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Music, art event features work inspired by Appalachia

By Staff | Jul 5, 2019

Megan Mullenax explains how the details in her work were inspired by Gerald C. Milnes' book, "Signs, Cures and Witchery: German Appalachian Folklore" on Saturday morning. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — When Shepherd University students graduate, many don’t anticipate working professionally with their fellow graduates. But over the weekend, Evolve became the home to a pop-up shop art installation featuring the work of a few Shepherd graduates.

Megan Mullenax, Spring Mills High School art teacher Steve Schaefer and brothers Jim Townsend and Ben Townsend joined together to hold an art exhibit over the weekend and release party on Saturday night, which featured the Townsend brothers performing songs from their new album, “Tabernacle: Two Themes for Yoga and Meditation.”

“We actually graduated together here, and were both at school at the same time. We went to school together from ’01 to ’05,” Mullenax said, mentioning she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in painting and Schaefer graduated with a bachelor’s degree in photography. “We’re both exploring different aspects of folk life. Kind of a nature approach to farm culture, but trying not to do the standard.”

Jim, who is a classical pianist and composer, worked to create the new album with folk musician Ben, who plays a variety of musical instruments. Ben’s instructor for one of those instruments, the fiddle, connected Ben’s music with the work of Mullenax and Schaefer.

“Ben Townsend learned to play the fiddle from Gerald Milnes, who wrote the book, “Signs, Cures and Witchery: German Appalachian Folklore,” Mullenax said, mentioning that book inspired her art in the exhibit. “Steve Schaefer is doing kind of the reality of Appalachia, and I’m capturing the folklore in my art.”

Schaefer’s photography focused on farm implements, landscapes and beehives in Appalachia, while Mullenax’s paintings featured spells and other supernatural Appalachian inspiration from Milnes’ book and family histories. While the two themes did coincide, it was purely by accident, as the artists had both been working on their respective collections for several years, according to Schaefer.

“Everything in here is Appalachia,” Schaefer said. “I like how things work, and I like to see how things work out — everything from when the steam engine is moving to the hives, seeing how they are working together. I am not somebody who thinks photography has to be 100 percent sharp and clear. I’m more interested in capturing motion.”

For Schaefer, how the farm life and machinery work together reminded him of how everything came together for the group’s pop-up shop.

“I think the biggest thing is, just the simplicity. How everything is working together,” Schaefer said. “We went to school together, and 14 years later, we got together and showed our work together.”