Sunday, February 3, 2013

Visionaries + Voices: Art From the Soul

Imagine discovering a treasure chest of artwork that connects you to the soul of the artist. My husband told me about Visionaries + Voices in Cincinnati that provides a professional studio environment for artists with disabilities. The idea of a grassroots program that features work by self-taught artists led us to visit one of the workshops. We admired Christmas ornaments, stuffed animals, and paintings. Then a drawing caught my eye. The impressionistic cabin and evergreen now hangs in my kitchen.

Visionaries + Voices started “specifically for artists with disabilities.” Artists given the chance to grow on a personal and professional level have the opportunity to learn new techniques and sell their work. Samantha Charek, Outreach Director, for Visionaries Voices answered a few questions for me.

Tell me about the mission of Visionaries + Voices and how many people the program serves.

Founded in 2003, the mission of Visionaries + Voices is to provide artistic, cultural, and professional opportunities for artists with disabilities. We create a world in which artists with disabilities not only produce and share works of art, but also are given continuous opportunities to learn, develop professionally, collaborate, exhibit, and celebrate with community members.Visionaries + Voices currently supports approximately 150 artists.

Can you explain what the term outsider art refers to?

Outsider art is a term that refers to art created "outside" the established art world.

Is the group local or are there any national groups?

V+V is a local 501c3 organization. There are a few organizations around the country that have similar missions, but there's only one V+V. Our founders, Bill Ross and Keith Banner, started out just making art with a couple of artists in their basement and things grew from there. V+V later expanded into a studio space at the Essex and today we have two locations in Cincinnati. One is in Northside on Spring Grove Avenue and the other is in the Tricounty area on Northland Blvd.

Where is the artwork sold? Can any be purchased online?

V+V artists exhibit their work constantly. We curate one show per quarter in our gallery at the Northside studio location (the next one, "Up, up, up, and up" is opening on February 21st 5-8pm). Artwork is always available for sale at every opening and we also welcome people to drop in during studio hours (M-TH 8am-8pm and F 8-4) to meet artists and check out the work. Our artists also participate in countless other exhibits in galleries and public spaces (like coffee shops and salons) throughout Greater Cincinnati.
Our website is currently being redesigned. We do have an online store, but it is primarily used for merchandise (T-shirts, posters, etc.) WIth150 artists making work all year round, inventory is a massive job. We've found that shopping for original works of art online is not something that most people are looking for. They need to experience it first hand to decide. We do accept donations online and people can sign up for our "Collectors Club" membership online as well.

Does the artist receive payment when their work sells?

Yes. When V+V artists sell their work at a V+V sponsored exhibit, the artist receives 70% of the final sale and V+V keeps 30%. Outside galleries usually charge a larger commission, but we ensure that our artists never make less than 50% even if that means we (V+V) don't keep anything.

V+V artists who teach lessons for the Education Program also receive a stipend for their work.

Does the organization use volunteers? If so, how does that work?

We love our volunteers at V+V! If you are interested in volunteering as an individual or as a group just contact our volunteer coordinator, Jennifer Franks,

How long have you worked for V+V? Can you tell me a highlight for you from working with the program?

I have worked for V+V since June of 2008. Every opening is a highlight for me. That might sound too cliché to be true, but the environment at V+V exhibition openings is unlike any other I have ever experienced. There is so much diversity and appreciation and respect for that diversity at each event. That includes people and artwork.

Thank you, Samantha. To learn more about Visionaries + Voices go to: 

Do you have any interesting art programs in your area?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Children and Art

In the movie Yours, Mine and Ours, single mom Rene Russo proclaims “Homes are for free expression, not for good impression” after her new husband Dennis Quaid tries to bring order to her organized chaos. As an artist, she encourages her children to explore and discover their creative abilities.

