Portraits explore Appalachian roots


For some time, the narrative of being Appalachian was a negative one. People related the word to poverty, a lack of education, and other negative attributes. In recent years, thanks to a new narrative being spun by non-profits, educators, and community leaders, Appalachia is slowly becoming a source of pride for many, whether you live in the heart of the mountains or the foothills. Minford art students have been exploring this identity recently and the community is now welcome to peek inside what they’ve discovered.

The project has had students creating unique self-portraits based on their Appalachian heritage or connection to living in Appalachia.

After working with a talented artist in the residency program, “I Am Them and They are Me: A Tribute to Our Appalachian Heritage” is on display at Port City Pub in downtown Portsmouth.

Each year, the Gifted Services Department of the South Central Ohio Educational Service Center (ESC), brings practicing artists to local schools as Artists-in-Residence.

This year, regional artist, Keri Sagraves Dodds, worked with Minford High School’s advanced art students and their teacher, Ms. Anne Caudill, to create self-portraits intended to illustrate their connection to the community in which they live and its Appalachian roots.

“This Artist-in-Residency allowed students to learn a little more about their own families and encouraged them to have conversations with family members about their heritage,” Coordinator for the project, Sharee Price, said, “ It’s always great when a project provides an avenue for students to have a deeper understanding of themselves and their connections to the community. This project also provided an opportunity for them to express themselves using new techniques and materials.”

The residency began with guest speaker Darren Baker, Executive Director of the Ross County Historical Society, guiding students through a series of creativity exercises and talking with them about the creative process.

Following the presentation, Keri Sagraves Dodds then stepped in and shared some of her own artwork with the students. She also talked with them about how she generates ideas for her images, which are primarily based on her own life experiences and her connections to Appalachian culture.

Students continued the lesson by researching their own family heritage, as well as some of the customs, folk tales, music, and traditions of Appalachia to give themselves a starting point for their self-portraits. They looked at traditional photographic portraits from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to get ideas about how they might pose when they had their own photos taken for this project.

Once they had a good understanding, professional photographer, Abby Grasso of Abby Rose Photography, took photos of each student. She used the vintage Appalachian portraits for inspiration.

According to Price, thanks to Tom Suter and the University of Rio Grande, the photos were printed in sepia on canvas for the students to use as a base on which to create their final artwork.

Dodds spent two weeks in the classroom helping guide the students through this process.

Looking at traditional Appalachian materials and customs, students worked with conventional media, such as paint, marker, and pencil, as well as some less traditional materials that might be used in Appalachian crafts or artwork. These materials included fabric, thread, and clay, to create their own unique narrative self-portraits.

Once complete, the students also wrote short descriptions of their work which are on display alongside the self-portraits.

“When I talked with Port City Pub’s manager, Corey Maillett, about displaying the students’ artwork in their restaurant, he was very receptive and welcomed us to do so,” Price said. “I’m really grateful to Port City Pub for providing this venue.”

The artwork will be on display through November 21.

The Artist-in-Residency is coordinated by Sharee Price, Gifted Services Coordinator at the South Central Ohio Educational Service Center. Sponsors for this residency include Joel and Diane Baringer, William and Barbara Burke, Marc and Jennifer Cottle, John and Regina Craig, DESCO Federal Credit Union, Velma Fagans, Rosalee Greene, Debbie McGinnis, Portsmouth Area Arts Council, Rotary Club of Portsmouth, Scioto Foundation and SOMC.

Reach Joseph Pratt at (740) 353-3101, by email at [email protected], © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.

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