Now more than ever we need to be reminded how diversity should be celebrated instead of ignored. Without the many contributions of every race and gender, our country would never have reached the feats that we know today. Black history month provides the opportunity to remember the influence that African Americans have had on the past and will have in the future.
One of the most important careers in communications has always been reserved for a journalist. They must tell a story transforming it from reality to paper, which can be very testing. However, Alice Allison Dunnigan communicated the country’s information while creating history along the way. Dunnigan was the first African American female correspondent at the White House and the first female member of the Senate and House of Representatives press galleries. In 1925, she was a teacher in a segregated school house and attended a college for journalism. Alice created fact sheets of historical African American’s in Kentucky while she was a teacher called, The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians: Their Heritage and Tradition.
As her dreams of becoming a journalist grew, she began to write freelance. America was still highly segregated during her era, and her road to success very challenging. Dunnigan started writing for the American Negro Press full-time and gained the opportunity to have a capitol press pass. Her experience gave her the access to Congress news events, which was never given to women or African Americans. Dunnigan made her dream a reality when she began to write for Lyndon B. Johnson’s Administration in 1966.
Even as a correspondent in the White House, she still suffered through prejudiced actions. Alice fought for equality of women and African Americans in every aspect while a correspondent. She often asked questions about the growing civil right movement. Dunnigan made many pushes and achievements for women and African Americans. It’s important to appreciate that without women like Alice, we might not have accomplished the feat of black women in the White House. During February, take the moment to remember these forgotten heroes and share the stories of strong women to inspire an even greater future for the next generation.
At Bella, we are lucky to work in close proximity with some amazing artists in our community, like Clara Heaton. Clara is a prolific painter in her own right, but she also does a lot to support other artists in Roanoke and the surrounding counties. She recently completed her BFA in Studio Art with a concentration in painting at Radford University. Through a strong mentorship with one of her professors, Dr. Halide Salam, and a passion for creativity, Clara is emerging with grace and tenacity into Roanoke’s flourishing arts community.
The passion in Clara’s paintings speaks volumes. It is a beautiful abstract culmination of her thoughts, how she interprets the beauty of her own personal experiences, and ultimately the world around her.
After becoming Salam’s personal assistant, Clara saw her work for the first time. She immediately noticed connections in their work. Shortly thereafter, she also began a friendship with one of Salam’s graduate mentees, Kevin Kwon.
“Before I met Kevin, we were in a juried show together. One of my pieces was placed next to Kevin’s, and my dad pulled me aside and showed it to me,” Clara explains. “My work was very linear, and Kevin’s was incredibly organic.”
Both pieces were the start of something new for them as artists. Kevin and Clara were fascinated that, without having ever met one another, their two bodies of work had the exact same color scheme and such a cohesive presence in the room.
Months later, Kevin asked her if she would like to do a show together and Clara immediately said yes. She also suggested the include their mentor, Salam.
As serendipitous as this all may appear, the truth is, Clara’s dedication, courage, and love for art propels her forward as she pursues these opportunities.
“The cool thing about art and artists is that you cannot become a powerful artist by relying on your talent,” says Clara. “You have to start dedicating hard work to it. You have to say, ‘I’m going to set time aside for this.’ If you can’t get over your ego, then you won’t ever grow.”
Opening night for “A Sense of Place,” in which Clara, Kevin, and Salam will showcase their work, will take place in the Aurora Lightwell Gallery on September 2 at 5 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Together, the three artists from three different cultural backgrounds and levels of academic training, will respond to the feelings and perception of places unique to themselves through the discipline and practice of painting.
Visitors can also tour the gallery and view their work on weekdays from 10 am to 5 pm until September 30. For more information, visit www.aurorastudiocenter.com.
Linda Webb is more than the Executive Director of Opera Roanoke. She is a powerhouse for the art community, encouraging support for multiple organizations in our area. From Opera Roanoke’s performances to the exhibits at the Taubman Museum (and everything in between), she is one of many who reiterates that sustaining the arts is not just about raising money. It is about making sure people realize how special they are to Roanoke.
How did your interest in the art community begin? I grew up loving literature, music, and theatre. It spoke to my soul and I had a little bit of talent in those areas. When I was in college, I studied playwriting with Pulitzer Prize-winning Paula Vogel. After I graduated, I began working in the business side of publishing in New York, but I kept my hand in the theatre world. After ten years in New York, I moved to Roanoke to get married and made the switch to nonprofit fundraising.
I began volunteering at Mill Mountain Theatre. I was excited about what they were doing there, and when their development person left, Jere Hodgin asked me to take the spot. I found that much of what I had done in New York in ad sales was transferrable. My experience had made me fearless when it came to calling on high level people.
