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‘Spirit of Shepherdstown’ Bench Project to resume in September

By Tabitha Johnston - Chronicle Staff | Aug 31, 2020

Ana Prillaman, of Shepherdstown, paints a bench with a theme inspired by the Potomac River's wildlife, by Trinity Episcopal Church on Saturday afternoon. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — This weekend, the “Spirit of Shepherdstown” Bench Project will take a break, after two previous weekends filled with activity at the project’s outdoor location in the yard of Trinity Episcopal Church.

According to one of the project’s organizers, James Gatz, the painting on the six remaining benches will resume next weekend, with local artists Josh Leigh and Chris Steffey from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Local artists Rose Sanders and Alisha Hanlin will be painting benches at the same time on the next weekend, Sept. 12 and 13.

This past weekend, Shepherd University alumnae and Shepherdstown artists Morgan Sell and Ana Prillaman could be seen painting their respective benches under socially distanced canopies near the corner of Church Street and West German Street. While the previous weekend’s painters had uniquely different designs, Sell’s and Prillaman’s designs both focused on Shepherdstown’s relationship with the Potomac River.

“The river here signifies home for me,” Prillaman said, mentioning she hoped her bench’s portrayal of the Potomac River with its native wildlife would encourage those passing its future German Street location to visit the river. “I’m going to put a message on it, ‘Look around you,’ to encourage people to notice the nature that surrounds them. Just take a moment and enjoy looking around, or go by the river and watch the birds!”

Prillaman is currently furloughed from her maintenance job at the National Conservation Training Center, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. In both her work there, supporting the work of ecologists, in environmental activism and in painting the bench, she hopes to promote environmental protection.

“Even though I’m not doing anything exciting, I know my work is worth it,” Prillaman said. “If I sit here and paint a bench that will inspire someone, I’m happy about that.”

Prillaman’s representative art interpretation of the Potomac River provided a fascinating contrast to Sell’s symbolic design.

“This is a compilation of the Town Run and the Potomac River. The colors are a nod to the pride flag — I want my students to know that it’s important to Shepherdstown,” Sell said, mentioning that as part of her duties as Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church’s director of campus ministry, she leads Connections, a Shepherd University-focused student LGBTQIA advocacy group. “That’s my goal — that people know us as an inclusive town.”

When she’s not creating art, working or homeschooling her two sons, Sell spends her free time advocating for local environmental protection, as secretary of the Eastern Panhandle Green Coalition.

“My aim is to make sure that future generations have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe,” Sell said, mentioning this connected with her bench design, as well. “A lot of injustice happens in rural West Virginia, all over the state — we’ve been the dumping ground for large corporations’ waste. Even in Falling Waters they’ve been effected by the pollution of their waters.”

Sell will be holding an art show, featuring her paintings, at Evolve the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after the General Election.