One of the positive responses that many people have felt as a result of this global pandemic is a stronger desire to check-in on people we care about. That’s why we sent a message to all the past New River Gorge Creatives-in-Residence to find out how they are doing and what they’ve been up to since leaving Lafayette Flats. Now we’d like to share their stories with you.
As you may remember, Eric Shonkwiler was the first New River Gorge Creative-in-Residence. Eric found his way to Fayetteville from Ohio and lived at Lafayette Flats from January through March of 2015, a year after the publication of his first book, Above All Men.
Eric has come back to visit the good folks of Fayetteville a couple of times since the end of his residency and has introduced his girlfriend to the town as well. He even proposed marriage while in Fayetteville (she said “yes!”). We are delighted by Eric’s continuing love and appreciation for this place.
For the last couple of months, Eric has been working in a hospital, so you can imagine how hectic his life has been. He’s told us that he’s squeezed in a little time to tend his garden, trim trees, and get outside.
While the pandemic has stifled most of his creative work, he is slowly but surely writing a new book and his agent is shopping for publishers with another. He also has an essay and story included in Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change.
Read Eric’s contributions to our blog: Coming to Town | Finding My Feet in Fayetteville | Fayetteville – A Place at Once Familiar and Surprising | You Made Me Feel at Home
Mary Ann hopped on a train near her home in Folly Beach, South Carolina, and arrived at Prince Station in the New River Gorge on New Year’s Day 2016. A couple of months later she returned the same way, departing from Thurmond.
Recently, Mary Ann retreated to her cabin in the mountains of North Carolina to put the finishing touches on a novel with its setting in West Virginia which she completed during her tenure at Lafayette Flats. But The Muse had other ideas.
Instead, Mary Ann sat down at her cabin in the middle of a Blue Ridge Mountain forest and was inspired to start a new novel-length project with a setting in . . . Texas.
She’s in good company. Ernest Hemingway once famously quipped he went to “Paris to write about Michigan and Michigan to write about Paris.”
In the last few weeks, Mary Ann, author of the short story collection Ladies in Low Places, taught a Finding Your Voice Online Workshop for Beginning and Intermediate Writers for the Pat Conroy Literary Center.
Read Mary Ann’s contributions to our blog: Peculiar Travel Suggestions are Dancing Lessons from God | A Second Glance at First Impressions | Fayettevillites/Fayettevillians | Leaving WV
It is no surprise to us that the 2017 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence, Kathleen Jacobs, spends a great deal of time in Fayette County during this stressful time. It’s a short drive from her Charleston, WV home and she’s been enchanted by this place since moving to West Virginia from St. Louis at the tender age of eleven.
Kathleen told us that she has been finding refreshment at Cathedral Falls, Hawks Nest State Park, the falls at Glen Ferris, and simply driving over the New River Gorge Bridge. Kathleen said it best, “Each spot gifts a certain amount of resolve and respite.”
When we asked Kathleen for a writing update, she referenced a quote from Writers & Lovers by Lily King; “I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse.”
And write she does! Kathleen is the author of several popular books for children and young readers. Her first early chapter reader, Sophie & the Bookmobile was released last December.
In other exciting news, Kathleen is communicating with 2020 New River Gorge Creative in Residence, and fellow West Virginian, Carly Thaw, about working together soon on two different projects.
Wendy Welch, the author of The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, is as delightful to know as she is entertaining to follow. Since leaving Lafayette Flats in 2018, Wendy has been writing, knitting, and advocating at an impressive pace.
Bad Boy in the Bookstore is one of the two manuscripts Wendy drafted during her New River Gorge residency, and it’s now available to purchase. Because of the coronavirus, she went with an unusual type of launch – everyone who buys the story owns the right to sell it and can use the money for themselves or others who were laid off. You can get your copy here.
Wendy’s idea for a book about COVID-19 was accepted by her publisher immediately, but writing hasn’t come easy for her. She’s working in small pieces, dividing her time between the creative process, administration, and facilitating the creation and distribution of masks to medical professions.
Rosalie Haizlett was the first visual artist we welcomed at Lafayette Flats as part of the expanded New River Gorge Creative Residency. Her knack for capturing nature’s small, beautiful details was put to great use during early 2019 when she lived and worked in Fayetteville.