Van Gogh's Sunflower
by Dylan
We tried to raise our children in a home of free expression by providing them with fabric, thread, paper, paint and anything else we could find to create beauty. God made each person with different talents and I wanted them to find theirs. As a result they all have art as a part of their life. Through teaching, photography, writing, sewing, crocheting, painting and more they express their skills and creativity.

Now our grandchildren have found the joy of art. Our first grade granddaughter has discovered Van Gogh through the insight of her wonderful art teacher. The excitement she shared with me about her favorite artist reminded me about how important it is to introduce children to the great artists and encourage them to dabble in color.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art published two books for young children to introduce famous painters:

  Monet'sImpressions                                                                     Vincent'sColors


Both books offer colorful illustrations and easy to read stories of the artist’s lives.

I find joy in having the freedom to express myself through art. But, even more I appreciate sharing in my grandchildren’s handiwork.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Great Read to Escape Into

Key Witness by Christy Barritt
A Love Inspired Novel
Available in February 2013

Can two hearts entwined in intrigue have the faith that they need to fall in love? Former pageant winner, Elle Philips works for her father’s re-election campaign. After she witnesses a bank robbery and a murder, her father hires Mark Denton, a security contractor, to protect her. While Elle receives threats and tragedy engulfs her, Mark works to find the perpetrators and stop the evil that surrounds them.

From the first page, Key Witness grabbed my attention and didn’t let go. With just the right amount of suspense, Christy Barritt creates a fast paced page-turner. This suspense story with a splash of romance, will leave the reader with a sense of hope and faith that God keeps his promises. Key Witness is part of Christy’s series, The Security Experts. Read more about Christy’s books at

Saturday, January 12, 2013


The college where I work hosted International education week in autumn semester. Students sample foods from around the world, learn about opportunities to travel abroad, and enjoy art work created by the artist in residence. My favorite event this past fall was the BeadForLife fair trade exhibit. I want to share their story:

A chance encounter

BeadforLife began with a chance encounter between women. Our co-founders Torkin Wakefield, Ginny Jordan, and Devin Hibbard met Millie Grace Akena while walking through a crowded Ugandan slum. They were on their way to visit a sick woman when they saw Millie sitting on the ground outside of her mud home; she was rolling small strips of paper into colorful beads in the sweltering sun. Intrigued, they stopped to talk to her. 

Less than a dollar a day

They soon learned that Millie was originally from Northern Uganda, but had been driven from her home by Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). To protect her children from being kidnapped as soldiers, Millie fled to the Kampala slum. To support her family, she worked in a rock quarry crushing stones into pebbles with a hand mallet. In order to earn enough for one meal a day, her children often had to work alongside her in the hot, dusty quarry. For their efforts, the family earned less than a dollar a day. Millie said she loved to roll beads out of recycled paper, and proudly showed Torkin, Ginny and Devin a bag full of her unique hand-made necklaces. She also shared that she had no market for her jewelry.

Paper beads bring hope

Our co-founders admired Millie and bought a few of her necklaces, wearing them around Kampala in support of her handiwork. Immediately, others began to notice the distinct jewelry and asked where they had been purchased. Believing there was a market for the paper jewelry, they returned to Millie's slum. With her help, they met with a hundred more women who knew how to make paper beads, purchasing a few necklaces from each. At this time, they had no way of knowing that their lives, and the lives of so many impoverished Ugandans, were about to change.

Birth of the bead party

Once back in the US, our co-founders shared their experiences with others. Through word of mouth, women across North America began to purchase the beads and were captivated by the stories of resilient Ugandan women lifting their families out of extreme poverty. As suspected, there was a market for the hope-filled, hand-rolled beads and their inspirational creators after all! In September 2004, BeadforLife was officially born. At the time, our dream was to provide opportunities for a few dozen women from Millie's slum. Today, we provided opportunities for thousands. To see how our dream has grown, visit Our Work in Uganda.

