Four traditional artists share the stories behind their work.
Ohio’s Appalachia, which includes 32 counties known for their rocky hollows, foothills and cultural vitality, is home to a wealth of traditional artists. These individuals add to the cultural treasures that characterize this region. Meet four who live, work and create in Appalachian Ohio, and discover what makes their contributions so special.
For a quarter century, Simona Alzicovici taught chemistry and biological research, first in her native country of Romania and then at the University of Pittsburgh and Ohio University. In 2001, her life took an unexpected turn when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “After that turning point, I stopped working for a living,” she says.
“I decided to take a break and then I rediscovered myself and thought about what’s important and what I wanted to do.” Alzicovici decided to focus on her artistic abilities and emerged as a pressed-flower artist. Today she creates beautiful “painted” art, which she exhibits throughout the region.
Pressed-flower art suited Alzicovici, a self-professed lover of both art and nature. She grows and collects her own flowers, which is a time-consuming and continuous process that demands almost constant attention. “I use flowers and grasses for my palette, and I need everything to make a picture,” she explains. “Some of the things are not necessarily flowers. They could be banana or onion peels as well.” Regardless, they all get a new life in her artwork.
Alzicovici is a member of Women of Appalachia, an organization with events that showcase the way female artists respond to the region as a source of inspiration. In 2006, Alzicovici exhibited her work at the Women of Appalachia Exhibit that took place at Ohio University in Zanesville, and one of her pictures won the People’s Choice Award, an accolade she also received the following year. Various additional exhibits followed. This summer her artwork will be showcased at the Mansfield Art Center along with five other artists in an exhibit appropriately titled “Flower Power.” handmadebysimona.com
Bobby Rosenstock, owner of justAjar Design Press in Marietta, calls himself a print maker. Other people may refer to him as a woodcut and letterpress artist. Either way, he works with large (up to 1,500 pounds) vintage printing equipment and antique type to create posters and pieces of fine art. The presses are manually operated, and everything is set by hand, which translates into a time-consuming process — but one that yields rich quality.
“I start with a pencil sketch on paper. Then I figure out what colors I want to use, and that takes planning because you have to print colors on top of each other and sometimes blend colors,” he explains. “Everything has to be done backwards; everything is reversed. I cut the wood with a table saw and then transfer the drawing onto different pieces of wood. I use a chisel and knives to carve out the imagery.” It’s no wonder a single poster takes between 40 and 50 hours to create.
Rosenstock’s passion for this art form began while he was studying art at Alfred University. He enrolled in a printmaking class and never looked back. “Because you are an artist, you have to deal with all the things artists do like concepts, layout, color theory and composition. But you are also learning a craft like operating the press and sharpening the tools,” he says. “I enjoy that process.”
Rosenstock makes posters for Stuart’s Opera House and the Nelsonville Music Festival, but his fine art pieces are also exhibited throughout the state, including this summer’s Boston Mills Summer Arts Festival. Beyond that, he enjoys preserving the craft and sharing it with other people who visit the shop and want to learn about the history of printmaking. justajar.com
After retiring from a career as a medical technologist, Carol Brann Ohl returned to the University of Akron to study ceramics. Early in the process, she attended a wood-firing workshop and immediately knew that’s what she wanted to do. In 2002, her husband and two friends helped to build a two-chamber kiln at her home, located on 38 acres of land located about 11 miles west of Millersburg in Holmes County.
“The more people told me that girls don’t build kilns, the more I knew I was going to build one,” she says, adding that she was 60 years old when the kiln was constructed. Since then, Ohl has developed her skills as a functional potter and makes wood-fired vessels for everyday use.
Today, Ohl insists that although her pots are beautiful, functionality comes first. “I want people to feel that way about my mugs and bowls, that they love the way it feels in their hand,” she says. “I have a lot of people who come here and say, ‘I broke my mug, and I don’t want to drink out of any other mug.’ ”
Ohl fires her Treaty Line Pottery kiln three times a year, and each firing holds about 500 pots. The process is long and laborious, and lasts anywhere from 24 to 40 hours. It requires a crew of six to 10 people to continuously feed wood into the kiln. Yet in spite of the rigors associated with the craft, Ohl has no plans to quit making her pottery. “I see myself doing this until I drop over dead,” she says. “It’s more of a passion than anything. The fact that I can sell the pots is a bonus.” treatylinepottery.com
Although Dan Brooks, formerly a guitarist with Rarely Herd, had played the resophonic guitar for many years, he was never completely satisfied with how the instrument sounded. That’s when he decided to take matters into his own hands and make his own guitar. Brooks had the advantage of working at Stewart-MacDonald, an Athens-based parts supplier for building and repairing instruments.
“I just wanted to build a guitar that suited me sound-wise,” Brooks says. “Once I did, I realized it wasn’t nearly the rocket science that I anticipated. I also knew that other people were probably looking for the same thing.”
In the past 10 to 12 years, Brooks’ B&B Resophonic Guitars has built some 40 custom guitars, which typically sell for about $2,250 — without any extreme bells and whistles or exotic wood. To make a resophonic guitar, which the Dopyera Brothers first patented in this country in 1928, Brooks begins with a choice of three or four types of wood, from maple and curly maple to black walnut and mahogany. “Some people are more focused on the cosmetic aspect of the guitar with elaborate inlays like abalone and pearl,” he says. “I personally want it to sound good. That is a really intricate art form in itself.”
In the end, Brooks tries to achieve two goals with every guitar he makes. One has to do with the guitar’s appearance, but the other relates to making music. “I want people to use the guitars to express themselves in the music,” he says. “That makes it even more satisfying.” therarelyherd.com (click on Links)
SEE IT FOR YOURSELF
For an up-close and personal view of some traditional art throughout the Appalachian region of Ohio, check out the following exhibits and locations.
The Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown
Americana and Folk Art, opens July 21. Three, new permanent galleries will display the museum’s Americana and folk art collections. 330/743-1107, butlerart.com.
Dairy Barn Arts Center, Athens
Quilt National ‘13, through Sept. 2. The 18th biennial juried exhibition of innovative art quilts includes an eclectic collection of never-before-exhibited works from talented fiber artists. 740/592-4981, dairybarn.org.
Markay Cultural Arts Center, Jackson
Underground Railroad: Quilt Patterns and Their Meanings, July 12–Aug. 18. Featured are patterns used during the Underground Railroad, such as bear’s paw, crossroads, flying geese, shoo fly and more. 740/286-6355, markayjackson.org.
Southern Ohio Museum, Portsmouth
Ohio Designer Craftsmen: Best of 2013, July 12–Sept. 20. This traveling exhibit spotlights fine crafts from outstanding contemporary American artists working in fiber, wood, metal, glass and ceramics. 740/354-5629, somacc.com.
Zanesville Museum of Art, Zanesville
"Ohio Innovators in Clay," through Aug. 31. Art pottery, tile and sculpture by historic art potters, as well as 20th-century studio and contemporary Ohio ceramic artists are displayed in the newly expanded museum, which contains the largest public collection of Ohio art pottery and glass. 740/452-0741, zanesvilleart.org.