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Artists assemble at ReStore weekly for creative expression

By Clint Thomas, Metro Reporter
Former New Hampshire resident and pet portrait artist Ann O’ Leary moved to Charleston five years ago and said the Charleston WV Art Group has been a wonderful social opportunity for her since relocating.
CLINT THOMAS | Metro From left, Charleston WV Art Group co-founders Anna “Tookie” Nibert and Bernice Deakins stand with Pinch artist Janet Pendergrass at Pendergrass’ painting of the Babcock State Park mill.
Dale Porter of Dunbar has been a Charleston WV Art Group member for nearly four years.
West Side resident Mary Pritt works on an acrylic painting at a recent Charleston WV Art Group morning gathering. She joined the group about a year ago, she said.

Artists of all experience levels congregate to create each week at the John L. Dickinson Family Homeowner and Education Center.

Located at the corner of Court Street and Piedmont Road in Charleston, the center is part of the ReStore facilities of Habitat for Humanity of Kanawha and Putnam. The Charleston WV Art Group meets there, courtesy of ReStore, every Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m.

The Charleston WV Art Group is entering its fifth year as a free studio outlet for adult artists. The group was the brainchild of Anna “Tookie” Nibert, who spends her winters in Florida and the rest of the year living in Charleston.

It was an open studio Nibert attended in Florida that inspired her to form a similar group in the capital city.

“After my husband died, I was going to be in Charleston most of the year,” Nibert recounted, “and I wanted to be active in the artists’ community.”

She endeavored to create an open studio where artists could bring their own materials (and skill levels) and work as an informal group. After a year and a half of searching for a suitable site, she said, the ReStore board of directors offered the space for use. “The ReStore has been very welcoming and generous. We’ve had a very good relationship,” Nibert said.

Nibert was joined at the outset by Bernice Deakins of Charleston, whom she had met a few months before at an Alban Arts Center affair. Together, they founded the Charleston WV Art Group.

Four years later, the group has approximately 40 active members -- and more than 500 followers on its Facebook account. Participating artists come from as far away as Hurricane, Clendenin and Spencer weekly -- or as often as they choose -- to join in the collaborative effort.

All art mediums are welcome to use -- except for oil paints, because of fumes -- in the open studio. Many of the artists’ works hang on the walls of the center; some have been purchased by ReStore visitors.

“We have a lot of retirees who come here,” Deakins said. “The reason we started the Thursday group was for people who have to work.

“For a lot of retirees, this is their only social element. They get to come and talk and share. They have the interest of art in common.”

“Another thing that applies to me, when your husband or your child or a dear friend, close relative dies, they say this is a saving place for them. It helps in your grief process. It helps them to get out of the house. We feel like we’re a kind of a therapy group. I always say painting is therapy, and it’s a lot cheaper than going to a psychiatrist -- and it’s a lot more fun. I really believe an awful lot of these people believe that,” Nibert said.

“We’ve had some people who are deep in their grief. That’s really why I started it.

“We have people who have come who have never had a brush in their hand,” she said, “and we advertise that all levels, from beginners to people that paint for fun and people who paint commercially. We have Tamarack artists, graphic design people.”

“It’s not just painting. People can come in and knit or sew. A couple of weeks ago, we had a sewing collective here, making bears for a charity,” said Deakins.

The Charleston WV Art Group is also active outside of the studio. Members pitch in for a variety of area activities.

“Anything they need volunteers for,” Deakins said. “We helped paint the Children’s Theater of Charleston. We’re involved in FestivALL, the East End and West Side Main Streets, the Alzheimer’s Association. ... Some of us have donated to Manna Meal. We do Artwalk as a group. We have kind of a permanent display at the old Stone & Thomas building; we display our art in the window and change that up once a month.”

“We’ve done fundraisers for the Clay Center and a lot of different organizations,” Nibert said.

Art Group members have also repurposed products from the ReStore, such as Christmas decorations, for sale.

“We’ve tried to be good ambassadors and tenants,” said Nibert.

The group also takes field trips. Parkersburg, Point Pleasant, Lewisburg and Tamarack are among recent destinations.

“We invite people to come see what we’re working on and just visit,” Deakins said. “We share our supplies. We have paints and canvases and matte board and brushes back in our closet. If they’re interested, we’ll give them a little, impromptu class to get started.”

More information regarding the Charleston WV Art Group is posted on its Facebook page.


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