I remember waiting to start,” she said.
By 16, she was the one teaching classical ballet to younger dancers while still in class herself. She continues teaching ballet and acting today at Heartwood in the Hills in Big Bend.
She and Frank Venezia co-founded the organization in 1982, nearly a decade after Binder moved to West Virginia from D.C. in 1973.
“Everything good happened to me when I moved to West Virginia,” she said.
Binder’s background in education and training comes from a culmination of schools and teachers: the Corcoran Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.); Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania); Washington School of Ballet (Washington, D.C.); School of American Ballet (New York); and with master woodworker Talmidge Geho (Calhoun County), among others.
“[Binder] is a master artist, a supremely gifted performer and a vibrant contributor to the community,” Tamarack Foundation for the Arts Executive Director Renee Margocee said. “I am thrilled the foundation will be devoting time to putting a spotlight on her illustrious career.”
Reach Anna Taylor at
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