Ella Jennings Published

Ohio Valley Artists Share Insight: Find Your People


In a Yurt overlooking the city of Wheeling, traditional Japanese painter Hiromi Katayama showcased her portfolio book containing photographs of a vibrant spread of enormous floral paintings she’s made to a group of Ohio County School students. Some pieces spanned across twenty feet of folding screens, which left students in awe.

Katayama, a native of Japan, shared her work alongside two other artists — screen print illustrator Logan Schmitt, and filmmaker and fine artist, Michael McKowen, both from the Ohio Valley.

The artists spoke about sacrifices they’ve made to be successful in their profession. For Katayama authentic Japanese food was a hard sacrifice, but all three mentioned strained relationships, and the enduring financial challenges of being a professional artist.

Public school students in Ohio County have been working with our Northern News bureau to explore issues and professions in the Ohio Valley. As part of the storytelling initiative, students interviewed a panel of professional artists. A Japanese painter, an illustrator, and a filmmaker. Students worked with journalist.

As part of a youth storytelling series from Ohio County public schools and the Rural Arts Collaborative, students learning about various professions and themes in the region recently interviewed a panel of professional artists. From lessons learned in and out of the region, students collaborated with Gow Ohio Valley’s Ella Jennings to bring us this story.


Credit Michael McKowen / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Hiromi Katayama dons theatrical headdress created by Michael McKowen.

Credit Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broadcasting
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Student Question: What does it take to be a professional artist here?

Katayama: I think the most important thing to be [an] artist is that you just have to believe in yourself and continue working towards your own goals and not get disrupted by some other stuff that [is] easier for you.

McKowen: Yeah, I think the probably the most important thing is you have to have passion, because it’s an extremely challenging field to be in because it’s so competitive, and there’s nothing that’s easy about it. So you’re constantly faced with disappointment.

Schmitt: I would say it takes a lot of patience. It’s not always that you get to where you want to be right away. It’s kind of like a marathon more than a sprint.

Student Question: Do you ever have a hard time letting go of a piece of art you’ve made?

Schmitt: I haven’t made anything that I would hold dear like completely and would never let go because a part of what I like about art is to be able to share it with people.

Katayama: I don’t have anything that I kept for myself at all. The bottom line is I can make another one. So I’m not worried about it. I worry about injuring my hand sometimes. Like when I’m driving. I was like, what if this truck hit me? How do I protect my hand? I think about that all the time.

McKowen: The problem is, is that eventually you run out of space. Like, that’s just the reality of it. Even no matter how much a piece means to you, at some point, you have to think about letting go.

Student Question: How do you deal when something doesn’t go according to plan?

McKowen: Sometimes things go disastrously wrong. But at the end of the day, you still have to go How do I make this work? Like how can I fix This. And that’s where that creative problem solving and that abstract thought comes in. And I think that’s one of the greatest gifts that we received from creating art is that you learn that problem solving.

Katayama: This area, I found out it’s very, very closed. If you know people, then you’re good to go. But if you don’t know people, if you’re new to the area, if you don’t know anybody, then it’s harder. So just stay who you are. And just approach the people as true to yourself.

McKowen: I think one of the advantages to being in the Ohio Valley, first off, is the cost of living, and makes it very affordable to be an artist, as opposed to being in a larger city or something like that. By that same token, we are in a smaller market area. And as they both were saying, it’s that network of friends. So it’s not only people are working in the same field as you, but finding people that inspire you and motivate you and if you can form creative and collaborative relationships with that it’s so much easier, because there are those times when you don’t want to go, you don’t want to do it, but your partner is there to inspire you and to move you forward. So that’s really it just as these guys said that’s I think that’s the most important part is finding that community and finding those people who have that same passion and interest that you have.

Student Reactions

Cobra: The part that I really like about it is when they talked about how sometimes they mess up but that doest mean that it’s ruined and I think that’s an important thing, is as I go through life I try to think like, even if you ruin something, it just means you have to get creative about how to fix it, it doesn’t mean that it’s over. I really liked that.

Rattlesnake: What I took from that was in order to achieve your goal, you’ve got to never give up. Because they talk about when they messed up, they tried to do it again.

Gibbon: Something I really liked about listening to the interview was hearing them talk about the significance of the relationships that they have and not just with the other artists, but the other people in their lives, and how that plays a role in their ability to create and continue pushing through some of the difficult or more challenging times within their field of work.

Mr. Crow: I just think that it’s great for the students to learn that there are other opportunities in this part of the Valley other than the typical jobs that they usually hear about or most of their family is stuck in and things like that.

***Students’ names have been withheld to protect their identity.

This story is part of a youth storytelling initiative made possible through Oglebay Institute and the Rural Arts Collaborative (RAC). RAC is funded by the Benedum Foundation and aims to bring professional teaching artists into schools during the content day to enhance the arts education experience.

It was recorded and produced out of a yurt in an outdoor classroom in the middle of an urban farm in downtown Wheeling.