EDITORS/NOTE: It’s a Character Thing

It wasn’t until I began rounding third and heading for home with this October 2021 issue of WestVirginiaVille.com I realized it had inadvertently developed a theme all its own. It’s very much about characters. People with character and who are characters. But, before you forget, if you did not receive e-mail notice of this issue’s release, you can rectify that by free subscribing to this monthly web magazine at: WestVirginiaVille.substack.com | Douglas John Imbrogno, editor, WestVirginiaVille.com

Charly Jupiter Hamilton speaks for himself

The death late last month of beloved West Virginia artist Charly Jupiter Hamilton, at age 73, kicked off a flood of fond remembrances and homages to this eccentric, funny, whirlwind of psychedelic creativity. Peeking through the encomiums — and quite vivid in his work when you study it — is what my former Charleston Gazette-Mail colleague Bill Lynch identified succinctly in a description of Charly’s art as “a mixture of mischief, merriment, and misery.” Charlie could speak quite openly and with a battered wit about his often miserable struggles with drinking (and those of us who knew him for decades saw that struggle play out painfully). The other way of looking at it is he poured his demons back into his work. Quite literally. He balanced all the devils with angels, winged dogs, good friends, disgraced ministers, and other front-line dispatches from his Id. He was, in short a real character. And had real character. It was a blessing to share the planet with him and his art. But let’s allow the man to speak for himself, via a 2010 video I did of him back in the day for the Sunday Gazette-Mail.

READ ON | THE/ARTS: Charly Jupiter Hamilton, in his own words

The art of Public Art and artistic coffins

Part 2 of our three-part homage to Charly is a profile of his most notable public masterwork on the West Side of Charleston. His ‘Wonder Mural’ is a sort of sidewise Sistine Chapel, if it were run through “The Twilight Zone” and maybe “Pee Wee’s Playhouse.” In short, it’s a must-visit stop in West Virginia’s capital city. We talk with Jeff Pierson, the City of Charleston’s Director of Public Art, who has done so much to liven up the city public artistry. He teases two new Charly homages to come (a bench and bus are involved). He also documented the creation of a coffin, colorfully illuminated by a host of West Virginia creatives, which will convey Charly’s ashes into the Great Mystery. (Wherever we do go, he is no doubt doodling on the walls, as we speak). Finally, take four minutes and view WestVirginiaVille’s homage to the genuinely wondrous ‘Wonder Mural.’

READ ON | THE/ARTS: A public art boss on Charly Jupiter Hamilton’s bravura mural, an ArtBus & his artful coffin

Hippo hearts & Shakespeare meet in West Virginia

Our final farewell features a story Charly once told to a West Virginia 4-H camp. It involves chopping up hippopotamus hearts as an act of civic sharing and communal joy. Plus, he got the kids at the camp to do a line dance set to a Conga beat while singing the song. Our correspondent, Hannah Epstein, wonders if Charly pulled an all-nighter to cook up the song or just winged it. My money is on him winging it on the spot, if only because lines like: “Help heap hippopotamus hearts, / Your mama is a Cairo tart!” do not have the feel of studied consideration. They also sound like vintage brilliance from the crowded bazaar that was the artist’s imagination. Our farewell concludes with famed American journalist James Fallows’ remembrance of Charly, whose “Wonder Mural” caught his and his wife’s eye, earning for Charly a short profile in their HBO movie “Our Towns.” Peace along your way, friend.

READ ON | THE/ARTS: When Charly Jupiter Hamilton channeled hippo hearts & The Bard

The Art and Craft of Listening

Michael and Carrie Kline are both characters and recorders of characters — and of character, itself. The music they play speaks to enduring values of entertainment and social action. And their shared lifelong passion for creating the safe space for other people to tell their truest stories has created a notable body of work that speaks from the frontlines of daily life across Appalachia. Says Carrie: “I think the act of recording, listening and honoring is life-changing for people on both sides of the mic.”

READ ON | LISTENING/IN: Michael and Carrie Kline on thee art and craft of hearing & sharing stories

Channeling Dorothy Parker

We are happy to report that at least one manifestation of live theater returned to the boards in West Virginia recently (my audience section wore masks throughout). The even better thing was that Susan Marrash-Minnerly delivered a master class in acting in the one-woman show “You Might As Well Live,” at the Albans Arts Center in St. Alban , WV, last month. The play channels one of the 20th century’s most noted wits, Dorothy Parker, who chafed against her reputation for repartee when she had so many other skills at hand. And too often that hand reached for the gin.

READ ON | REVIEW: Considering the life and times of Dorothy Parker

Sending Eugene Debs up the river in West Virginia

In April, 1919, Eugene V. Debs, a four-time presidential candidate, was thrown in the state penitentiary in Moundsville WV for making a fiery pro-socialism, anti-war speech in Canton, OH. Here’s what happened next to one of America’s first socialist icons.

THE/PAST: When Eugene Debs was shipped to WV’s penitentiary for making a speech


EDITORS/NOTE: Look this way: september10.2021: Here is looking at you, Thomas, West Virginia. Plus, how a COVID test saved Jeff Seager’s heart and maybe his life; a Crystal Good essay on Black miners and Blair Mountain; new poetry and prose by James Cochran from “I Am Appalachian,” and how to get kids talking climate change before it’s too late.

EDITORS/NOTE: Hellzones & Heroes | Painters & Clouds | Gardens & Grief: august4. 2021: A look at the lineup for the August 2021 issue of WestVirginiaVille, ranging from global bodhisattvas from the West Virginia hills, to painters, artists, actresses, and memoirists delving into their lived experiences in the Mountain State.

EDITORS/NOTE: Elephant Ankles, a Dad’s love, Natural Sonatas, CROWN Act-ing & More: june7.2021: Welcome to the June 2021 issue of WestVirginiaVille. This edition covers lots of ground. It helps to have good people as guides, leading the way.

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