Celebration Set for Aug. 20 in Downtown

The first Wheeling Arts Fest offers visitors the potential to stimulate the senses and engage the intellect with an exploration and celebration of the literary, visual and performing arts.

The initial arts festival, organized by the Wheeling Arts & Cultural Commission, will take place Saturday, Aug. 20, at outdoor and indoor sites located along 16th Street in the city’s downtown area. All of the events are free and open to the public.

Major venues for the day-long festival are the Ohio County Public Library, West Virginia Northern Community College and West Virginia Independence Hall. In addition, musicians and artists will be entertaining visitors and demonstrating their talents at street-side locations.

“The arts festival is important because arts and culture drive economic development,” Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie said. “In the case of this event, it is bringing people downtown on a weekend. Additionally, this event is a great addition to our already-packed events calendar.”

The mayor added, “The Arts Commission has done a great job of utilizing the library, West Virginia Northern Community College and West Virginia Independence Hall. Our residents and visitors will get a chance to experience these venues all at once.”

WesBanco Inc. has been chosen as the presenting sponsor of the Wheeling Arts Fest. Additional support has been made possible through contributions of organizations, businesses and individuals.

“WesBanco is pleased to support the endeavors of the Wheeling Arts & Cultural Commission and to be named the presenting sponsor of this landmark event,” said Paul Limbert, president and chief executive officer of WesBanco Inc. “WesBanco is committed to promoting and supporting programs that stimulate economic development and showcase not only Wheeling’s great cultural heritage and quality of life, but also the other communities we serve.”

Dramatic Kickoff

Festivities actually begin a day earlier, with the premiere of Wheeling playwright Jeremy Richter’s original play, “Political Little Ones.” The performance, also free and open to the public, will be staged in the historic courtroom of West Virginia Independence Hall at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug.19.

The new play is based on the case of Lucy Bagby, a young Wheeling woman who was believed to be the last slave returned under the Fugitive Slave Act before the Civil War.

The Wheeling Intelligencer reported, on Jan. 25, 1861, that “near the town of Lima, Ohio, a negro man and a white man, both of whom were armed, were arrested under the suspicion that they meditated a rescue” of Bagby, a fugitive slave girl belonging to William Goshorn of Wheeling.

Richter’s play centers on the days prior to the men being disarmed and captured. A description of the drama states, “Three men (and one boy) that stand accused of assisting in Ms. Lucy’s escape, have been interviewed by U.S. officials and soon spin a plot that might secure an opportunity for an emancipated life; for individual, for state, for all.”

Historical Background

Volunteers, attired in 19th-century-style clothing, will be present on West Virginia Northern’s College Square from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, to provide information and directions. The “cultural ambassadors” also will share some of Wheeling’s history with visitors.

Performing Arts

The courtroom of West Virginia Independence Hall also will be the venue for musical performances Saturday, Aug. 20. Vocal ensembles will perform at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. The New Day Saxophone Quartet will appear there at 4:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, musical groups and dance troupes will perform on two stages at the College Square Saturday, Aug. 20. Acts appearing on Stage1, between 10 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., will be Marsh Wheeling String Band, Allegro Dance Company, Trainjumpers, Steel Cassa, Merp and the Fabulous Bender Boys.

Stepping up to Stage 2, between 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m., will be Black Slaney, Jacilyn & the Kittens, Agape Dancers, Weathered and Uncle Eddie & Robin.

Visual Arts

An Artist Market will be established on the College Square where participating tri-state artists will demonstrate their craft throughout the day. Visitors can view and purchase works of art such as watercolors, photographs, jewelry, monoprints, pottery and sculpture. A children’s tent will offer chalk art and face painting.

Participating artists include Paul Latos, Patricia Croft, Andrew Croft, Bill Rettig, Bob Villamagna, Bob Sako, Betsy Cox, Anne Hazlett Foreman, Pat Temple, Sandra Ziolkowski, Kami Kinnison, Sharon Lee Hanse, Jeff and Lynne Mamone, Benjamin and Melanie Steffl Thompson and Marilyn Hughey Phillis.