What led you to Opera Roanoke?
I took some time off when I had a baby. I was still on boards even though I wasn’t actually working. The first board I was asked to be on was for Opera Roanoke. They asked me to contribute the fundraising knowledge I had as a volunteer. It was a way that I could keep my hand in that world even though it wasn’t full time.
Soon after, I began working at United Way. I always tried to include friends from the art world in various things that we did.
I stepped out of the working world for a while when my mother was ill. When I began looking for a job again, the president of Opera Roanoke’s board asked me to be the Executive Director and I accepted the offer. I know just enough to be dangerous, but I know more about opera than I did a year and half ago.
What can audiences expect from Opera Roanoke in 2016?
First, it’s important that even those who don’t think they like opera come out and give it a try. If you come to an opera once, you might just be hooked. Our unofficial slogan is, “Opera Roanoke, we don’t care what you wear.” It’s fun to dress up, but not everyone does. Be comfortable, come in your jeans.
Also, if you are a student, your ticket is free. If you’re not a student, you can buy a ticket for $25 and sometimes less with Groupon. Regardless of where you are sitting, you are going to enjoy the show.
This fall, we are going to do South Pacific. It’s sad, it’s happy, and the music is unbelievable. In the spring of 2017, we will be doing Susanna by American composer Carlisle Floyd. Both of these shows have to do with prejudice and overcoming it or not overcoming it. It’s very timely when you think about all the unhappy stuff that is going on in our country right now. However, it is going to speak to your heart and your brain on a different level than when you read or see the news. That is why I say, and I’m not kidding, opera can save the world.
For more information about Linda and Opera Roanoke’s upcoming season, visit www.operaroanoke.org
Janet Scheid is one of the most inspirational women we know. Since her retirement five years ago, she has given much of her time and energy back to our community as a volunteer with several organizations and as a Vinton Town Council member. She is passionate about helping the town of Vinton grow and flourish as a place for both residents and visitors.
How did you become involved with the Vinton Town Council?
One of the council members, Wes Nance, had to leave council last July. He moved to Bedford, where he is the Deputy Commonwealth Attorney. His term will expire at the end of June, so council decided to appoint someone to fill his unexpired term. They sent out an advertisement, took applications, interviewed people, and selected me.
It’s been nine months since, and the term that I’m filling will expire at the end of this month. Last month, I was re-elected by the Town of Vinton to continue serving on the council.
What have you learned since you joined the town council, and what are you most passionate about as a member? When I started, there were those who said, “You’re retired. You don’t need this.” However, I’ve always believed that if you want to see something change, you have to be willing to work and make that change. My mother always said, “If you’re going to whine then do something about it.” There isn’t a lot that needs to be changed, but there are some things and it is an opportunity for me to step up to the plate and make those changes happen that I think are important. Vinton is a wonderful small town with a great small town feel to it. In order to keep Vinton a place to live and raise a family, I think we need to invigorate the downtown area. That is starting to happen with some redevelopment projects in town that are going to bring people to live here. I think it will lead to the demand for more shops and restaurants.
You grew up in Washington, D.C. How did that influence who you are today? Well, even back then, the first restaurants I can remember visiting were Chinese restaurants. This was in the early 1960s. There is a proliferation of them now, but back then there were very few. I was exposed to a lot of food from different cultures—French food, German food. I was also exposed to a lot of different ethnicities. My dad worked for the government and he was also a student getting his master’s degree. He had a whole network of foreign students that had come to DC to go to school, and he would have them all over to the house for the 4th of July. I think my exposure to so many different cultures just gave me a view of the world that maybe is bigger.
What organizations are you currently involved with and how did you get started volunteering with them? I’ve served on the board for Susan G. Komen for the last five years—two of which were as president. I also served on the board of the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy for 18 years. Currently, I am the secretary of the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Public service has always been important to me. My dad was proud of the fact that he was a government employee. He instilled in me that giving back is important. It’s one of the reasons that I retired as early as I did. I wanted to spend more time doing volunteer work.
Years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Today, I am proud to say that I am a 20-year-survivor. It is an important part of my life, and there is no doubt that it changed my perspective when it happened. I had a great job, but I was ready to start paying it forward and doing all of these things I wanted to do with various organizations. The thing is, I know I get more out of it than I give. I’ve met wonderful people. It definitely keeps me busy.