I love wearing the beads. They are not only beautiful, they make a difference. The women of Uganda now have means to feed their families while doing work that they enjoy. The bright colors of the beads remind me of hope. My hope in mankind grows when I find out about people who work to make someone else's life better.

Do you know of any fair trade organizations where the sales go back to the artists and crafters?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Work In Progress


I’m so glad you stopped by. For the blog hop, I’m talking about my work in progress, my first ever novel. I’m excited to say that I’ve finished the rough draft and am in the process of editing.

What is the working title of your book?
Peace, Love and Mashed Potatoes 
I chose this title because my main character finds all of those things when she moves home after several years away.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

The idea was planted in my heart by God. I never dreamed that I’d write fiction. I’ve been writing devotions, book reviews and articles for several years. One day God nudged me to write Willow’s story. When the story came to me, I knew that Willow was a troubled soul who needed to find her way home. Because I love stories where the town has a strong role, I wanted Willow to return home to a place that had memories, but had also changed.

What genre does your book fall under?

I’ve settled on the contemporary romance genre after playing around with women’s fiction and romance.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?


Willow Abbott would be played by Gemma Arterton. 

Reed McRae would be played by Rob Mayes.

Bess (Willow’s sister) would be played by Emily Blunt.

Micah (Bess’s husband) would be played by Geoff Stutts.

Bailey Joy (Bess and Micah’s daughter) would be played by Taylor Hogue.

Annie Abbott (Willow’s mom) would be played by Bianca Spender.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

For Willow Abbott, moving home meant a short break until she found a new job, but Reed McRae has other ideas that might just involve her heart.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am hoping to find an agent who will represent my work. I appreciate their knowledge of the publishing business as well as the market.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I wrote the first draft over a period of two years and for the last several months, I’ve edited. I also work a full time job and have a family.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’ve been influenced by the writing of Robin Gunn Jones and Debbie Macomber. I love the books they’ve written about small towns and finding love. The Glenbrooke series by Robin Gunn Jones might be a good comparison.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Reading so much good fiction written by Christian authors has pushed me forward. Several people in my life, including my family and my critique group in the ACFW have encouraged me. I’ve written for several years, but never considered fiction until I felt a nudge from God. I don’t know where this will take me or who I will touch with my story, but I know that God has a plan for the manuscript.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

The book is set in southwest Ohio and has several references to areas around Cincinnati and the rural areas that surround the city. Willow is a professor who teaches English and Reed owns the local bookstore. Part of the story focuses on Willow’s journey back to God as she seeks to forgive her father.

As far as the love story, about the time Willow accepts that Reed might be the one, a twist brings an unexpected discovery that may make or break they’re relationship.

I also have a Pinterest page for Peace, Love and Mashed potatoes. Visit at:

Thanks for stopping by.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What I learned from the Hobbit: part 2

Since January 1, I’ve read several posts about choosing a word for the year. When I first pondered this, no particular word came to mind. Then I saw on Facebook that someone had chosen the word “fearless” last year. When my eyes fell on that word, I knew that God wanted me to adopt it for 2013. Now I’ll admit, choosing a word like fearless scares me. I’m sure you get the irony. But, I also know that perfect love casts out all fear.

You may wonder what this has to do with the Hobbit. If you’ve read the book or watched the movie, then you know that Bilbo Baggins was not known for his bravery or his sense of adventure. Even so, he tucked away his fear and left his home behind because he wanted to help his new found friends. Thorin and the other dwarves doubted him more than once. But he reassured them. “ I know you doubt me, I know you always have, and you're right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that's where I belong; that's home, and that's why I came cause you don't have one.. a home. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can.” Instead of hiding behind his fear, Baggins stepped up and put the hopes and dreams of his friends, before his own comfort.

J.R.R. Tolkien said that, “Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.” As I venture into this new year, I ask God to give me courage and to take away my fear. God has set a task in front of me. He wants me to join him on this wild adventure of writing and publishing. Like Mr. Baggins, I need to get out of my own way and follow my heart.