This is an interview with JoLynn Powers, who blogs at https://westvirginiamountainmama.com/ and creates public art and murals. She lives in Upshur county and is currently working on restoring the Golden Rule Building in Barbour County. You can find her MAD page here – http://www.madwv.com/item/jolynn-powers/
What was your first experience with art?
I am from a creative family. My father was a welder by trade, but also did welding in an artistic way. He did drawings and carvings, very hands oriented – not professionally trained to be an artist. Probably, in the modern day, now, he could make a very good living with his welding artwork. My brother is a professional artist. I think in our family it was just part of who we were. So, I started drawing as little as five or six. I did my first mural at twelve inside my elementary school. I did not realize that I wanted to be an artist for a living or a career until I was much older. So, it has always been something that I had done. I can remember painting a mural in my bedroom in early high school and having a giant collage on my wall, and taking art classes all thru school.
I had learning disabilities, and my father did too. I think art became a positive outlet for a lot of that stress and confusion that comes with being learning disabled and having to manage going to school with people who do not have those issues. So, for me, it was a kind of coping tool and it kind of progressed from there. By the time I got into high school, realistically, I wanted to do art the rest of my life. I did not pursue college right away. I did some other traveling and seeing the world.
It took until I was probably 28 or 29 before I said, if I am going to get a college education and I am going to pay for it – not someone else – I am going to do what I want. So, I pursued art. One time I thought I would go into painting, but, ultimately when I was in college, I was really called to printmaking. So I spent more time doing printmaking than anything else. And then after college, I went into interior decorating and design work, which I had no background in, but the art helped. I did that for a few years, until I got frustrated. It has just never stopped, I don’t know when it started and I don’t think it will ever stop.
How did you go from there to writing a blog and doing public art?
I don’t see it really that differently, for me personally, going from drawing to painting to printmaking, not so much painting, but definitely drawing to printmaking is basically just one transition of the same concept, the same ideas, just expressing them on different materials. I did some painting in college. I thought, when I started college, that would be where I wanted to go. Ultimately, not that I am not good at it, but it does not capture my attention as other things have.
The blog was designed out of necessity. Christopher was little. I started the blog when he was three, I quit working and my mother in law had terminal cancer. I had literally gave up my career, my jobs, came home and took care of a three year old and a cancer patient. So for me, the blog was the only way that I could have a creative outlet in an environment were it was very chaotic and lots of little kids involved.
Dog whines loudly.
That being one of them?
The animals have always been in the picture in one way or another. The blog was a place where I could pick up an idea and work on it for 15 or 20 minutes if that is all I had before the next thing happened. I could shut it off and no one was going to bother it, and it did not need to dry. I could spend another 2 or 3 days and let it sit, and still process all the ideas in my mind that I wanted to put down and then I could pick up the computer and open it and start it again.
What were the original inspirations for the blog?
With the blog, I had specifically started reading other peoples blogs that were more about AmeriCorps actually. I read two blogs that were about AmeriCorps experience and read a lot about travel and adventure and history blogs. That gave me an idea what they looked like, how often they posted, what content they were using. But it really started out specifically as an online journal. I didn’t really have any intention of making it into what it has become. I think it was just again, that outlet or just a safe place to be creative. Whatever was on my mind. Just like in art in general there is no limit on what I could create. There is no one telling me what to create. For me it was just this open door, where whatever was on my mind whatever opinions I had, whatever I felt I needed to express it was just this safe, quiet place to go.
What ended up happening over the course of a couple years, I initially had talked to my family, my children, about them being part of it. Because I knew that, if I was writing about my life, they were going to be included in that story. So, I needed their permission. But I had really thought it was going to be a travel, adventure, outdoor blog. That was really where it started. What ended up happening was that the more I worked with AmeriCorps and the more I saw how West Virginia was portrayed in the media, the more irritated I got. And the more irritated I got, the more I wanted to rebel and push back against that stereotypical portrayal that they have of West Virginia in the media.
The blog took on a whole different meaning for me in particular. It was about sharing culture, it was about sharing history, it was about sharing positive images and stories about what happens here. So that people from the outside do not only have one side of the equation.
People were getting a specific story on a national level, which was the coal miner, the poverty, the lack of opportunity here. That really irritated me. So, I started writing against it. That’s what fuels it still today. That desire to share a more positive, deeper story still drives my blog today.