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Volume 24, Number 7 — July 2017

Stardust: "Gold is Where You Find It"

Pat Jessee: Don't lose sight of
Pat Jessee: Don't lose sight of "the gold" — your passion to be artistic or imaginative. Jessee is Manager of Adult Education and Community Programs at William King Regional Arts Center in Abingdon, Va.

Don't Discourage seeding the Magic Forest of the Arts

By PAT JESSEE | July 12, 2007

Ever hear the saying "gold is where you find it"? Everyone is always looking for "the gold." Most everyone thinks it is anywhere but where they are; hence, a lifetime of looking all over the world for it.

Charles Vess, a local artist, recognized his gold when he was just a child in the 1950s in Lynchburg, Va. He was given a comic book at the barbershop and from that time on, his personal research and subsequent career in the genre of mythic fiction illustration has taken him all over the world — literally.

If you are thinking "I don't know him..." that can be true — most of us don't even know our neighbors! Many in the world do know Charles and his work, from early days doing the artful Spider-Man covers to the last dozen years or so illustrating books for such authors as Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, and Suzanna Clarke. The book Stardust by Gaiman and Vess will be released as a major motion picture on Aug. 10. This brings me to the best gold yet.

The real gold in this case is the pleasure of sharing Charles's story as an example to help keep the importance of the arts in the forefront, not only in education for youth and adults but also for business and the quality of life in Virginia and this planet.

While in school, even though Charles's art teachers often tried to steer him away from "illustration," he continued to fit it in successfully when and where he could. After working in New York City, honing his skills and developing a wonderful cadre of creative friends, he came to the William King Regional Arts Center in Abingdon, Va. as our second resident artist. For four years he loved working in the airy spaces with large windows, interesting visitors and fellow artists in his environs. As all of our artists have done since then, Charles's artistic talents and friendly persona added greatly to visitors' experiences.

In our current exhibit, Stardust Rising: The Art of Charles Vess, there is a wonderful re-creation of a part of his old studio that Charles and Adam Justice, our curator of Contemporary Art, have created. On the table where Charles produced his award-winning illustrations is a photograph of him working on a drawing for the book Stardust when he was a resident artist in our studios in the early '90s.

Now he wishes to assist us with our plans for building the new studio complex on our grounds by urging us to use his moments of fame to raise interest in sponsors for this endeavor that he so personally, positively and professionally inspired.

Along with the Arts Center, Charles has extended the same kind offering to the Washington County Library in Abingdon and Appalachian Sustainable Development. All he feels are of great importance to his community. A Hollywood-style Stardust Preview Gala benefiting all three organizations is being planned at the Abingdon Cinemall.

Along these lines, when we were talking more than a year ago about possibilities for community participation, Charles had a wonderful idea: a mural on the exterior wall at the Abingdon Cinemall of characters from animated movies and book illustrations. The project began in mid-September 2006, and now we're back at it again. Some of you have not only seen this work in progress, more than 26 community members have been involved so far. Students have experienced this exciting art form in front of thousands of people of all ages in all kinds of temperatures. You might call it trade internships — a learning opportunity with no pay but great experience!

I particularly like having art the community worked on together on public display for people to enjoy day or night. As we have been working on it, I realized the characters are a part of our American family histories when I overheard a four-year-old's reaction as well as his grandparents' to the many characters they love or recall from their childhoods. The magic in this mural is that of Charles and his fun sense of how to combine such a mix into a pleasing story. His storytelling this time is not from a writer's words but telling a new story through other artists' imagery that he admires — while making it available for the Cinemall walls and audiences.

"Found gold" in your own backyard could be anyone ages 5 to 95 — don't kill their dreams of following their passion — their "gold." Help them mine their talent with a supportive hug, not harsh criticism. Encouragement can lead to fulfilled potential and a happy successful life.

Passion, as gold, is found in these hills. You might find mammoth bones, spear points or the creative likes of Charles Vess in the mythic realm, or a Barbara Kingsolver, Ralph Stanley, the late George Chavatel, Lou Crabtree or other rich veins of creative gold, to name a few — all in your own backyard. Are you the next?

Charles is having a convergence of great things right now and the community is thrilled to celebrate it. It is celebrating all of us really, and the fun that life can bring when you are LIVING it through your golden passion.

I cannot wait to discover the gold in the next exhibitions at the Arts Center. From These Hills and Good Neighbors are full of gold — I can feel it in my bones! Care to join us in the "gold rush"?

Please mark your calendars to bring the family, a friend or your costumed pet to our closing event for the Stardust Rising exhibit, a Stardust Festival, Saturday, Sept. 8 on our hill of mythic muses. A grand autumn time full of performances, artists, food, contests and the Green Man himself at work with all the woodlands' Little Folk teaching how to plant a magic forest for the future.

Tickets are $10 adults, $5 children, available by calling 276-628-5005 and at the door.