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HHS Media

Wilson Downtown Gallery helps restore Harrisonburg’s art culture

“Breaking Up the Space”: Behind the scenes of Rosasco’s ‘Real and Imagined’ exhibit
Camryn Johnson
Rosasco compiled her realism and abstract artworks together in a collage.

Tucked away in the mountainside of Virginia, the college town of Harrisonburg is in the process of revamping its community by uplifting the arts, sometimes even in the most unexpected places.

From the outside, Kline May Realty might appear to be only a realty office, but as customers walk through the doors, they realize that the office has much more to offer. The walls are adorned with pieces from artists, who rotate every two months. With help from Claire Wayman, the marketing director for the Harrisonburg Homes Team and curator of Wilson Downtown Gallery, artists are able to display their art among the walls of this real estate office.

The process to become featured in the Wilson Downtown Gallery begins with an interest form offered on their website. Once the form is submitted, Wayman chooses the artist based on the information given on their social media outlets and websites that they provide.

“We have only one spot left for next year, so we’re already filling out 2025, which is very exciting,” Wayman said.

Wayman is not only the curator of the Wilson Downtown Gallery but also has a degree in history and museum studies, which helps her in her work with the gallery and the artists she works with.

“Some artists know exactly where they want things to be placed and others need an extra set of eyes so I’m very happy to come in and help. We usually place paintings on the ground so we can get an idea of where to actually hang them,” Wayman said.

Within the past two decades, the town has been newly dressed in the fresh paint of murals, mosaics and local art with help from the Arts Council of the Valley.

“The arts, to me, are freedom of expression,” said Jenny Burden, executive director of the Arts Council of the Valley.

The Arts Council of the Valley, founded in 2000, has been drawing attention to local artists through grants and community events, such as First Fridays of the Valley and the Opening Doors project.

The Wilson Downtown Gallery participates in the First Fridays event put on by the Arts Council of the Valley each month. This provides the artists the opportunity to talk about their pieces in the event.

“For First Fridays, we have the artist present and they are able to answer any questions for people who come in and explain a little bit more about their thought process and techniques,” Wayman said.

For the months of June and July, mixed media artist Karen Rosasco’s pieces are being shown at Wilson Downtown Gallery.

“They are so easygoing and so helpful. It’s easy to set up a time that’s convenient to come in and hang while they provide a small but nice reception table,” Rosasco said.

Rosasco has gone back and forth between realism and abstract styles. She creates her paintings based on the theme, ‘Real and Imagined’ to reflect her use of both media.

“I am curious, competitive and want to do new things all the time, so I live realistically, but I think abstractly,” Rosasco said. “I just enjoy breaking up the space. A lot of people see a blank piece of paper or canvas and don’t know what to do, and I say, ‘What if’, and I just begin breaking it up.”

Rosasco’s love for art was cultivated from her close relationship with her aunt, Natalie Morrison.

“I have been painting all my life. I had an aunt who was an art professor at a college, so she made sure that all of her nieces and nephews had art supplies. I was the only one who really delved into it,” Rosasco said.

Rosasco now uses household items to create artworks that represent what she imagines in her head.

“I took junk mail, and I cut different shapes out of the inside of security envelopes and colored birthday card envelopes and then put those down and then created two abstracts called ‘It Came in the Mail,’” Rosasco said.

Rosasco spent a majority of her childhood and career creating realism art. She later began creating abstract art, and it became her favorite form of art.

“In abstract art, the whole thing has to come out of your head from nothing, and that’s what I like. This, to me, is far more interesting than looking at a field and a barn because nobody can copy my work. I can’t copy a piece the second time because it’s all so haphazard,” Rosasco said.

  Rosasco has previously done art shows around the nation. Her favorite showing during her career was at the American Watercolor Society. In 2007, Rosasco won second place out of 1,300 entries from around the world at the American Watercolor Society with her piece “Abandoned,” since then, she became known as a teacher and taught for about a decade.

“They all wanted me to come teach, so all these art centers from Oregon to Florida to Canada would pay me to ship my materials, come out for a week and teach at the local art center,” Rosasco said. Staying busy is not just her lifestyle, but also her advice to upcoming artists.

 “Number one is you must always be drawing and sketching,” she said. “This is to prepare yourself in whatever medium you end up working with. Whether it be in ink pastels, or any kind of paint, just draw, draw, draw and doodle and fill sketchbooks. That’s how you get going.”

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