Thursday night we went to mass at the local Catholic parish, Holy Redeemer. As you can see in the picture on the left, it’s an unassuming building. It’s rather small since it need only serve the 54 Catholics who live in Lewis County. Looking back on it, it was a perfect depiction of the Appalachian value of sense of beauty that Jones describes. This church didn’t have the soaring rafters or intricate statues that grander churches might possess. But it was still beautiful in its craftmanship, which Jones notes the Appalachian people take much pride in. Some, myself at one time included, might say that Appalachian art is simple. Now I think this doesn’t do justice to the skill that goes into it. Instead, I think a better way to understand it is that the art is a reflection of the modesty and unassuming quality of the region as a whole. Beauty is found in practicality, not ornateness.
Especially noteworthy in the church were the handmade stations of the cross made by local artist, Charley Campbell. These were black and white sketches that are set in the local town of Vanceburg. While unpretentious, these stations pack a lot of rhetorical power. By choosing Vanceburg as the backdrop for his stations, Charley makes a conscious effort to see Jesus in his own community. Doing so makes them social commentary as much as they are religious symbolism. For instance, Charley says in reference to his depiction of Jesus’ first fall: “I tried to depict all three falls in the same way. Jesus was a very poor man and I am sure his house was not very nice. People here who live in houses like these feel like they are failures. I do not think that is right. Jesus lived that way and he was able to get up”. So much for being simple huh?
It’s thoughts like these that show that the so called “simple” art of Appalachia and the “simple folk” behind it are not simple at all but deeply philosophical in their determination of what is beautiful. They are like most of us, looking for an accurate representation of beauty and truth. As deeply religious and communally oriented people, as Jones' values assert, it is no wonder that they find it in Jesus, who they envision in their local environment. Patrick, the other Farm manager said that the people she's met have shattered any preconceived notions she held before coming to the region. I can see why.
I can’t resist pointing out that during the exchange of peace, Charley’s eyes lit up when he saw me and he said “Oh my gosh boy- you would make a fantatstic Native American! Your face is perfect.” See? The Appalachian people are always looking for beauty, even in the face of a college student who hasn’t shaved or bathed in 4 days.