Five women have collaborated to share their art and Appalachian culture with the Athens community. The exhibit, "Five Women of Appalachia: Their Stories and Their Art," runs through March 22 in the Multicultural Gallery on the second floor of Ohio University's Baker Center.
Writer and photographer Kari Gunter-Seymour has spent most of her life in the Athens area. She had contemplated the idea of a local women's art show, but didn't expect the artists and resources to come so easily.
"I'd been mulling around this idea of women that are feeling like me, that they just really want to show their art but they need to find a place that would be a good fit," she said.
She said the purpose of the Multicultural Gallery is to keep the arts alive during a time where budget problems in the country threaten the success of creative programs.
"The arts are always the first thing to go, and we're really encouraging people to come out and let (Ohio University) President (Roderick) McDavis know that this is a facility that people respect and admire and want to see kept alive," she said. "We are so grateful to the gallery for hosting us."
She said each artist has an individual story and personality that are shown best through her work. Peterson's photography will be displayed as well as that of her friend, Jennifer McClung.
McClung has been a photographer since high school, and has never received any professional training. She said she draws inspiration from her main subjects, flowers and cemeteries, or life and death, as she put it.
"Kari is the wonderful portrait artist. I'm too shy to approach people and ask if I can take their pictures," McClung said.
She said one of the main strengths of the show is the level of diversity portrayed by the many different forms of art and the different personalities and perspectives they reflect.
"The thing about art is that there's so many different ways of doing it. It's like a kid in a candy store," she said.
McClung said she sifted through years of work to try to find her best photos for the show, and has tried to see herself as a professional artist for the first time. The thought of putting her work on display is nerve-wracking, but Athens is unique in that it's a supportive community for the arts, she said.
"I think for me what takes me out of my comfort zone is having to put my work out there. It's not so much the medium I'm using or what I'm taking photographs of, but the fact that I'm willing to take that step and say that my work is good enough to be in a show, and it's not just something I hide away in a photo album or put up on the walls of my house but to honor myself and my abilities by saying I'm good enough," she said. "I'm trying to break free and entertain the possibility that this could be a sustainable living."
The other women came into the picture when Peterson reconnected with an old friend, Mary Chamberlain, who she soon discovered had picked up her paintbrush again for the first time in years. She also recruited Bonnie Proudfoot, a long-time friend and professor at Hocking College, who in turn referred one of her students, Mary Beth Hickman of Nelsonville.
Hickman's focus is in ceramics, and her sculptures all have the same core - the female body.
I'm honored to be in a show where I'm still a student and I'm still learning," Hickman said. "I'm very nervous but I'm hoping it will open doors for me for the future and put me into a positive direction of where I want to go."
Hickman has spent many years as a wife and mother, and said she's excited for the chance to take the time to express herself in the way she has wanted to since childhood. Her family has been supportive, and has made efforts to understand her passion, she said.
She has received criticism about her sculptures during the last few years, she acknowledged. People have pressured her to do more generic things, but her resolve has shown itself in her art, she said.
"Everybody said ‘why don't you do a flower? Why don't you do this?'" she said. "I don't want to do that. This is how I see things, and I don't want everything to look the way it's supposed to look."
The art exhibit will feature examples of each woman's work, and they will each be available to discuss their pieces at the opening reception this Friday from 4-7 p.m. in the Multicultural Gallery. A poetry reading will be held March 12 from 6-8 p.m. The exhibit will be open to the public through March 22.