West Liberty University Assistant Professor of Art Robert Villamagna was selected as a recipient of the Governor's Award in the West Virginia Division of Culture and History's 18th West Virginia Juried Exhibition, which opened Nov. 24, at the Dunn Building in Martinsburg.
His artwork entitled, "Moundsville Prison Break, 1949," is a dramatic group of images created as a mixed media work using repurposed metal, nails and oil paint on birch wood panels. It shows 14 escaped prisoners from the former West Virginia State Penitentiary, located in Moundsville, W.Va. and in operation from 1876 - 1995.
"I got the idea when I was looking at an old Life Magazine, searching for collage materials. I saw a headline ‘West Virginia Jailbreak,' that caught my eye. These guys were caught within three days and most of them were caught because they were looking for food and cigarettes, which is why you'll see food and tobacco labels and names behind the faces. I created their serial numbers in license plates because at one time, the prisoners made license plates," said Villamagna, adding that he enters this particular exhibition every two years.
The exhibit features 53 paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, mixed media and crafts created by 46 West Virginia artists and is cosponsored by the Berkeley County Council. The public is invited to view the exhibit from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until Feb. 21.
Ten award-winning pieces in the exhibit will be purchased and become part of the West Virginia State Museum's permanent collection.
Jurors Julie Peppito of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Samantha Wall of Portland, Ore., selected Sutton resident Tiera Floyd's "Suzy," Barboursville resident Vernon F. Howell's "WV at 150" and Wheeling resident Robert Villamagna's "Moundsville Prison Break, 1949" as this year's $5,000 Governor's Award winners. "Suzy" also received the D. Gene Jordon Memorial Award, which is named for a former chairman of the West Virginia Commission on the Arts who died in 1989.
Artists receiving $2,000 Awards of Excellence include Jeff Diehl of Meadow Bridge for "Large Vessel," Joseph Elbert of Leon for "Derecho 1," Floyd for "Johnny," Sharon Harms of Charleston for "A Tiger Convergence," Barrie Kaufman of Charleston for "A Thin Blade," Brian Reed of Ivydale for "Pillars of Fire" and Andrew Thorne of Buckhannon for "Appalachian Heritage."
An additional eight Merit Awards of $500 were made that are not purchase awards and do not become part of the museum's collections. They include Karen Ensor Brown of Buckhannon for "Peggy's Iris," Kristen Colebank of Wardensville for "Mumbles and Squeaks," Diehl for "Lunar Lilies," Charly Jupiter Hamilton of Charleston for "Easter Parade, Glenwood Avenue, West Side, Charleston, WV," Howell for "Surveying the Aftermath," Stephen Lawson of Morgantown for "Opening Up the Bucy #2 Mine Extension," Brian Reed of Ivydale for "Desert Lotus," and Pat Roberts of Charleston for "Typical Hillside Tipple (New River Gorge)."
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History presents this biennial event in partnership with the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and with support from the West Virginia Legislature, which appropriates funding for the exhibition's awards. The $33,000 in award money constitutes one of the largest endowments for a single exhibition in the country.