By: Felicia Cooper, Story Coordinator
Emily Prentice is an artist, an Appalachian, and “a forever novice.” I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her work, its relationship to Appalachia, and the reasons she stayed in Randolph county.
Can you tell me about the kind of art you most love to make?
The kind of art I’m most interested in is the type that’s at the intersection of many different forms: I love “photographing” natural objects with my copier, I love making zines out of fabric, I love illustrating in thread, I love writing as visual art. I most love to make things that are a surprising marriage of media.
How did you start making mixed media work? What led you to create zines?
I think I started making mixed media work because I’m easily bored! I feel like I dive very deeply and passionately into a subject, and then discard it when the novelty and newness is gone. My blessing and my curse is that I’m a perpetual beginner. When I make work that looks like nothing else I’ve seen before, I KNOW I’m back at the beginning.
Can you tell me more about your philosophy on accessibility? How can we be more intentional about inclusivity and accessibility?
One of the primary pillars of my artistic practice is the idea of arts accessibility. Art should be accessible to ALL people. I’m especially aware of how economic and social disparities can divide the art world from real life. I believe in street art, in cheap art, in wearable art, useable art, in multiples, in people being kind. I’m opposed to art snobbery, “fine” art, and the idea of the “artist”. Arts accessibility goes both ways: makers need to make their work available to as many people as possible (this can include things like free shows, sliding scale pricing, art at a variety of price points, public installations, etc), but also, we need to make the concept of art itself open to everyone. Creativity is a basic human right. It’s not a privilege for the people who get to hone their craft. I think quantifying what is and isn’t art is boring and pointless. It’s all art. We’re all art.
Your website calls you a “forever novice”. Can you speak more to that?
I think this ties back into my idea of accessible art, really. I’m less interested at being good at making things than I am in making them. I don’t think I’d ever want to be labeled as an expert. Being a beginner in all things feels most true to how I want to live: ungraceful, transparent, wholehearted, a caterpillar.
How is your art practice shaped by your roots in Appalachia?
Everything I make has to do with Appalachia. It’s hard to explain because it’s all I know! I can’t remove myself from it at all. I used to make more specifically “Appalachian” work. My college art show was all wheat-pastes I illustrated of mountains ravaged by MTR (Mountaintop Removal) and of waterfalls filled with coal-cleaning chemicals. I spent a lot of time making educational art about extraction industries in WV. We are the collateral damage for an entire country’s comfort, and I will never stop being mad about how we’re being thrown away for the sake of excessive consumption. I stopped making this work a while back. Everything I make is helping me work through my own internal problem solving: I highlighted the problem for years, and now I’m trying to work on the solution. I think staying in appalachia, making art, thriving, supporting other regional artists, believing in an economy beyond coal and natural gas, being a good neighbor, operating outside of heteronormative and gender normative structures, and fighting for social equity/reparations/justice are all parts of the solution.
What is your relationship to Appalachia? How has it changed?
I’m sure everyone who lives in appalachia has a complicated relationship to the region. There is incredible beauty here, and community, and culture. I’ve also seen incredible pain, and poverty, and desecration. I love that I can’t throw a rock without hitting a banjo player in my town. I love saying “yall” in all seriousness, I love square dancing, I love picking up autumn leaves for art projects. I love my roots in this region and living where I always remember living. but, underneath that, there are serious wrongs. Huge swatches of WV are poor, addicted, and scared. We are often treated without empathy by the outside world. We’re the sacrificial lamb, the kid whose loneliness you don’t want to rub off on you, the “reason Trump won”. We’re facing serious brain drain, but who can blame anyone who has to leave? We’re given this narrative that you’ve gotta go away if you want to be someone. You’ve got to hide your accent if you want to seem smart. The shittiest part of that is how it’s sometimes true. I’m angry for Appalachia.
Do you still live there? Why or why not?
Yes! I still live in the town where I grew up. Now that I’ve soap boxed about Appalachian Injustices, I’m happy to say that the positives outweigh the negatives big time for me! I’m in a pretty great position to stay: my partner and I both have stable jobs, I have a supportive family, a community that’s vibrant, and a town that’s ready to revitalize. A shift is starting to happen. I’m grateful to be involved in a large WV arts community, and I am so proud to be Appalachian when I see what my pals around the state are doing. WV is amazing for the way that it forces you to participate. We don’t have a ton of existing structures for weirdos like me, and that’s made me step up and start creating the Appalachia I want to live in: a diverse one, a queer one, an accessible one, a sustainable one, a creative one. So many other people are making their own Appalachias, too, and that gives me hope.
How has that history and culture shaped your practice?
“I’m on an ancient road.” That’s a line from a song I like, and it drifted into my head when thinking about this question. I’m living in the same region that my grandparents and great-grandparents came from. I’m the culmination of whole lives lived out in Appalachia, as my whole life might be, and I’m guessing that not a single one of my ancestors was ever given the opportunities I have now: to experiment and fail, to feel secure, to have the gift of time. I take that very seriously. I think maybe the history and culture of Appalachia don’t consciously affect my work that much, but my personal history with this region touches everything I do. I’m on the road my great-grandparents started down. I hope the generations after me get even further. My art practice is my way to keep that connection open, forging ahead a little more every day.
What about Appalachia do you hope people will learn from your work?
Since my body of work is largely about the process of making versus the finished result, I would say that the only thing I hope people take away is this: Appalachia is perpetually being striped, sucked, pillaged, ignored, trampled down, belittled, and destroyed. In this epic Appalachian battle between creation and destruction, there are people fighting for creation.
How often do you crave pepperoni rolls?
I could eat a pepperoni roll every day. Do y’all deliver to elkins?
How do you pronounce Appalachia?