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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

The Circle of Art: Unveiling a year-long tapestry of creativity and resilience in Yellow Springs

Marie Hertzler turns the pages of the art books at the Yellow Springs Public Library.
David Seitz
/
WYSO
Marie Hertzler turns the pages of the art books at the Yellow Springs Public Library.

Artists in Yellow Springs embrace creative connection through a year-long collaborative project.

As we enter into the season of giving, there’s a group in Yellow Springs that has been giving away their art in a circle all year long. Each person starts with a book of blank pages. They create art in any medium to fill a two-page spread in the book. Then they pass the book to the next person to fill pages in their book, each month for a year. Culture Couch producer David Seitz tells the story of the Art Book Circle.

The pages in the books reveal intricate drawings, splashes of acrylic painting, bright watercolors, found word poems, collages of photos and objects.

Marie Hertzler is friends with two artists who started an art book circle during COVID, and she wanted to organize a circle too. Marie is not an artist. She always wanted to take drawing lessons from her husband Brian Maughan, an accomplished sculptor who passed away. So, for now she uses collage on her pages.

“I made a door on that page,” Hertzler said. “And inserted Brian’s drawing of a goddess underneath, and closed the door, and on top I put a photograph. It was a beautiful nature photo of brown leaves and on the very top of that bed of leaves in the forest was a beautiful bright red leaf.”

In the right hand corner is Marie Hertzler’s door collage.
David Seitz
/
WYSO
In the right hand corner is Marie Hertzler’s door collage.

Nancy Mellon is another member of the group. Mellon has been producing public art for decades. Now she lives with Parkinson's disease.

“And my art has changed a lot,” Mellon said. “As far as trying to get in close with a little brush, or a little pencil tip and follow along at the edge, I’ve decided to be much freer about what the edge means.”

For her art book pages, Mellon has developed strategies to get around her physical challenges. She uses her grand daughters’ finger paintings, cutting out sections and creating elaborate designs and fanciful creatures from their finger prints using ink and colored pencils.

One of Nancy Mellon’s pages she made with her grandchildren.
David Seitz
/
WYSO
One of Nancy Mellon’s pages she made with her grandchildren.

“They tended to just pow, pow, pow, on the paper, Mellon exclaimed. “So, what I found myself really looking at was the print marks of their fingers having moved through the ink and I would follow that. I have always been fascinated by the skin print.”

Mellon has also used her early black and white drawings, many of animals, and used colored pencils to reimagine these works for her pages. She started out photocopying the older drawings, but now she only uses the originals.

Mellon admitted that, “Now you won’t have those original drawings anymore to go back to because you’re using those to give a more truthfulness to the artist. You want to use something that’s more precious. As you add things, sometimes I add twelve layers, and you get a very nuanced different kind of color.”

Jeff Mellot’s pages are awash in color and paint that glow with abstract energy. He calls them thought forms.

In upper right corner is one of Jeff Mellot’s Thought Form pages.
David seitz
/
WYSO
In upper right corner is one of Jeff Mellot’s Thought Form pages.

Mellot explained, “And so there’s a point where this thought is becoming form, but it is not yet formalized, so that’s what I’m painting (laughs). And it’s the theory behind my scribbles, right? Behind my throwing paint around (laugh). Some of it’s kind of tongue and cheek, but I do think it’s, you know, but it’s what I was thinking, so don’t judge it.”

Mellot’s current painting comes from his deep love of Hindu spiritualism. Each page he paints is the energy of a Hindu god tied to a mantra that emerges in his process. This takes a lot of paint and a big piece of paper. His painting fit well in the first art book.

“And then the second book showed up,” Mellot recalled. “And it was real small. And oh, that stumped me because, like, oh, no, how can you throw things around? You’re confined, much more confined, which was a challenge, right? But it turned out fine, interesting to me.”

As the art books circulated each month, Jeff found inspiration in other people’s pages inside the books passed onto him: “Whatever the energy or the visuals and the colors, etcetera, that were in there, would influence my thought on it.”

Each contributor gives a gift of themselves that finally records the year for the group, says Marie Hertzler: “We’re all being vulnerable every time we make a new page and send it on.”

Now, the group wants to encourage people to form their own Art Book Circles. They will offer a workshop in January where you can see all the books.

You can join the Art Book Circle Workshop: Creating Community Through Art on Saturday, January 13, from 2 to 3:30 pm in the Virginia Hamilton Meeting Room at the Yellow Springs Public Library.

David Seitz learned his basic audio writing skills in the third Community Voices class. Since then he has produced many stories on music, theater, dance, and visual art for Cultural Couch. He is deeply grateful that most of my stories bring out social justice issues in a variety of art forms, whether it be trans gender singing, the musical story of activist Bayard Rustin, or men performing Hamilton in prison.