What advice would you give to women who seek to be more involved in their community? There is a lot to do. Now that I’ve been doing it for five years, it is amazing to me how much there is to do. I can’t imagine how some of these organizations will keep going without a dedicated core of volunteers to help do things. My advice is to jump in with both feet. Meet people, ask questions, and go to events. For me, Susan G. Komen came naturally and the land conservancy did too because I had an environmental background. You have to find what you are passionate about. Maybe it’s animals, church, or maybe it’s children. There are just so many opportunities out there for volunteering.
What’s next for you? I am excited to continue serving on town council, and I have another year and a half or so on the Komen board. I’m going to be figuring out what’s next for me over the next couple of years. Some things are going to start to end, and I’ld like to branch off into some new areas. I haven’t figured out where the’s going to be. I know I’ll be busy. It’s not in my nature to sit. However, I am learning to say no. It’s an art I haven’t mastered before—but I’m getting there.
Betty Branch is a world-renowned artist whose travels throughout the years have expanded and reinforced her knowledge of art history and techniques. Her studio here in Roanoke is a magical place where thirty years of artwork, much of it focused on the female form, creates an environment of self-reflection and personal growth. Five of her eight children are also artists and showcase their creativity within the space. The family shares an affinity for exploring the complexity of femininity through different mediums. Betty and two of her daughters, Bonny and Katey, shared their thoughts with us on this process.
Isabel, part of the Taubman Museum of Art’s permanent collection, is elegant, a muse, and her expression reflects that she too may be captivated by something unseen. What was your inspiration when you created her? Betty: “She was the first female figure that I have done that was something other than straight realism. Isabel is an impressionistic sculpture that represents my impressionistic realism. What I had in mind with the pose was an introspection. I wanted the piece to be a meditative piece, but it also had to do with the centering of the self in the female.”
What have you been able to share with your daughters as an artist? Betty: “I would say that I’m pretty convinced that all of the girls saw my delight in the art. There was never any question that I was exercising a great love and freedom in doing it. I was part of that period that was on the edge of feminism. I was not espousing feminism per say at the time, but I still very strongly needed to exert for myself the power that I felt was due to women. My daughters have come along and fully exercised that without any need to worry about any repercussions.”
A Friend for Life, outside of the South County Library, captures the moment that literature opens the realm of possibilities for children to pursue their interests. What was that moment for you as a child? Betty: “I am an only child, and we moved around a lot. I was in 15 different schools growing up. Reading was my main source of entertainment. That was the thing that was very important to me. Early on, I was fortunate to have access to nursery rhymes and fairy tales. That, I am quite certain, is a very solid foundation upon which much, if not all, of my work is based. The sense of possibilities of mythology, all of that is very empowering. That is what fairy tales are all about—empowerment or the lack of it.
I have painted and drawn for as long as I can remember. It never occurred to me that it could be a career until all of my children were in school and I was without that major focus of child-bearing and raising them. There was a sudden void in my life and the art was there. It really burgeoned.”
As your children began to develop their own artistic interests, how did you encourage their development? Betty: “Obviously, they have a gift that is undeniable. They saw what art meant to me. I took them to classes with me way before I was making sculpture art as a career. I would take anything that I could get myself into—weaving, paper-making, or pottery. It was pottery that led me to sculpture because I had not experienced real clay before that time. My pots sprouted faces and arms. It was through that experience of piling all the kids that were at home in the back of the station wagon, and driving to whatever little art festival there was to spend the day that they saw other artists with the things they had brought. Those were really special good times. I think it’s just in them. Every one of the eight could have been artists had their lives taken just a slightly different turn.”
Bonny: “When I was nine, Mom and I traveled to Greece for the summer and I was given an old brownie camera. I fell in love with the old door knockers on Crete and used my camera to record the variety of brass hands adorning the ancient wooden doors. I didn’t know I had a passion for photography until I returned from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and Thailand. The images I captured thrilled me because I could show exactly what I saw with others and I used those images in my first art exhibit.”
Much of your family’s work focuses on the feminine form—both young and old. What about that resonates with your family? Katey: “ I am blessed by powerful women, like my mother, who have forged the way through a time dominated by men, to create a way for those who have followed to have less barriers when they step out in the world to follow what has heart and meaning with more vulnerability.”
Betty: “It’s very meaningful to us. Katey teaches a course in self-realization and she’s done large scale canvas paintings of women that are used at that conference. All of them are very conscious of the necessity for there to be a legitimate equality in the exercise of power. It’s not that anyone wants to flip it over and say that women should rule the world, but if half of the rulers were women, then we would probably have a different result.”
For more information on Betty Branch, her family, and her art (which is exhibited all over the world), visit www.bettybranch.com.
