Emerging Artist Fellows Visit Lewisburg (Part 1)
foundation | April 17, 2017
Tamarack Foundation for the Arts Emerging Artist Fellows Rosalie Haizlett and Hannah Lenhart are traveling the state for their creative project Teapots and Time Capsules. They will be sharing a series of posts with us about their adventures. Follow their journey on our blog and on Instagram – search the hashtag #teatimewv.
Arriving in Lewisburg + Meeting Susan Adkins at Del Sol Cantina Grille
Hannah: Winter Storm Stella had nothing on us! After a trek through the snow and ice, we were greeted by the cutest town, Lewisburg. Driving through the streets was magical as I saw people walking around exploring the different shops and enjoying the (now) light snowfall. The first thing I noticed was how downtown Lewisburg is full of life and active. There are so many small businesses and restaurants to explore, and I was so excited to get started.
Rosalie and I met one of our lovely hosts, Susan Adkins, at Del Sol Cantina Grille to warm up and go over our game plan for the week. I knew right away that we were in good hands as she handed us each a bag of pamphlets about Lewisburg and a beautifully organized itinerary. I was even more excited about our week as I skimmed through the information and saw all that the town had to offer.
Rosalie: Over dinner, we enjoyed hearing a bit about Lewisburg’s history and learning about Susan. She was a longtime music teacher in the community for 29 years and later served as the director of Carnegie Hall for 10 years, an arts nonprofit housed in a beautiful old building downtown that allows people of all ages and skill levels to come together and enjoy art exhibits, live performances, and classes in everything from weaving to ballet.
Susan grew up in Greenbrier County and said that her family roots have kept her here. “I never really considered leaving,” she said. “This is home.”
Listening to the Greenbrier Valley Chorale at Lewisburg Methodist Church
Hannah: Our first stop was the Lewisburg United Methodist Church to hear the Greenbrier Valley Chorale rehearse. I was amazed by the dynamic sound and how much attention the director, Barbara Lutz, payed to the smallest detail in the music. I could easily see how much passion the people had for what they were doing. Everyone was involved in making the sound as impactful as possible. The 2017 Spring Concert is on Sunday, April 30, 3 pm at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg.
Rosalie: After the practice, we had the opportunity to talk to the director. Barbara has been directing the chorale for nearly 25 years! When asked what value she feels that this group brings to the community, she said, “Singing is a life giving source for people that are getting older. It’s invigorating because it uses your whole body.”
And why does she keep doing this after all these years? “We are all invested in the opportunity to make something beautiful together,” she answered, “and that is really gratifying for me.”
Meeting with Mayor John Manchester
Hannah: On Wednesday morning, Rosalie and I had the pleasure to meet with Mayor John Manchester at Lewisburg City Hall. This meeting was a very fun one because Mayor Manchester was so welcoming to us and has such a funny personality. As we talked, I could easily see how much love he has for Lewisburg and how proud he is to be the Mayor of “America’s coolest small town.”
When we found out that he moved around a lot in the past and landed in West Virginia, we were curious as to why he chose to stay in the area. His response was, “Why would you want to live anywhere else? I love the people!”
He started getting to know the residents when he got a job with a local newspaper. There he learned that Lewisburg is a, “magical community of caring people, performing arts, a vibrant downtown and easy access to special places.” He loved the closeness of the people there and how much pride they have in their town.
Much of our conversation was focused on the progress in the downtown area, an area that has really taken off in the last ten years, according to Mayor Manchester. The area was transformed into a historic district and a lot of work has been done to make it a place where people would want to visit and where businesses could set up and thrive.
Community and teamwork are two important things to Mayor Manchester. He feels that some of his roles as mayor are to unite people and to get them to see that they can better function as a group. He said, “If you have an anything goes environment, it’s a race to the bottom.”
Meeting with Russell Fallstad, Director of Heartstrings Academy
Rosalie: Then, we headed over to historic Carnegie Hall and met with Russell Fallstad, internationally known violinist with the violin rock duo Dueling Fiddlers and director of Heartstrings Academy. Russell, originally from Minneapolis, has had incredible musical success worldwide, but decided to settle down in Lewisburg and realize his lifelong goal of teaching music.
“I was a lucky kid,” Russell said. Years ago, he was given the opportunity to be a part of a structured violin program for kindergarteners. He was given the tools he needed to succeed early on, and he is now working to give Lewisburg area kids the same opportunities he was given. He founded Heartstrings Academy in 2012, and said, “The mission is to realize what’s possible for kids when they are equipped with the right tools.”
Meeting with Cathey Sawyer, Artistic Director of Greenbrier Valley Theatre
Hannah: After a delicious lunch break at the Wild Bean, we headed over to the Greenbrier Valley Theatre to meet with Cathey Sawyer. Cathey is the Artistic Director and has been with the group for almost 26 years! She landed the role after answering an ad in a theatre communications publication called Art Search and made her way to West Virginia from rural Tennessee for what she thought was going to be a summer job.
