May’s Featured Year of the Rural Arts Event: ArtSpring Tucker County, West Virginia

Tucker County students participate in a WPA-style mural design contest; winners have their designs posted on Davis’ Shop n Save wall

By Savannah Barrett

This Memorial Day weekend, the high mountain towns of Tucker County, WV are activated by the fourth annual ArtSpring High Mountain Arts Festival. Kicking off on May 23 and continuing through May 26, the festival celebrates the best of the arts community throughout the towns of Thomas, Davis, Caanan Valley, and Parsons. Just a few hours drive from Pittsburg and Washington D.C., Tucker County is well-acknowledged for its range of natural experiences and is gaining notoriety for its great and varied collection of cultural assets.

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ArtSpring High Mountain Arts Festival 2014 Poster

ArtSpring High Mountain Arts Festival began in 2010, when local gallery owners, artists and musicians identified a need to come together to strengthen this network of communities and continue the dialogue between residents and visitors alike in their love for this special place. The outcome was the organization of the ArtSpring organization, which works as a creative development group promoting the arts in public life for all of Tucker County. The initial goal was simple, to draw greater connectivity between the people, businesses and organizations in the area to help highlight the arts in the communities of the county.

An exceptionally rural county with abundant natural resources, Tucker County is the second least populated county in all of West Virginia. The region boasts Blackwater Canyon’s eight mile scenic gorge, the second largest inland-wetland area in the United States, and the first ski resort south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The modern outdoor adventure enthusiast can ski, paddle, fly fish, ride horses, hike, camp, golf, mountain bike, spelunk, shoot clays, and rock climb in this valley named for its astounding beauty.  The area is home to Blackwater Falls State Park, Canaan Valley Resort State Park, Fairfax Stone State Park, Fernow Experimental Forest, Dolly Sods Wilderness, and Monongahela National Forest.

http://canaanvalley.org/Sunrise over Bear Rock, Tucker County, WV
Photo Credit: Tucker County Tourism and Travel

These small towns have a big presence during the festival.  This “tour of Tucker County” brings area artists and organizations together across the four small communities, and provides a variety of cultural amenities to the thousands of tourists who visit the area during Memorial Day Weekend. ArtSpring organizer Audrey Stefenson sees the value of the festival as somewhat of a mirror for Tucker County residents: “the ArtSpring festival presents the diversity of our arts community and brings the community closer together while showcasing a side of Tucker County that we can all celebrate, be proud of, and benefit from economically.”

Siren playing a sidewalk show for ArtSpring, Memorial Day weekend 2012 in Thomas, West Virginia

The Culinary Taste of Tucker driving route showcases more than 16 local restaurants, while live musical performances present bluegrass and old-time string bands alongside blues, Dixieland, rock n’ roll, fuzz, and classical cello. Throughout the festival, there’s a clear emphasis on local artists and place-specific work: The Spherical Film Screening showcases locally made films, the local Mosser family is on view in the portraits of Glendie Mosser, and one young woman’s “Woven Into Me” exhibition uses mixed media, graphite, and fabrics to retell the story of her grandmother’s life in the mountains of Parsons.

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From Heather Tegbetse’s “Woven Into Me” exhibit at ArtSpring

ArtSpring events include: open studio tours, gallery exhibitions, live music in dozens of locations, a community theatre radio show performance, a traditional square dance, a series of nature photography walks in Canaan Valley, a film screening, kid’s activities, a student mural project, farm-to-table tapas and craft cocktail tasting, and a farmer and artisan market. The Fourth Annual ArtSpring Silent Auction benefits the STArt (Student Town Art) Program for arts education in Tucker County schools and the restoration of Cottrill’s Opera House in Thomas. In an effort to re-establish the venue as a center of cultural and civic life in Tucker County, plans for the renovation of the 425-seat Cottrill’s Opera House theater are a part of the economic development plan for the Thomas Commercial Historic District.

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ArtSpring kids activities include painting on local business windows during the festival in Thomas, WV

For more information about ArtSpring and Tucker County, West Virginia please visit: www.artspringwv.com. Please mark your calendars for this fantastic event, check out the ArtSpring story on the Atlas of Rural Arts and Culture, and report back to us at Art of the Rural to tell us about your experience! Please use the social media hash tag #ruralarts in any social media posts from the event.

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THE YEAR OF THE RURAL ARTS is a biennial program of events, conversations, and online features celebrating the diverse, vital ways in which rural arts and culture contribute to American life. The Year is coordinated by Art of the Rural and organized by a collective of individuals, organizations, and communities from rural and urban locales across the nation.

The inaugural Year is a collaborative, grassroots effort designed to build steam over the course of 2014. To present a more equitable representation and a more comprehensive narrative of rural arts in culture, all online features will be freely shared across websites and social media. For more information on the Year of the Rural Arts, visit: www.artoftherural.org.