After leaving the New River Gorge, Rosalie headed to Thomas, WV for an extended residency at the gallery, Bloom. She just finished a new collection of large watercolor paintings featuring some of her favorite mountain botanicals from her time living in the West Virginia Highlands. A lovely virtual gallery of that collection is available to view and buy at thosewhobloom.com.
Rosalie is currently working with the Monongahela National Forest Service to create an illustrated map of the entire forest in honor of their centennial this year. She explains, “In the 1930s, the Forest Service commissioned a large, hand-drawn map of the forest. I recently was able to see a black & white print of it in person, and it was so detailed and fun! My job is to keep the hand-drawn forest map tradition alive and infuse this new rendition with my own style. It is a dream to get to work on this project!”
Another of Rosalie’s projects just came to fruition. Her first watercolor course, Watercolor in the Woods: A Beginner’s Guide to Painting the Outdoors, is available through Skillshare. She collaborated with Fayetteville filmmaker Braiden Maddox to create the course, which they filmed in a cabin on her family’s farm in the Northern Panhandle.
We were all so excited that Matt’s first book, Bookstore Explorer: West Virginia, was released during his New River Gorge residency. In fact, Fayetteville folks were so excited they held a book signing for him at The Grove this past December while he was living at Lafayette Flats.
After completing the New River Gorge Creative Residcney, Matt’s 2020 calendar of book festival appearances and signings filled up quickly. Unfortunately, most of his spring appearances were canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gratefully, the additional free time has allowed him to chip away at his novel.
Meanwhile, Matt’s first children’s picture book, Chicks and the City, will be released this summer. With illustrations by Ashley Belote, the book tells the story of Chicken Stu, a barnyard bird who discovers the variety of farming opportunities available in urban settings.
At the New River Gorge Creative Residency reception earlier this year, Matt mentioned that he had a new idea for a pop-culture project, and his agent was shopping it around. Good news . . . he got an offer on it! He can’t share the details yet, but he did say it’ll be a “golden” opportunity.
Read Matt’s contribution to our blog: That Fayetteville Magic
Earlier this year, just a few days after leaving her residency in the New River Gorge, Carly Thaw moved to Bozeman, Montana, where she is working on her art full time. It was in Bozeman that she completed the series of West Virginia whitewater paintings that she started while living at Lafayette Flats. “It was a great collaborative project – I used reference photos provided by a lot of local Fayetteville people,” Carly told us. She has prints and greeting cards of these beautiful illustrations for sale on her website.
When we asked Carly about her future plans, she said, “Currently I am working on a long-term personal project, exploring the unique cultures and ecosystem of the entire Appalachian range, but I am at the very beginning stages of that. I have been applying for a lot of residences, but everything is up in the air because of the pandemic-sized elephant in the room. In the meantime, I am working on commissions and trying to continue to grow my business.”
Less than one year after 2019 New River Gorge Creative Resident Rosalie Haizlett landed in Thomas, 2020 New River Gorge Creative Resident Kimberly Trathen left Thomas for Fayetteville. During her time at Lafayette Flats, Kimberly explored new themes in her textile art.
When her creative residency ended in February of this year, Kimberly expected to return to Thomas and her life as a gallery owner and maker of reclaimed leather bags, but instead, she came back to a pandemic.
While figuring out how to respond to the reality of shop and gallery closings and the loss of their livelihood, Kimberly and her fellow Thomas artists have been honing their creative energies. Kimberly has been devoting most of her time volunteering with her friend Nellie Rose of Nellie Rose Textiles making masks for Holler! Maskforce. With other local volunteers, they’ve made over a thousand masks for healthcare providers and immunocompromised folks in West Virginia, the Appalachian region, and beyond.
It was good to reconnect with our past creatives and to recall the gifts they brought to Fayetteville while they were here. At Lafayette Flats, we believe in the power of art and are pleased to facilitate its creation.
In her response to our update request, Kimberly Trathen put it so perfectly: “As the state of our world seems increasingly volatile and unpredictable, I feel it is imperative to stand steadfast and vigilant in our pursuit of understanding and meaning. Whether this happens individually or collaboratively, I feel it is our duty as artists to respond with fierce grace and radical creative regeneration to the crisis at hand. So, this is what I am attempting to do these days, both as an individual and as part of a creative community.”
To learn more about the New River Gorge Creative Residency at Lafayette Flats, including application criteria, please visit our website.
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