When I was a kid, I could not wait to leave this state and live somewhere bigger. Somewhere “cooler.” Somewhere else. Anywhere else.
A decade or so later (and wiser), I cannot wait until vacations and road trips end, and I can cross that state line back home to West Virginia. My love for West Virginia runs deep — from John Denver and pepperoni rolls to Mothman. I used to joke that West Virginia was like the Hotel California — “you can check out any time you’d like, but you can never leave.” Why would anyone want to ever leave a place compared to heaven? Well, almost.
I never imagined a place would resonate with me as much as West Virginia, but I am grateful for it. This place has given me the opportunity to thrive as an artist and teaching artist. In the fall of 2019, I was fortunate to be chosen as one of Tamarack’s Emerging Artist Fellows, and the experience has forever impacted why I do what I do.
Through the Tamarack Foundation, I became part of a network of artists throughout West Virginia who value art and culture and are dedicated to preserving and presenting it. The Foundation provided me the platform to represent my home state through my artwork, the chance to work alongside four incredibly talented artists, and the tools to engage and connect with my community through art. Being an emerging artist gave me the ability to grow and redefine my purpose as a West Virginia artist.
I have always believed that art was a form of inspiration and healing, but what I learned through the Emerging Artist Fellowship is that art is also a form of communication; it connects us to a sense of place, to people, and feelings. Prior to the fellowship, I felt that I just painted things, but after, I realized that my work is a reflection of what I love and where I love to be. And, the beauty of that is that it resonates with others — whether they are born and raised Mountaineers, transplants or visitors.
Whether it be visual art, music, storytelling or cuisine, sharing our love for the arts allows us to connect as a community. Art brings us together. It weaves through and intertwines our lives, creating a bond between people, places and memories. I cannot think of a more wondrous place where the arts play an integral role in our society and identity as much as it does in West Virginia.