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Women of Appalachia project celebrates women artists, tenth anniversary

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The 10th Annual Women of Appalachia Project featured poetry, music and fine and performing arts from Appalachian women artists, Thursday, Nov. 14, in Ironton, Ohio. The Women of Appalachia Project consists of women from all over the region, including Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee and Ohio.

Kari Gunter-Seymour, founder of the event and poet from Athens, Ohio, said she decided to create her own art show after having difficulty trying to feature her artwork.

“I was trying to get my fine art into art shows, and a lot of my art wouldn’t get in,” Gunter-Seymour said. “The comments were that, ‘It feels like you’re trying too hard to be ethnic, your colors are very odd and different, and it doesn’t quite go with the other pieces I’ve selected.’ And I realized it was because I was Appalachian.”

Gunter-Seymour said she never expected the event to become as large as it has, but through hard work and dedication from volunteers and women of Appalachia, the event reached its tenth anniversary.

“The first year, there were five fine arts women artists, four of them poets and then following forward I made a website and did a call for art in neighboring counties, then states and promoted,” Gunter-Seymour said. “And now with the help of volunteers we’re traveling all over the place, and it’s all from one woman’s mouth to another.”

Gunter-Seymour said she would like Appalachian natives to walk away from the event with pride of their region and also have embodied a relationship with the artists and their work.

“I want Appalachians to walk away feeling proud to be Appalachian and have some renewed faith in the fact that we are going to overcome this stereotype,” Gunter-Seymour said. “I’d also love for them to walk away loving fine art and poetry because sometimes people say they don’t like art because I don’t understand it. But I think people like that they can talk to us straight on and ask us about our piece.”

Gunter-Seymour said as she has evolved into a poet she has involved traditional customs passed down throughout her family to truly express herself in her art.

“I am a storyteller poet, and that comes from my heritage and culture because Appalachians are storytellers and we’re kind of like Native Americans and that’s the way that our culture has lasted and recorded because we have shared it from generation to generation so it couldn’t be lost,” Gunter-Seymour said.

Mikaela Curry, poet from Kentucky and newcomer to the Women of Appalachia Project, said she is excited about her recent involvement with the group through her love for her region and poetry.

“I feel like poetry is important for everyone, and a lot more people are poets than realize it,” Curry said. “We all have something to say and things that we feel, and poetry is a good outlet for that. I love anytime I can participate in something that brings poetry to people because I think that it’s really powerful.”

Curry said being reared in a close-knit neighborhood in Appalachia has influenced her work as a poet.

“Living in Kentucky in a small community and seeing how it’s kind of hard for people with marginalized voices to always feel welcome has really influenced the scope of where I’m going with my poetry,” Curry said.

Curry said the Women of Appalachia event helps fight the negative stigma and stereotype Appalachians are labeled with and exposes other identities and people in the area.

“A lot of people have an idea of a caricature of what Appalachia is and what Appalachians are but don’t realize the other identities and wide range of people and voices,” Curry said. “And events like this help to give faces and perspectives and to kind of deepen that so they will have a better idea.”

Curry said uniting over mediums of art help build the society of Appalachia, through mutual understanding and motivation in the creative ability of poetry.

“It’s different when you get in a room and people are reading poems than if you are just sitting by yourself reading,” Curry said. “So hearing a poem in someone’s own voice or story or song followed by each other builds this energy and emotion and you can feel it, and it’s almost hard to articulate. And these kinds of experiences can both connect communities and inspire people to delve deeper into poetry and exploring it for themselves.”

Gunter-Seymour said she hopes through sentimental topics and empathies attendees of the event leave with a warmed heart and perspective of Appalachia.

“I like to think that when people hear the poetry, short stories or music that they will be touched very personally where they live inside their chest and move them and give them that feeling of inclusiveness and love of Appalachia,” Gunter-Seymour said.

Lillie Bodie can be contacted at [email protected]

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