Tamarack Foundation for the Arts has announced six awards in its Emerging Artist Fellowship program for 2021. We congratulate our new fellows: Brandy Jefferys (Cabell County), Suzan Ann Morgan (Upshur), Emily Prentice (Randolph), Kelsie Tyson (Greenbrier), Nichole Westfall (Kanawha), and Blake Wheeler (Kanawha).
Emerging Artist Fellows are thriving early-career artists who demonstrate a superior level of mastery and an aptitude to become successful creative professionals. Chosen by an independent committee of master artists and arts leaders, they contribute to the foundation’s mission of growing West Virginia’s economy by empowering promising creatives.
Each fellowship includes a stipend and continuing access to professional skill-building in the areas of branding, marketing, and technology as well as valuable connections with a community of successful creatives in West Virginia.
The 2021 fellows are proficient in a wide range of media and have varying visions of their sustainable futures in West Virginia.
Here is an introduction to our new fellows:
Brandy Jefferys, Cabell County
Brandy Jefferys works in oils to create richly colorful still-life paintings of iconic Appalachian foods that evoke nostalgia and belonging. “The visceral, intimate connection to others and to home is what I’m after,” she said. Jeffreys also contributes to her community by teaching drawing classes at the Huntington Museum of Art.
Jefferys hopes her fellowship year will help re-establish connections to other West Virginia artists after a year of isolation. “I miss having a cohort of trusted peers for critique and a communal love of art. Being a painter is often lonely. You’re often sitting alone at the easel,” she said.
She plans to visit other areas of the state to paint, as well: “My first trip will probably be to Fayetteville. Even though it’s only ninety minutes away, I’ve never been to the New River Gorge.”
Suzan Ann Morgan, Upshur County
Suzan Ann Morgan is a textile/fiber artist with a passion for surface design. Among other techniques, she employs hand-dyeing and hand-printing fabrics, embroidery, and quilting. Her influences range from fine art training at the Oregon College of Art and Craft to traditional quilters in the Buckhannon area, where she lives.
Morgan hopes her fellowship will help her make the transition to a new market for her art: “For a long time, I used textiles to make gifts to sell in shops in Buckhannon and Elkins. But, steadily, I began to want to express my views on social and environmental issues, and to make the leap to fine art galleries. So, about two years ago, I started moving in that direction. It’s a big and scary step, but I’m going to give it a shot. I won Best of Show at the Emerging Artists exhibition sponsored by the Department of Arts, Culture and History. And now, with Tamarack Foundation having my back, I’m looking to move from gifts to galleries.”
Emily Prentice, Randolph County
Emily Prentice, an Elkins resident, is a zine maker, quilter, and illustrator who uses her colorful art as a way to inspire others of all ages and backgrounds to find their own expressive voices through art. She said, “I want everyone to use creative play and curiosity as a means of changing the world.”
For Prentice, play is not trivial: “Play is crucial for social change because it lets us try on the world we want to live in and then share it with our friends.” An educator by nature and choice, she has created an online workshop/community space “to help students play every day.”
She looks forward to a busy year: “I’m so excited to be an Emerging Artist Fellow! The reaction in my community has already been so supportive. My goals for this fellowship year are to build more creative connections, work on consistent business practices, and make as much art as I possibly can!”
Kelsie Tyson, Greenbrier County
Kelsie Tyson is an artist/activist who uses photography, fiber, ceramics, and large installations to pursue a visual exploration of body image, sexuality, and the intersections between them. “My work deals with body liberation, and how Appalachian people and their bodies have been exploited. I want to be part of the arts growing in West Virginia,” she said. She lives in Lewisburg.
In art school, Tyson worked multiple jobs to put herself through school and gathered materials for art projects at thrift stores. She reflected on the influence of her family’s heritage: “I grew up in West Virginia and was taught to be resourceful. My grandmother started writing a book about her life, and we found it after she passed. There was a story about how she got her new school clothes: Her dad was paid thirty-five cents a day for caretaking a Pocahontas County farm, and she would ride with him to pick out the feed sacks for the farm. She picked out which fabrics she liked, and later she and her mom and her aunt would use them to sew her school clothes.”
Nichole Westfall, Kanawha County
Nichole Westfall, a multidisciplinary artist, uses decorative arts as a means of expressing the fears, dreams, angers, and passions of communities that have been silenced. A resident of South Charleston, her work ranges from large-scale installations and murals to small assemblages and sculptures. “My work marries uncomfortable subjects with bold and hopeful design,” she said. “I believe this work has developed as a means of starting conversations I am uncomfortable with beginning. I wouldn’t describe myself as confrontational, but I would say that I’m interested in making work about subjects that are.
“I can’t express how grateful I am to have assistance in creating a consistent art practice. I have known a few artists that have been fellows in the past — I watched their careers and their work develop so quickly. It was a bit shocking to think that I have the opportunity to join them.”
Blake Wheeler, Kanawha County
Blake Wheeler is a mural painter from Marmet. He creates outdoor scenes that surprise, inform, and spark the imagination of viewers. His painterly images may celebrate history, nature, or whimsy; his intention is to elicit enjoyment: “I hope that my work inspires and gives a pleasant experience no matter if the viewer just gives a passing glance or a close inspection.
“When choosing a topic for a mural, the inspiration of what I want to paint can come from things like my childhood, movies, video games, art history, my favorite modern-day painters, and trying to do something that is new but familiar. I want to make the viewer take notice and give them a feeling of discovery.
“I was very happy to have been selected this year as one of the Tamarack Foundation Emerging Artist Fellows. I look forward to making new work and seeing what the other fellows have in store.
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Be well. Stay Safe. Wear masks. Make art.
Renee Margocee | Executive Director | Tamarack for the Arts