When we asked Cathey why she decided to stay in West Virginia, her answer was, “On some spiritual level, I need mountains. There was just something about driving through here that made me feel like I was going home.”
Illustration by Rosalie Haizlett
When she first started, the goal of the group was to make the theatre more professional to drive tourism and to expand from just having shows during the summer. Since Cathey became the permanent Artistic Director, the theatre met its goal and became a union theatre, leading to the production of higher quality shows.
We then asked Cathey what value she thinks the theatre brings to the community. She said, “We are an engine for cultural tourism.” She told us that the theatre has a huge economic impact. It draws people into the area by producing great shows that people will want to see. After the shows, those people also eat at the local restaurants, sleep in the local hotels, and buy gas from the local gas stations.
The most impactful part of our meeting was when Cathey gave us a tour of the theatre and showed us their prop and costume room. The Greenbrier Valley Theatre lost a lot of their supplies in the flood that hit West Virginia last year. The amazing thing is, the people of the town rallied together and worked to clean the theatre up. They also donated supplies to help fill up the prop and costume room again.
Meeting with Devin Preston and Lynda Howe, Trillium Performing Arts Collective
Rosalie: From the Greenbrier Valley Theatre, we headed over to the historic Lewis Theatre that houses the Trillium Performing Arts Collective to continue our exploration of the performing arts scene in Lewisburg. We were greeted by Devin Preston and Lynda Howe and a fancy front counter featuring classic movie treats and vintage neon lights.
Devin grew up two blocks from the theatre and enjoyed countless movies there as a child. His passion for film was evident in the way that he explained the process of using a 35-millimeter reel, which they used until they made the switch to digital just a few years ago.
The Lewis Theatre plays everything from newer indie movies like Paterson to classics like 1984. They even offer free movie showings occasionally that are sponsored by local businesses, giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy an outing to the movies.
Devin also loves the performing arts side of what they do. “The highlight of working with this organization,” he said, “is that Trillium really values the creation of new work. We put out three performances a year, with 8-10 pieces per concert. And it’s all new work that’s being created.”
The theatre also hosts open mic events called Friday Night Alive. “That’s a place where we’ve seen five or six year olds get up and perform and we’ve also seen concert pianists. We get poets and short story writers and people like that too,” said Devin. It’s a beautiful opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate their diverse talents.
I loved hearing Lynda talk about the thought and creativity that goes into her work as lighting director and stage manager. She said, “What I do with lights is I choreograph. I have the room to really create… to make every piece within a concert distinctive. For me it’s that collaboration with the choreographers that is really a highlight of what I do. The different companies that come in are usually from New York or other bigger cities. They really don’t anticipate much, but I can give them a professional look, and they’re always surprised and happy with that.”
I also found it interesting that the theatre not only preserves the older art forms of film and dance, but also embraces the possibilities that come with newer technology. Through the use of dynamic lighting and the incorporation of the movie screen into dances, Trillium pushes the limits to create something truly original.
Meeting with Gary Roper, Timmo Schleiff and Mark Soukup at Washington Street Gallery
Hannah: After we visited with Devin and Lynda, we headed over to Washington Street Gallery. The gallery was established in 2004 and specializes in a variety of contemporary fine arts. We met with the owner Gary Roper, and he gave us a little tour of the space. As a potter, I was in heaven because along with some paintings, photography, furniture, and prints, a majority of the collection featured ceramics! I flew around the room looking at all the different pieces and loved all of the variety. It was an awesome experience because Gary knows all of the artists, so he was able to tell us a little about each one and talk to us about their processes. Having only made pottery a little over three years, my mind was blown by all that artists can do with clay.
During our time at Washington Street Gallery, we had the opportunity to meet with a couple of artists who sell their work there. One was Timmo Schleiff, owner of Hidden Quarry Artisans, who creates fine furniture, cabinetry, and architectural elements. The other was Mark Soukup who creates windsors and other period furniture. Both artists craft the most beautiful furniture, and it was inspiring hearing them talk about their work in person.
Seeing the Greenbrier Valley Theatre Youth Performance Beauty and the Beast
Hannah: Our final activity for the day was to join one of our hosts, Sarah Umberger, for Greenbrier Valley Theatre Youth Education’s production of Beauty and the Beast, Jr. I was so surprised by the amount of talent on that stage! The skill of the young actors made me feel that I was watching professional adults. During our tour earlier with Cathey, she showed us some of what they do to prepare. So much is involved in getting every detail right, but it was totally worth it in the end. What a great show!
Rosalie: Spending time earlier that day touring the theatre and speaking with the artistic director gave us a greater appreciation for the performance as a whole. And the kids were insanely talented! Hannah and I continually remarked after the show that we couldn’t believe how professional the set, lighting, and performers were. What an awesome way to wrap up an awesome day.