As LeeRay Costa wraps up her spring semester as a professor at Hollins University, she looks eagerly towards summer and the fourth year of Girls Rock Roanoke—a volunteer-run, community-based organization that she began in 2012. The week-long day camp is part of a larger global network called Girls Rock Camp Alliance. It is a place where girls and gender non-conforming youth form bands, write their own songs, and perform at a final showcase. They also participate in workshops on topics like women’s music history, body confidence, and stage performance. This incredible experience is changing lives right here in the Roanoke Valley.
What made you want to bring Girls Rock to Roanoke? Our family knew about the Girls Rock concept for a long time. We watched the documentary when our daughter, Tallulah, was young. When she became old enough to attend camp, we found one in Durham, North Carolina. We planned our summer vacation around camp so she could have that experience. She played keyboard for several years, but at camp she discovered the drums. Through working with the band, she found she had a real skill for it. At the end of each day she couldn’t wait to tell us everything she had learned.
Her excitement was inspiring, and I started talking to the organizers of the Durham camp because I wanted youth in Roanoke to have these opportunities and experiences.
How does Girls Rock Roanoke help empower its participants? Some people think of us mainly as a music camp, but music and creativity are mediums for developing other skill sets. For example, campers learn risk-taking, because in one week campers learn an instrument, write an original song, work with a people they may not know, and then perform their creations live on stage. We live in a culture that tries to mold girls into a certain way of being. They are expected to be cute and silent. This crushes their potential in many ways. We want to create fertile ground for their potential to grow.
Has the camp opened doors for you to explore your own interest in music? Yes. A few volunteers, including myself, attended Women’s Rock Retreat through a Girls Rock camp in North Carolina because we thought, “If we are going to ask the girls to do this, we need to put ourselves out there and see what it’s like.” I played bass and sang for the first time. At the end of the three-day camp, we played at the Pinhook. There I was, in my 40s, up on stage singing a punk rock song called, “Hormone Whiplash.” It was scary but very empowering at the same time.
How do you balance Girls Rock Roanoke and your work as a professor? One important factor is the support of my partner, Andy Matzner. Not only does he happily claim the label of feminist, but he truly walks the talk in sharing all the responsibilities of being in a partnership and raising Tallulah. He was the first person to encourage my dream of bringing Girls Rock to Roanoke, and he has been there every step of the way.
Furthermore, Girls Rock is a team effort. It would be irresponsible for me to take credit for the tremendous labor and deep love that many others have contributed to Girls Rock camp over the years. Our program director, Lucy Coronado, our volunteers, and our Board work year round to make camp a success. Together with our campers, they inspire me to make Girls Rock a priority.
There are two camp options available this summer: one week for ages 8-11 (July 11-15) and a second week for ages 12-16 (July 18-22). This year’s theme, “Rocking for Change” will incorporate social justice issues into camp activities. Be sure to pick up our June issue for LeeRay’s interview and the interviews of nine other extraordinary women we are celebrating this month!
Jordan Kantor, a permanent cosmetic artist at Skin Care Consulting Inc. in Roanoke, is a recent graduate of Painting and Printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). She completed her bachelor’s degree in just two and a half years, and began to pursue a career that complements her artistic background and education. Although she may not follow the path that many expected of her, Jordan is using her talent to touch the lives of women in Roanoke while staying true to the creative muse within.
After graduating from VCU, what led you to pursue a career as a permanent cosmetic artist in Roanoke?
I definitely started to feel that I wanted to begin pursuing this career during my freshman year at VCU. My mom was a huge an influence, as she began Skin Care Consulting in 2004, but I began to notice similarities in my experiences with art and permanent cosmetics. For example, I gave a lot of attention to detail and was drawn to hyper realistic and trompe l’oeil art. Once I began researching the industry and came across eyebrows, camouflaged scars, areolae, and more I realized that with such precision, one could not tell the difference. I fell in love. I felt that this career was a way for me to impact someone’s life using my knack for detail.
How do you incorporate some of the skills you acquired throughout your education in this process?
Towards the end of my career at VCU I had an independent study with Sarah Faris, a professor who heads the Scientific and Preparatory Medical Illustration track within the Department of Communication Arts. It was very helpful to study the anatomical structure of the face and skin through illustrative note taking, a skill Sarah taught me involving the combination of both drawings and text.
Sarah was one of the few VCU professors that encouraged me to continue pursuing this career. Over the course of my education, there were those who could not see the connection between fine art and permanent cosmetics. Sarah could see this relationship and served as a positive source I could turn to for advice. Her work as an illustrator for medical journals such as Dermatologic Surgery served as confirmation that I had chosen the right mentor.
My work with Sarah served as one of the most empowering moments in my career at VCU. I wish to extend this feeling of empowerment to my clients by giving them a sense of confidence in themselves, obtainable through this artistic procedure.
