By Jan Mercker

Loudoun artist Eric Scott was supposed to be leading a workshop on visual journals in Portland, OR, at the end of March. But as travel plans and local classes dried up in the wake of COVID-19, Scott has turned his focus to lifting up other artists—and encouraging non-artists to get creative.

“This crisis has helped me prioritize things that I wanted to be a priority but wasn’t finding the time to do or the motivation or whatever—now I’m doing it,” Scott said. 

Around Loudoun, visual artists are shifting gears, with a new focus on building community. For the county’s artists, many of whom earn a significant portion of their income from teaching, canceled classes have been a big blow, Scott said. But he and many of his colleagues are learning to pivot and working to lift each other up. Like many colleagues, Scott said his initial response was panic as teaching gigs dried up within a matter of days.

“I think a lot of people have had to figure out ways to pivot… A lot of people scrambled at first. All of a sudden their entire stream of income was shut down,” Scott said. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought if I help other artists and we start lifting each other up, we start having this network, and that can help everyone rise and uplift everyone. I realized I now have the time to do this thing I wanted to do anyway. It helped me really focus on that.

Last month, Scott launched a new “Amplify” series on his blog, featuring profiles of area artists and others from around the country whose work he loves. Scott has profiled Loudoun artists Steve Loya and Brian Kirk along with favorite artists from around the U.S.

“They’re people that I admire, people that I get inspiration from their artwork. … It’s just reaching out to people and making those connections and helping to amplify them. That word just kept coming up: amplify. … It’s always been this idea of creating community.”

Scott is a former Loudoun County Public Schools art teacher and a noted mixed-media artist, best known for his visual journals. Scott has co-authored two books with fellow artist and educator David Modler: “The Journal Junkies Workshop” and “Journal Fodder 365.” He got into the journal medium two decades ago, inspired by Modler when the two worked together at a local school.

“I just loved what it was.” Scott said. “I always carried a sketchbook, but a visual journal is different. It’s drawing, it’s painting, it’s collaging, it’s writing. It’s just really an everything book. That’s how I like to think of it”

Scott is originally from the Pittsburgh, PA area and earned a degree in art education from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. He taught with Loudoun County Public Schools for nearly 20 years. But Scott left his career as a public school teacher when demand as an instructor around the country began to ramp up. He’s now manager of the Round Hill Arts Center where he also teaches classes and leads summer camps. Scott launched his podcast “Artistic Accomplices” in 2019, a mix of interviews with other artists and Scott’s own thoughts on art and artistic process, intended to encourage and inspire. For Scott, encouraging working artists to share their journeys can help break down barriers to making art. 

“I think there’s a lot of myths and misconceptions about creativity and making things and what artists do and that gets in the way of a lot of people doing their own thing,” he said. “You don’t have to be an artist to make something, and when you make something, you are an artist. … Yes, you can get a degree but you don’t have to do that.”

Scott has launched a series of online pay-what-you-can journaling workshops at his website and has students from Europe and around the U.S. along with locals. A new four-week session starts Wednesday, June 3.

Scott is also a regular on the annual Western Loudoun Artists Studio Tour, where his beloved “Monsters” series of paintings and sculptures is a popular fixture with visitors to his garage studio in downtown Purcellville. Scott said he missed the registration deadline for this year’s upcoming virtual tour but is planning to be back in 2021. For now, he’s online, encouraging Loudouners to make something.

“It’s about getting the hand moving. It helps get you in a different mindframe. There’s something really powerful there, especially during this time,” he said “I would encourage everybody to get a journal and work in it. There’s so much going on. Just getting your hands moving and making something helps you process it.”

For information on Eric Scott’s online classes and to check out the “Amplify” series and “Artistic Accomplices” podcast, go to ericscottart.com.

‘A Roadside Attraction’

Down the road in rural Neersville, a new art space in a former fire hall is drawing in visitors for an unexpected drive-in art installation.

Anne Weshinskey and her husband Arni Gudmundsson have had the space in the works for months but had to pivot when a planned international show was canceled. Instead, an organic community-focused installation, where visitors drive up and stay in their cars, took its place.

The Wayside Wondercabinet’s “Stuff We Made in Isolation” exhibition officially opened to the public last weekend with strict social distancing measures in place. 

Anne Weshinskey and Arni Gudmundsson’s inaugural show in their new art space in Neersville was canceled because of COVID. They let a homegrown drive-up installation grow in its place, and visitors are flocking to check it out. [Anne Weshinskey]

Both Weshinskey and Gudmundsson have backgrounds in conceptual art and wanted to bring the idea of artists’ initiatives—installations run by artists rather than a traditional gallery setting—to Loudoun after being involved with similar projects in Europe and the Middle East.

“We’re thinking about it less as a gallery and more as an exhibition space and roadside attraction,” Weshinskey said of the new space located in a former firetruck bay at the Between the Hills Community Center, a former fire station.

For Weshinskey, whose parents moved to Neersville when she was in her late teens, northwest Loudoun has been a kind of home base for three decades as she traveled the world pursuing a career in performance art. She met Gudmundsson in Turkey, and the couple lived in Sweden before returning to the U.S. They now live in Harpers Ferry, WV, and have jumped into the Loudoun and Eastern Panhandle arts scenes in recent years.

The couple were scheduled to open the space with an installation featuring nine international artists specializing in multiples this month. That show was canceled when COVID-related logistics got in the way. In its place, an organic installation featuring work from neighbors in Western Loudoun and West Virginia grew up. Weshinskey says the project started with a neighbor, Shari Reuschel, who was teaching herself to paint during self-isolation.  Reuschel submitted paintings of beets, ramps and morel mushrooms. Word caught on about the pop-up show, and submissions started to flow, with the focus being on work produced and skills developed during quarantine.

“We’re just kind of playing it by ear. It’s this impromptu thing,” Weshinskey said. “People have been doing creative things in their houses and trying to learn new stuff”

The installation includes a video piece from Weshinskey and Gudmundsson’s Cosy COVID Corner, featuring several quarantine projects, including a mobile featuring COVID-shaped clay pigeons and a skeet gun. Most of the pieces in the show are from non-artist neighbors, including Weshinskey’s mother Mary Weshinskey who submitted a “bugzooka” stinkbug destroyer and a sculpture made from weeds from her garden.

The show does include pieces from art professionals including noted painters Kurt Schwarz and Sage Chandler and Smithsonian photographer Cory Grace. But Weshinskey isn’t interested in their typical work for this show. Instead, she wanted experimental work that reflected the impact of the pandemic.

“I didn’t want Kurt Schwarz to paint me a painting,” Weshinskey said. Instead, he submitted a mobile made of animal bones.

Weshinskey and Gudmundsson are still accepting new work for the show. Wayside Wondercabinet is open Saturdays only from 4 to 7 p.m. for drive-up viewing. Visitors are asked to pull into the bay and remain in their cars as they check out the installation. Last Saturday, there was a line of several cars at 4:30 p.m. patiently waiting for a turn to check out the roadside attraction, and Weshinskey says the line tends to peak around 5:15 p.m.

Wayside Wondercabinet is located at Between the Hills Community Center, 11762 Harpers Ferry Road north of Hillsboro. For more information or to find out about submitting a piece to the current installation, go to v4larts.com.