Literary Arts

The Ohio County Public Library will serve as the literary venue for the Arts Fest, with a full slate of presentations by acclaimed writers and activities for aspiring writers from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20. The library events will be presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council.

The impressive lineup of featured writers appearing in the library’s auditorium will begin at 10 a.m. with a presentation by Wheeling resident Marc Harshman, an award-winning children’s book author and poet. His 11 children’s books include “The Storm,” a Smithsonian Notable Book. He also has published three chapbooks of poems.

His prose poems and short-shorts have won awards from the Newport Review and Literal Latte and been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize. The West Virginia Arts Commission has awarded him fellowships in both poetry and children’s literature.

At Arts Fest, Harshman will present readings from both his earlier poetry and his newer poetic work written in a prose line. He will sign books and meet the public at the library at 11 a.m. and at the spoken word tent on 16th Street at 11:30 a.m.

The library’s children’s department will offer a special 11 a.m. storytime for children on the main floor of the library featuring readings from Harshman’s award-winning children’s books and arts and crafts.

At 1:30 p.m., Harshman will conduct a workshop for aspiring creative writers in the library’s classroom. The workshop is free, but space is limited. To reserve a spot, call the library at 304-232-0244 or send an email message to lunchwithbooks@yahoo.com.

Author George Fetherling will take the main auditorium stage at 11 a.m. Born in Wheeling, Fetherling now resides in Canada and has worked as a writer in London, New York, Toronto and Vancouver.

A prolific literary figure, he is a novelist, poet, memoirist and critic. Fetherling has written dozens of books, including “Wheeling: A Brief History” and “Jericho.” He will speak of and read from his new novel, “Walt Whitman’s Secret,” at Arts Fest.

At noon, playwright Sean O’Leary, also a Wheeling native, will give the first public reading of his sixth play, “Walt Whitman’s Secret,” that he has adapted from Fetherling’s book. Also participating in the reading will be the playwright’s father, actor Hal O’Leary, and actors Tom Stobart, Tim Thompson and Rachel Thompson.

O’Leary, who now resides in Harpers Ferry, won the 2007 Ruby Lloyd Apsey Award and the 2007 best play award from the West Virginia Writers Conference for his play, “Valu-Mart.” His plays, “Pound” and “Rain in the Hollows,” have won or been finalists in more than a dozen national playwriting competitions. His first play, “Wine to Blood,” was produced by Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre.

O’Leary and Fetherling will sign and greet the public together after the play reading in the library at 2 p.m. and at the spoken word tent on 16th Street at 2:30 p.m.

Critically acclaimed author Keith Maillard will take the main auditorium stage at 2:30 p.m. Born in Wheeling, Maillard is the chair of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia, Canada. He is the author of 13 novels, many set in Raysburg, a fictional town inspired by Wheeling.

His “South Wheeling” novel, “The Clarinet Polka,” was awarded the Creative Arts Prize by the Polish American Historical Association. His poetry collection, “Dementia Americana,” won the Gerald Lampert Award in 1995 for the best first book of poetry published in Canada.

At Arts Fest, Maillard will read from and talk about his recent work. He will be on hand at the library at 3:30 p.m. and at the spoken word tent at 4 p.m. to sign books and greet the public.

Tthe library will offer a number of additional activities. Visitors to the auditorium will be able to see four new large artworks depicting historic Wheeling created by area artists Anne Hazlett Foreman, Liz Neumann, Patricia Croft and Andree Weimer. Postcards featuring the art will be available for purchase.

A poetry reading will begin in the library’s tax room at 2 p.m. David Thomas, a West Liberty University English professor, will lead the program and read his original works of poetry. An open-microphone session for aspiring poets will be held in the same location at 3 p.m.

Visitors also will be able to meet local and regional authors and publishers on the library’s lower level throughout the day.