My experience with color theory proved to be extremely helpful when choosing pigment colors. There are a few differences in color theory for permanent cosmetics. When you are painting onto a white canvas with a bright red paint, it will show up bright red. However, if I implanted a bright red pigment into the skin it has to shine through the layers of the skin, mixing with cool undertones making the end result different than what would seem intuitive.
What is next for you professionally and what other projects are you working on in your spare time?
I will complete eyeliner training before June with Will Anthony, a world-renowned permanent cosmetic artist. My mom and I are going for 3D areola training in August with Vicky Martin, an artist/trainer from UK who creates the most realistic looking nipples we have seen! I am a member of the Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, which is dedicated to promoting permanent makeup safety, excellence, and professional standards by providing education, certification, and industry guidelines.
In my spare time I like to create little greeting cards for clients to pick up to send to friends and family, or to display around their home. I still am painting on the side, and we are considering having an art gallery set up at Skin Care Consulting to showcase my art somewhere in the future.
If you are interested in learning more about Jordan, or the many skin care and cosmetic services available at Skin Care Consulting, go to www.skincareconsultinginc.com.
Gina Bonomo, owner of Wool Workshop, is a large part of a movement that is redefining the knitting community. Sewing, knitting, and crocheting are regaining popularity, and the influx of younger customers in the market is challenging the concept that these hobbies are exclusive to older generations. Her attention to detail, passion for creativity, and use of social media to promote and sell her products have made Wool Workshop the place to go for unique and trend-setting yarn and patterns. However, what keeps the customers coming back is not only the quality of the product they are getting, but the welcoming learning environment that the store offers.
What made you want to start a boutique yarn store? I owned a shoe store called Sole Mate for over ten years. It was humming along really nicely, and it was very established. Then my best friend was diagnosed with lung cancer in Richmond. I felt like it was a good time to spend more time with him. I tried to look at the big picture of what was important. I wanted to open something there, so I decided to sell my shop to my manager. I also signed a non-compete agreement that said I could not sell any clothing, shoes, or accessories in the New River Valley or Roanoke area.
I was preparing to move up there and start a whole new business venture, and he died. I did not want to put down roots there if he wasn’t there anymore, so I had to rethink what I was going to do.
I had always been knitting things for people and enjoyed that creative side. This was at the same time that the scarf-craze was happening. Knitting was becoming mainstream. So I decided to open a knitting shop, and it was exactly what I needed. It was healing my soul from the loss of my friend and the business I didn’t have anymore.
Let’s talk about the name “Wool Workshop.” Why did you choose it? Workshop implies a creative space. I don’t like to view this yarn shop as a brick and mortar retail location, but instead as sort of a think-tank, fashion-driven, garment-driven space. It fits with my fashion background and what I have been doing my whole life. I know when I first opened, people didn’t see the connection, but I still feel like I’m in the fashion industry. We are creating garments with sticks and string. I don’t feel like that is a stretch at all. In fact, it is more creative and fashion-driven than what I was in before.
Why do you think knitting is increasing in popularity now? Sewing, knitting, and crocheting, and many other handiwork things got lost when women went to work. Leisure time went away, and in terms of the garment industry it became cheaper to buy a finished garment than it was to make one yourself like our mothers and grandmothers did.
We are so tech-driven now, and I think that is making us begin to move towards things that make us feel human again and less like machines. Knitting allows people to get back some of the things they have lost. It is about regaining some leisure time and things that have meaning.
How do you choose the yarn you offer to your customers? Anything local is very appealing. We get something in from a local farmer, and people know the cotton was grown, picked, dyed, and processed in Virginia. Customers love that, because it makes us feel like we are looking out for each other.
I also stay on top of the trends just like clothing stores. There are things people want to knit with and things they don’t want to use. We pay attention to the Pantone colors of the year, and we also offer a lot of products from popular Indie dyers.
When you aren’t knitting or helping others work on their projects, how do you spend your time? I like to read and spend time with my kids and my husband. I run file miles every day, and I have for the last thirty years. That’s really important to me. I like to keep moving—it makes me a more interesting person to get out of my little circle and see other shops. I am an entrepreneur first and foremost. Of all the other things I do, like designing, my main thing is I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I’m a retailer. I’m having the time of my life really. I could do other things that would make more money, but I just want to be fulfilled, live an authentic life, and be happy.
For more information on Wool Workshop, visit www.skeincocaine.com. Follow @skeincocaine on Instagram for special yarn auctions every Thursday and Friday! Finally, don’t miss Stephen West—the biggest name in knitwear design and knitting. He is coming to Roanoke and Wool Workshop on June 11-12.