MAD Interview Series: Kathryn Gillispie

MAD Interview Series: Kathryn Gillispie

Kathryn Gillispie is interviewed by our William Pounds. She works with the non-profit Art in Green Bank to teach art classes after having worked as an art teacher in West Virginia. She also is and has been a long standing artist in pottery, painting, and more.

You can find her gallery just off of WV-28 in Green Bank.

What is your story as an artist?

I had always been interested in art. When I was going to school in the 50s and 60s… okay we’ll date me… there wasn’t much art. I am from West Virginia, but I was from Kanawha County, which is a little richer county. So they did have art in the schools. That is not true in all counties in the state. I always followed an academic path, but I wanted to be a teacher. I thought I wanted to be an elementary teacher, so I went to college, to Glenville State College. I took some elementary art classes and was persuaded to change my field to art. I got an art comprehensive K-12 to become an art teacher.

Then I was recruited to Randolph County, in Elkins, to teach, and I started teaching there in early 1970. At that point I was the first art teacher in that county in 40 years. I’ll let you know there has not been very much art in the schools in this state. I got involved with Augusta Heritage Arts Workshop and I was one of the first coordinators. At that point, ’76 or ’77, I had to make up my mind if I wanted to be an artist or an art administrator. I went to WVU and got my degree in clay, a masters. I went back to teaching art. In the meantime, I am always painting and always making pottery.

So, I was an artist as well as trying to be a teacher. Becoming pregnant… I had four sons. That was a time you did not teach whenever you were pregnant. I was always able to generate monies, so I used my hands. So, I entered a lot of fairs and festivals. I entered a lot of competition to show my work, which I think is good because it makes you compete with fellow artists to make you become better. I started… I was elected president for almost 20 years at Artists at Work in Elkins. I started that co-op over there, as a business, but I had to talk other artists into joining me because I could not afford it by myself, to open up a business in downtown Elkins. So, 20 other artists joined me and we opened a business there.

When my husband retired from teaching, we bought a private family farm over here. His family’s farm in Arbovale. We moved over here. When I came to Pocahontas County, I had started another co-op over here with Pocahontas County artists patterned after the one in Elkins. At that point, when this building became available, I purchased it. I have had the building for about 9 years now. This building is huge. It is about 130 feet long, 30 feet wide, but it is an old building, about 100 years old. It has needed a lot of repair, renovation if you want to call it that. Right now we have about 25 artists. Last fall we might have had as many as 35 or 40. There has been a few changes going on.

We started a non-profit called Art in Green Bank to help get county funding, to help promote classes that we individual artists could not afford out of our own pockets. With that monies, I have written a grant with the state Arts, Culture, and History to do card making classes. We just finished that. We have been teaching a lot in the elementary school in Green Bank and in the Senior Center. We will have enough to keep it on going, giving people an opportunity to make their own work.

What advice do you have for West Virginian artists?

Not all artists are good business people, let’s put it that way. A lot of times it is not easy for an artist to go to fairs and festivals to promote themselves or brag on themselves or whatever. I have been guilty of this, just kinda sitting back, letting the art sell itself and you don’t push yourself out there too much. There was no marketing classes. No ways to learn at the time I was going to school how to present yourself. There are a lot of new opportunities now that I do not take advantage of, because I don’t know how – to be truthful. There has always been the interest there. So, even though I am not rich or anything like that, I still have the opportunity to make work, because it is almost like a studio here. If someone stumbles by me and wants to buy work, they always can.

What drives your art?

At this point I am doing it, probably doing it more, to promote the arts. I think this state is, a lot of counties, just starved for it. It is not in schools. It is not being promoted. I mean – I have a teaching degree and I didn’t retire as a teacher. There was just no jobs. I lost my job because I got pregnant. I was no longer employed. So, you had to generate stuff, but it was not the money that a full time job would have gotten.

For young people to come up in this state and to think they want to become an artist, it is difficult. It was hard for me. It is still hard for them. This way, when I do this, do the non-profits, do the classes, or just to generate something… hopefully it will get a spark up there that they have an interest in the arts and see some value to it. I guess it is… uh… art appreciation. I am teaching art appreciation if nothing else. I guess that is all I teach. I don’t know.

Here are links to her MAD page…

and the page for Art in Green Bank.

About Mountain Arts District

The Mountain Arts District is a place, a network, a resource for artists, and on-line, it is a directory for all people and events in our mountain counties. Its purpose it to promote the unique arts and culture of north central West Virginia, spanning the counties of Barbour, Pocahontas, Randolph, Taylor, Tucker, and Upshur. MAD was formed by a collective group of volunteers to strengthen the arts economy, establish the area as an arts destination for tourists, and increase the development of public arts. Join us!