‘Art of Inclusion’ Exhibit Features Portraits
WHEELING — A first-of-its-kind photography show featuring portraits of Ohio Valley residents by John Harvey opens Friday in the 3rd Floor Loft Gallery at the Wheeling Artisan Center.
The show, “Art of Inclusion,” tells the stories of 21 individuals who are part of the LGBT community, using portraits and accompanying narratives written by family and friends. Ron Scott, YWCA Wheeling director of cultural diversity and community outreach, organized the show with Wheeling Heritage to highlight and show support for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Local photographer Harvey, 31, said he was excited to be tapped for the project.
“The reason I wanted to do this is because people are so much more than their sexuality. … These are people who educate your children, cut your hair, make your art, cook your food. They are so integrated in your life. … I feel like this is a good chance to educate and expose,” he said.
Harvey and Scott met with the individuals in places where they felt most comfortable or that were meaningful to them–in their own living rooms, near Wheeling landmarks, in a recording studio or place of work, for example.
One subject, Rosemary Ketchum, said although there are “so many places in Wheeling” that she loves, she chose to be photographed in front of an American flag at the First State Capitol on Eoff Street.
“I felt (the First State Capitol) represented progress and democracy and all the things I love and enjoy,” said Ketchum, who serves as a board member for the state American Civil Liberties Union and local National Alliance on Mental Illness chapter. She founded Ohio Valley Together, a coalition to foster collaboration among local social service and justice organizations, and she is a steering member for West Virginia Our Children Our Future to end childhood poverty. While working on a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University, she works at NAMI’s drop-in center, Marian House, in East Wheeling.
She agreed to be part of “Art of Inclusion” because she believes open and honest communication are keys to a healthier community.
“I’m an advocate for vulnerable populations, and as a transgender person, I feel an obligation, almost, to tell my story and to listen to the stories of others. … I think that being open and honest about my story and my journey is the least I can do to promote understanding and inclusion.”
Ketchum grew up in East Liverpool with parents who were blue-collar workers and supportive of her from the beginning, which her parents told her was about age 4 or 5.
“They didn’t know all the answers, that’s for sure — no parent does — but they believed in me enough to know what I wanted and know who I was.” They took her to a therapist at age 9 to “make sure everything was OK, and it was,” she said, and that’s where they learned about being transgender and how to support their daughter. She also has two brothers in the military and a sister who owns a Dallas Pike business.
“My story is really the minority. I did not face the trauma and abuse that so many LGBT people face, regardless of their gender identity. It’s unfortunate that my story isn’t more common. My parents are direct contributors to my self-esteem and positive outlook,” Ketchum said.
Chris Villamagna, gallery curator and Wheeling Heritage project manager, noted the exhibit showcases both art and community, which Wheeling Heritage is devoted to promoting, and she is pleased to partner with the YWCA Wheeling on it.
“This partnership is an example of how we can collaborate to raise awareness and ultimately create a more diverse, open-minded and kind world through art and discussion,” Villamagna said.
Ketchum and another portrait subject, Mark Fetty, said Wheeling in general already has proven to be welcoming and accepting. Both noted they felt supported by the city following its 2016 measure to prohibit housing and employment discrimination against members of the LGBT community.
“Wheeling really exemplifies the Friendly City moniker,” Ketchum said.
Fetty, a U.S. studies and psychology teacher at Wheeling Park High School, said he often faced struggle and adversity in his life, but he was overwhelmed by the support he received after he attracted statewide media attention for his courthouse wedding to Daniel Law on Oct. 16, 2014 –which happened to be their 10th anniversary as a couple. They were among the first gay couples to wed in the state.
“I’ve never been in the closet, but I just hadn’t talked about it,” said Fetty, of Bridgeport, who became a teacher after a 25-year career in behavioral health ended following the recession. He wasn’t sure how the school would take the news.
“I was amazed — the support of the students, the support of faculty, staff, administration, they were amazing, just amazing. Actually, it was just one of the best days of my life, after my wedding day. We have good people up here (at Park), we really do — very caring, very loving, very genuine faculty and students.”
The Reader native added: “I would like to think that it would be like that all over West Virginia, but I don’t know that it would be.”
Fetty said he felt a cultural shift occur in the U.S. after Vice President Joe Biden spoke publicly in favor of gay marriage in 2012. Now, it is legal in all 50 states. He noted that to his students, it’s a non-issue. He used to bring up gay marriage when discussing controversial topics with his psychology students, but he no longer does.
“I just stopped … because it’s not at all controversial to them,” said Fetty, who advises the Gay-Straight Alliance, which averages 60 students at monthly meetings.
He said he is humbled to be part of the “Art of Inclusion” exhibit and proud of the Ohio Valley community for doing it.
“Thirty years ago, this would not have happened; 20 years ago, this would not have happened and probably 10 years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. I’m just proud and humbled.”
Scott, from the YWCA, said he has learned a lot about the LGBT community through the portrait project and hopes others will, too.
“Despite having a few gay and lesbian cousins, I don’t know as much as I thought I knew about the community,” he said.
The opening reception will take place from 5-8 p.m. Friday, and is part of Wheeling’s First Friday events.
“Pictures are going to tell (visitors) one story; and then, they are going to read the narrative, which is going to tell them another story. Then they’re going to see the actual human being. I just think it will open folks up to the idea that these people are so much more than any preconceived notion you’ve had of them. And they’re just like you.”
Added Alex Weld, Wheeling Heritage project and outreach manager: “This is something we want every type of person to feel comfortable at, to feel that they are welcome to learn about this culture, whether they are a member of it or not.”
The exhibit, located on the third floor of the Wheeling Artisan Center, 1400 Main St., will run through Feb. 16. The gallery is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The center is closed on Sunday.
The opening reception will include refreshments and a silent auction with various pieces of artwork made and donated by incarcerated individuals throughout West Virginia, including paintings, sculptures, leatherwork, drawings and jewelry. The proceeds will benefit the children of women who are in recovery and participating in the YWCA’s Women Inspired in New Directions (WIND) program.