Troy’s Country Workshop Artists celebrate 40 years of creativity with biennial art sale
By Gary Spencer
The sheer volume of visual arts being produced in the Miami Valley might surprise outsiders, and these works are not just being exhibited and sold in downtown Dayton. In fact, one of the longest running art organizations in the region can be found roughly 20 minutes north of the Gem City in Troy. Troy’s Country Workshop Artists (CWA) was formed in 1961 by a group of 11 creative-minded women with a somewhat simplistic goal of nurturing the creation of visual art within their community and giving such art a venue through which to display their works. The CWA came up from very humble beginnings, including meeting regularly in an old streetcar in a field full of sheep.
“The ladies who had been involved in a church bazaar banded together and founded the Country Workshop,” explained Bonnie Rashilla, current president of the CWA and a member of the collective for nearly 30 years. “A member had a streetcar on her property that may have been on the Piqua Troy Trolley system many years ago. It was out in a field of sheep near her house. The streetcar became their meeting place — no running water, heating or toilet facilities but plenty of sheep.”
The Country Workshop Artists hasn’t merely survived but has grown over the years. The CWA membership now boasts more than 30 active female artists working within a variety of artistic mediums including pottery, silversmithing, weaving, graphics, carving, painting and more. The collective is also regularly putting on workshops, demos and classes with the added support of the Troy school system. Working with Troy schools seemed like a natural fit. In the mid-1980s the CWA started sponsoring yearly scholarships for aspiring students from the community with a flair and talent for the visual arts to continue their art education and development in a college or university setting.
“The $500 annual scholarship we give to students going to accredited art schools and colleges is for the tools of their trades … for paper, pencils, books and tuition as they choose or need,” explained Rashilla. “Many (students) have been successful in the art world. These students have gone on to become teachers in schools, art professors in colleges, art directors in publishing houses, book illustrators and other occupations in the art worlds of Chicago and New York as well.”
These yearly scholarships are partially funded by a two-day art sale in Troy, sponsored by the CWA known simply as the Country Workshop Artists Art Sale. This year’s art sale will be the 25th edition of the biennial event, and this year the artist members of the CWA will also be joined by 50 other craft and fine artists on an invite-only basis to come show off their works and potentially sell them to an expected crowd of 7,000 attendees. While most of the artists featured at this year’s CWA Art Sale are from towns north of Dayton such as Troy and Piqua, the roster of participating artists also draws invitees from California and New York City.
“We select work of outside artists by keeping an eye open for new artists who are showing their work in various venues such as art fairs, shows, personal contact and word of mouth,” said Rashilla. “We bring examples of work and photos to committee and after group approval of the work we invite the artist to be in the sale.”
“The artists like to participate because we sell,” she added. “We are also attractive because the work is brought to us on Thursday, sold on Friday and Saturday and any left is collected on Saturday at 5 p.m. They do not stay with the art (and) therefore are free to pursue other venues. Our commission is only 20 percent. We have not charged more because we feel we are obligated under our goals to give artists the opportunity to get their work in the public eye.”
So what kind of arts and crafts will be for sale at the 2011 Country Workshop Artists Art Sale? According to the Rashilla, the variety is staggering.
“We have a wide range of goods to offer,” she said. “They include fiber, embossed wood boxes, wood furniture, shibori scarves, baskets, funky hats, felted purses, paintings, flags, lampwork, pottery, jewelry, folk art, pysanki, note cards, hypertufas and ornaments as well as books by local writers. We work as a group on various projects as well as our own specialties. Customers will find some art work here that is not available elsewhere, many handmade and designed one-of-a-kind items.”
While on the surface Troy might not be the first place people think of when it comes to cities embracing the arts, to Rashilla it doesn’t seem all that surprising and the CWA has had a hand in keeping their town one that embraces creativity.
“Troy has been involved with community art programs for many years,” she said. “Michael Bayshaw installed a musical sculpture in our park. We have a mural, ‘Sunrise Sunset,’ designed by Aka Peryma of Troy in our Town Square. We often have artists in residence at our local schools. Our Hayner Cultural Center and City of Troy sponsor music programs and art related events. The Country Workshop Artists make contributions to these activities, physically and financially.”
The 2011 Country Workshop Artists Art Sale will be held Staunton Grange, 1530 N. Market St. in Troy, October 21, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and October 22 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free admission. For more information, call (937) 339-0619.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.