In Focus: Meet the Women of Appalachian Art

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This is the story of three women of Appalachia who were raised with the strong roots and culture of Appalachia, but without the stereotypes so many outside the region project on women.  They are successful and express themselves through their art.  They talk about their success as a natural result of their upbringing, not in spite of it. Check out the slideshow at the bottom of the story for pictures all three women during their childhood and with their families now.

Kristine Williams

Kristine Williams spent most of her childhood in Lancaster, Ohio after living first in Athens and Chicago.

She is now a professor at Hocking College in the arts and sciences department and has worked there for the past 26 years. She began working after graduate school at Ohio University, through a grant-funded program for communication-disadvantaged students, and then transitioned to working with inmates at the Hocking Correctional Facility.

“I liked the work I was doing there, which was part teaching, part administration, but a whole lot of interacting with the inmates. I was treated very well by the inmates because I think I was the same age as their daughters and granddaughters,” Williams said.

The average age of the inmates was 60 years old when Williams worked at the Hocking Correctional Facility.

Williams is a former managing editor of Riverwind, a literary journal focusing on Appalachian themes. Through Riverwind, Williams got involved with the Women of Appalachia project, which encourages women of the Appalachian area to show visual and written art reflecting their lives.

Williams also reads at events locally and writes her own poetry.  A close friend and former co-worker of Williams, Carolyn Highland, noted that Kristine’s poetry inspires her.

“It sometimes feels as though she has read my mind and put my thoughts into the words I couldn't possibly express. For example, I can relate to the poems she writes about her children–the love she has for them, the heartache she feels for their heartaches, the fears and hopes she has for them, the times she feels inadequate (although she isn't), her moments of pride, amazement and joy in being a mother,” said Highland.

Kari Gunter-Seymour

Kari Gunter-Seymour was born in Warren, Ohio, but spent most of her childhood at her grandparent’s farm in Amesville. She classifies her upbringing as Appalachian not only by growing up in Amesville, but also because her family hails from the mountains of West Virginia and Tennessee.

Gunter-Seymour works as a graphic artist and photographer and draws much of her inspiration from living in this area. She is the founder of the Women of Appalachia project and works with the women involved to develop their talents.

She encourages women who are part of the project to form strong bonds with each other through the arts.

“As women, we come to each other to share words that bring us familiarity, support and trust. Women create attachments from which we divine the
necessary elements to find our sense of the world and our place within it,” reads the project’s mission statement.

Gunter-Seymour said that the project is often personally rewarding.  

“When they enjoy it, I love it! And when they feel good, I love it! And then when they go on and they do even better, oh my god! It just makes me feel so great and it’s not like I’m trying to take any credit for it per se, but it’s just like- ‘oh yeah! That’s the way it’s supposed to work. That’s exactly the way it’s supposed to work,” Gunter-Seymour said.

Gunter-Seymour understands the Appalachian stereotype but believes that she and the women she works with are working very hard to change the belief that women in this area  are, “underrepresented, undereducated and under-groomed.”

Emily Prince

Emily Prince grew up in a housing development in Mantua, in the northeastern Ohio Portage County. She went to a small school in a rural farming community, where she played both softball and soccer.

Her civil service designation is the program specialist for Arts West, a part of Athens city’s parks and recreation department. She facilitates the programming that goes on at Arts West, including music, theater, film screenings or dance projects.

Prince completed her undergraduate studies at Ohio University and then lived in Athens with her future husband. After three years in Athens, the couple moved to New York City, where Prince worked as a stage manager for four years. The intimate community setting is what drew Prince back to this area.

“My professor called, who I hadn’t spoken to in 5 years and I said ‘Why don’t you just open a community center and hire me to run it?’ And he was on the committee that was putting Arts West together and this was exactly what I wanted to do and when I got this job, I was like ‘Well!’ and that’s how I found my way back,” said Prince.

Wendy McVickers, a friend and colleague of Prince’s, collaborates with her on different projects.
“She’s certainly influenced me. I feel more of a playfulness about my work that is something that was maybe always there but with Emily I feel like I have permission to be more playful. I really like that,” said McVickers.