Numerous arts venues around Isle of Wight

Published 11:36 am Wednesday, January 31, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

There’s a new arts scene in town.

Christ Episcopal Church’s new “Open Mic Night” joins several smaller, independent venues that include the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department’s monthly bluegrass concerts, the Isle of Wight Writers, Windsor’s summer concerts and Smithfield’s public art displays.

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Lee Harper, who along with church warden Bill Egan got the open mic night started last year, did it as a form of outreach for the church. The event is held the third Friday of each month at 7 p.m.

The venue invites musicians, comics, poets and storytellers to take the mic and perform on a small stage dedicated to long-time Christian Outreach volunteer and Christ Episcopal member Gene Lowry.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

“It is Christ Episcopal Church’s hope that the frequency of “Open Mic Nites” will increase to more Fridays per month as the word gets out that there is a safe and supportive venue for members of the Smithfield community to explore and share their music, poetry, humor, stories etc. with their friends, new and old,” said Egan.

The January night featured baritone singer Ricky Goodwyn, as well as Smithfield High School band director Joel Joyner and Harper’s band, Bad Influence.

Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department’s bluegrass concerts can trace its lineage back to Johnny Knox’s Hard Knox band, said member Joe Mastrangelo.

When Carrollton started up its bluegrass fundraiser, it cashed in on its great location along Route 17, as well as the audience that was already used to coming to Carrollton for bluegrass, Mastrangelo said.

CVFD President Joy Speers said the concerts, held the second Friday of the month at 7 p.m. make an average of $500 — money that is put back in the firehouse for various needs.

The concerts have also become a gathering place for all ages and some come from as far as North Carolina to attend.

“It’s become a real social type event,” Speer said.

Bands last year included the Virginia Central Bluegrass Band, Ted Jones and the Tarheel Boys and the Mark Templeton Band.

The Isle of Wight Writers Group meets the first Tuesday of the month, 7 p.m., at the Mansion on Main in downtown Smithfield.

The group provides writers with lightly structured critique sessions, and over the years, has included published authors such as historical fiction writers Doris Gwaltney and Michael Farmer.

The town of Windsor now sponsors a summer concert series similar to Smithfield, although it is funded with tax dollars rather than relying solely on donations as the Smithfield series does.

The concerts were started as a way to bring the community together once a month so residents could get to know each other, said Windsor Town Manager Michael Stallings.

The concerts are held at the Wesley F. Garris Event Park next to the library on the first Friday of May, June and August, from 7-10 p.m.

This year’s line up includes the Feature Attraction band in May, The Deloreans in June and August is still open, said Stallings, adding that the July 4 performance, which is separate from the concert series, is Island Boy.

Those seeking a quieter, possibly more reflective arts experience, can check out Smithfield’s two groups of public art displays, the porcine parade, and bronze statues by Colorado-based sculptor, George Lundeen.

The porcine parade, which includes eight life size fiberglass pigs sprinkled around town, was a Smithfield 2020 initiative in 2011.

The pigs, painted by local artists with various themes and scenes, drew upon the town’s reputation as ham capital of the world.

It was a way to visually and uniquely brand the town, said officials at the time.

The pigs can be seen at the intersection of Main Street and the Route 10 bypass, in front of the Visitor Center on Main Street, along Hayden’s Lane downtown, next to the Isle of Wight County Museum, on North Mason at the entrance of Windsor Castle Park, next to Smithfield Foods’ headquarters, near the Smithfield Center and Little Theatre and at Smithfield Station on S. Church Street.

George Lundeen’s bronze statues came to Smithfield as a gift from former Smithfield Foods President and CEO Joseph W. Luter III.

The detailed and life-like sculptures include Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, as well as poet Robert Frost and the elderly, loving “Valentine Couple.”

Luter also commissioned bronze statues of his grandfather and father, which stand next to the Smithfield Foods’ corporate headquarters off Luter Drive. Those were joined in 2013 with a statue of Luter III, that was erected after the company was sold to Hong-Kong based Shuanghui, now the W Group.

Last fall, a “Love “ sculpture was added to Hamtown, near The Smithfield Center and designed by local artist, Meagan Pugh. The sculpture, part of the Virginia Tourism Commission “Loveworks” campaign, features two slices of bacon for the “V” and can be moved around the county for various events.

The newest addition to Smithfield’s parade of public art includes six park benches recently installed along Hayden’s Lane. The benches, painted by Smithfield High School art students, depicts scenes from the town’s past, such as the Great Fire of 1921 and ham maker Mallory Todd.

The idea was to create art with a purpose, said art teacher Jessica Jackman.

Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series on the arts in Smithfield and Isle of Wight County. Next week the final story in the series looks at the benefits and challenges of an arts and cultural district. {/mprestriction}