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Cultural Center to open new exhibit

Treasures Found! Appalachian Portraits by Connie West

(publication images available below release)

The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History will unveil a new exhibit, Treasures Found! Appalachian Portraits by Connie West, on Friday, Sept. 8, 2006 in the Art Gallery of the Cultural Center, State Capitol Complex, Charleston. An opening reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. The exhibit and reception are free and open to the public. The show will remain on display through Nov. 5.

Connie West was a native of eastern Kentucky. She studied art and education at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn., received a master’s degree in education from the University of Georgia, and later another master’s degree in art from the Baltimore Institute of Art. She taught elementary school for many years, then taught art in Baltimore county schools.

West’s paintings were seen throughout the eastern United States. Several of her paintings also were featured in works of poetry published by her husband, Don. In West Virginia, her work primarily was shown at the Appalachian South Folklife Center (ASFC) near Pipestem which she and her husband founded in 1965. The center is a “progressive, nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to a mountain heritage of freedom and self-reliance; a place where people of all ages, races, faiths and origins can share community work and creativity.”

The Wests also were co-founders of the Highlander Folk School in New Market, Tenn. in 1932. When the school first started, it was very “labor-centric.” Its goal was to unite workers in many skilled and unskilled industries and create a progressive, racially integrated labor union.

Connie West died in 1990. Her work has been out of the public view since then. Because much of it was lost or destroyed by fire, some of the paintings in the show are digital copies. The original pieces were provided by the Wests’ daughter, Ann. The digital copies were provided by the West Virginia Labor History Association and Wess Harris, publisher of When Miners March by William C. Blizzard.

At the reception, the West Virginia Labor History Association will induct two new members into the West Virginia Labor Hall of Honor at 7:30 p.m. Ken Hechler and Bill Blizzard both are known for long careers of support for the working people of West Virginia. While in Congress, Heckler was the principal architect of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, which for the first time put a ceiling on the amount of respirable coal dust allowed in mines, and stipulated stringent safety regulations. He also was active in supporting the black lung movement and Miners for Democracy. Blizzard, who will be inducted posthumously, led the “Red Neck” Army of 10,000 miners in the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, and spent the majority of his life working for the United Mine Workers of America. He died in 1958.

In addition, Appalachian Celtic Consort will play a short concert at 7 p.m. and a dance later to close out the evening. The band performs traditional Scottish and Irish music, and the evening will mark the release of their third album “Come By the Hills.” Martha and Steve Ballman will serve as callers.

The Wests’ daughter, Ann Williams, also will sing and give an introduction to her mother’s works.

For more information about the exhibit and reception activities, contact Stephanie Lilly, exhibits coordinator for the Division, at (304) 558-0220, ext. 128.

The West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. Visit the Division’s website at for more information about programs of the Division. The Department of Arts, Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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Painting "Ona Blankenship, Quilter" by Connie West

Painting "Three Musicians" by Connie West (l-r) Fred Coon, Frank George and John Hilt