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CHARLES TOWN — Say you’re a creative type. You’re also the head of a family of four, all barricaded inside your newly-purchased home for weeks on end during a pandemic. You’ve worked hard to keep that home safe against the coronavirus to protect your wife and two young sons.

Now what?

This is where Charles Town resident Devan Whitacre found himself last March, like so many West Virginians. His employer, a special needs school across the border in Leesburg, Virginia, closed for many weeks, like all other educational institutions in the area.

At age 31, Whitacre knew himself well enough to realize that he would need to keep himself well-occupied. He will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t do boredom well.

With so much free time, Whitacre played a lot with his two sons, ages 5 and 2. Plus he now had the time to catch up on his reading. An avid reader all of his life, he dipped into some old favorites, like George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” while trying new books like “The Witcher” series and diving into American history. Additionally, he watched movies and some popular TV series with his wife, Haley.

He also took a keener interest in holistic living, locally produced vegetables, some gardening of his own, and even developed his culinary skills, fixing international meals nightly for his family.

His muse calls

Despite all this activity, Whitacre’s creative side began to rouse itself. As a result, he settled in on two long-term projects: working on a fantasy novel he had started years ago and exploring his artistic interests. After finishing five chapters of his novel, his multi-colored art pens and pad called to him.

They haven’t let him go.

His creative artwork has now become his mainstay activity throughout the pandemic. Whitacre said that his sketching has had a calming effect on him through the ups and downs of the pandemic.

“While the world around me felt out of control with new COVID-19 news every day, it was relieving to sit down at a blank piece of paper with a pencil and get to decide what happens there,” Whitacre said. “During the pandemic, it has helped me think through and process difficult things that I can’t control.”

The results are engaging — and perhaps, relevant to many of us. Before the pandemic, Whitacre had informally begun developing a portfolio of his own personal artworks, along with the occasional commissioned work for others in the Eastern Panhandle.

However, more locals there are now discovering another side of Whitacre.

“Haley encouraged me to put some of my recent works up on Facebook and Instagram,” Whitacre said. “We were really encouraged by the response.”

The beloved local restaurant owner

One of Whitacre’s most personally meaningful works was a labor of love: Maria’s Taqueria’s is a popular Mexican restaurant in Shepherdstown that has been a part of Whitacre’s life for years.

“I went there when I worked in children’s theater in Shepherdstown, and later while dating Haley,” he said.

“After they moved to the larger building, we continued to go to satisfy Haley’s pregnancy cravings.”

“Because of how prominent Maria and her amazing staff were in our lives — for birthdays, anniversaries, family nights — and because I have a desire to provide themed art for local businesses, I created this piece,” Whitacre said. “I took the concept of her logo, which is a sugar skull fancifully adorned, and turned it into a more animated, illustrated character.”

A particularly meaningful children’s book

More recently, Whitacre put together illustrations for a children’s book, one written by his friend, Luke, an educator and missionary in China, for his young son, Simon. Simon has been recently diagnosed with leukemia but is fighting hard.

Whitacre was moved by his friend’s love for his son and worked into the wee hours several nights during the pandemic to get this project completed. Simon loves the book made especially for him. Whitacre said that it’s projects like this one when he feels particularly blessed to use his artistic skills for a higher purpose.

“Now that Luke and I have finished the book, he plans on publishing it to raise funds to help Simon with all the costs that come with treatment,” Whitacre said. “We are now working on an additional children’s book about Simon and his battle with leukemia to raise awareness. Hopefully, it can bring encouragement to other children throughout the world dealing with severe illnesses.”

Works done for others, whether commissioned pieces or labors of love, are increasingly rewarding for Whitacre.

“I love taking requests or commissioned pieces, particularly when people give me enough free rein because they like my style,” Whitacre said. “It allows me to give them a work that is doubly personal. I get to make sure a piece is perfectly tailored to the viewers’ interests while adding my own personal touch.”

Family togetherness — and hilarity — during the pandemic

Because of the Eastern Panhandle’s exposure to nearby states as well as Washington, D.C., residents there have taken seriously the warnings to stay at home as much as possible to avoid exposure to COVID-19.

However, the months together have brought a new closeness — and some comic relief — to the Whitacre household, where young Max and Miles amuse themselves and their parents daily.

“It all makes for such incredible material,” Whitacre laughed. “I’ve done a few comics about my wonderful family, crazy as we are. I intend on making a web comic and see plenty of material from a worldwide pandemic lockdown.”

When Max and Miles aren’t playing or reading, they can often be found helping their dad make his next epic dinner for the family, sometimes with vegetables from their own garden.

The role of the community artist

Devan Whitacre is appreciative but philosophical about the encouragement he’s received as a young artist.

“People have suggested that I would do well to develop my artistic interests elsewhere,” Whitacre said. “I always respond that, to me, it’s important that not all creative minds leave their community.”

“Someone needs to represent this place, and Charles Town is well on its way to becoming a more artistic community,” Whitacre said. “I’d love to be a part of that. West Virginia has so much to offer, and, most importantly to me, it’s my home.”

To view more of Whitacre’s recent works, go to his Facebook page under the name of “Devanincus” or his Instagram page @Devanincus. Or contact him directly at: devanincus@gmail.com.

Stephen N. Reed is a former radio talk show host on WCHzs Radio. A native of Kingwood, West Virginia, he currently works as a nonprofit and higher ed consultant in the areas of communications and development. He enjoys writing political and cultural columns for the Gazette-Mail.

During the ongoing pandemic, Stephen says he wrote this piece about artist Devan Whitacre to illustrate a point first made by President John F. Kennedy. In a driving rain while joining a large crowd in Charleston to celebrate West Virginia’s Centennial on June 20, 1963, President Kennedy observed: “The sun does not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do.”