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New Arts Council director excited for new challenge

January 17, 2006|by TRISH RUDDER

trishr@herald-mail.com

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Finding your niche sometimes takes more time than you like, but if you're lucky, it's a natural career progression.

For Wendy Wells, the new Morgan Arts Council executive director in Berkeley Springs, it began early. Wells said she became interested in the arts as a child.

"I have always made things," she said.

At age 7, she said she made her first wooden sculpture.

"It was very primitive," she said.

Wells was born in the Philadelphia area, but went to high school in New York City when her family moved there. At 25, she returned to Manhattan to be close to her family and started creating handprinted fabrics, "which led to wearable art," she said.

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"I was always making things and always creating things," she said.

In 1980, two of her art pieces were shown at the International Art Exposition in New York, she said.

During the 1980s, Wells started her own photo design company, and worked in set design and costuming for professional videos. She worked with singing artists Elvis Costello, Cyndi Lauper and Hall & Oates, she said.

Wells also had her own company in Richmond, Va., in commercial still photography and set design for advertising accounts such as Texaco, American Express and Virginia Power, she said.

In the early 1990s, Wells moved to the town of North in Mathews County, Va., and lived there for the past 15 years. North is a small tourist town like Berkeley Springs, but "right on the water," she said.

"There are so many similarities," she said. "There are about 9,000 people in the 80-square-mile county."

She became interested in herbal remedies and received certification in herbal medicine. Wells started an herb farm, and began making herbal products and sold them in her shop. That led her to teach herb classes and herbal craft making like fabric printing using leaves and flowers, she said.

Wells also began experimenting with handmade paper making and wanted to make it professionally, she said.

Her classes became popular and more people were interested in learning about crafts and the arts, so she developed a space where the arts could be taught.

In 1997, Wells founded the Mathews County School of Country Arts with a $300 annual budget. It is now the Bay School Cultural Arts Center with about a $300,000 annual budget, she said. She was the executive director there for eight years.

"For it truly to belong to the community," Wells said, she realized "it was time to let go and to step back."

Her daughter lives in Alexandria, Va., and told her about Berkeley Springs. When she learned there was an opening for executive director of the Morgan Arts Council, she applied for the job. She began her new position Nov. 1.

Wells said she wants to develop a plan that reflects the needs and wants of the community.

"I want to expand the definition of art. Art is interior decorating and fly-fish tying - knot tying and rope splicing are examples. Art impacts every facet of our lives. Art studios can be in the kitchen, garage or your garden," she said.

"It's not just oil paintings hanging on the wall," she said.

"The Ice House belongs to the community, and the arts can be used to improve the lives of all of the residents of Morgan County," Wells said.

"At the Bay School, we designed and implemented programs for senior citizens, special-education K-12 and at-risk youth and other areas of underserved people in the county," she said.

As head of the Morgan Arts Council, Wells said, "we want to create programs to serve all members of the community. My agenda is to serve the community of Morgan County and the organization."

"This is a huge, new challenge, but it's exciting," Wells said.

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