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Q&A with Susan K. Gottlieb, Artists of the Winding Road A-Z Curator



Ohio Arts Council's Riffe Gallery. Artists of the Winding Road A-Z. Curator: Susan K. Gottlieb. April 7-23, 2016

Seven artists who call Appalachian Ohio home will exhibit artworks in Artists of the Winding Road A-Z at the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery from April 7 through April 23. Susan K. Gottlieb, long-time Zanesvillian, fundraiser, and arts advocate, curated this exhibition highlighting the range of artistic excellence being produced between Athens and Zanesville. Susan takes the time to talk about her personal relationship with Appalachian Ohio, its rejuvenation through the arts, and the community behind its changing landscape.   

Q. To start, can you tell us a little bit about your personal experience with Appalachian Ohio? 

Susan K. Gottlieb: I was born and raised in Zanesville, leaving to attend Chatham College in Pittsburgh. Ultimately, I finished my degree in History of Art at The Ohio State University. I lived in Boston; Denver; Columbus, Ohio; and in both Fort Lauderdale and the Palm Beaches in South Florida. Several years ago I returned to Zanesville to be with my family. 

While I was away, I worked for the Children’s Museum (Boston), the Norton Museum of Art (West Palm Beach, Florida), and other nonprofits in public relations and fundraising. Since coming back to Zanesville, I’ve become deeply involved in the area’s artistic community. About three years ago, the director of the Muskingum County Community Foundation asked me to be a part of the international Zanesville Prize for Contemporary Ceramics Competition & Conference, when the event was in its early stages of development. The first year of the Zanesville Prize I worked as the fundraiser and last year I was the director.        

Q: You’ve been a part of this community for many years, but had also been away from it for a substantial amount of time. What kind of changes --artistic, economic, civic, etc.--have you seen over the years? 

SKG: When I was a child, Zanesville still had a viable, sound economy. It was safe, neighborly – and, of course, it’s a naturally beautiful area. Gradually, however, as in so many communities in this part of the country, the major industries moved away or folded, and the large, corporate chain stores shoved out or ground down most of the individually-owned businesses. Young people were not provided opportunities to stay here. People left. 

Culture attracts all ages and offers incentives for the young to stay in or move to an area and raise their families. For some, there’s a mystic or enigmatic disconnect, a puzzlement, about how the arts influence economies. I think it’s because all forms of art are incidences of human self-expression: people reaching out to other people. As a species, we recognize that effort and are hard-wired to respond to it. That is the underlying phenomenon and it will work to bring about positive civic changes if put into play in a proper, planned way. 

I cannot stress enough the impact the arts can have to reverse economic downturn in regressed communities. Through organized, sustained, professional efforts--the arts can bring about an economic renaissance. It is a very powerful tool.  As the slogan goes, “art works.” We’re beginning to see its effects in the southeastern portion of the state. Community leaders are creating steady success. Now, Zanesville, Athens, and other municipalities throughout the area are enjoying a growing artistic presence. 

Q: How exactly did you choose the artists to be featured in the exhibition, and can you tell us a little bit about some of the work on display?    

SKG: I’ve been so familiar with these artists and their work--it’s a close-knit community--and have delighted in getting to know them over the years. They have such individualized self-expression and represent the variety of work being created here--bottle cap art to ceramics to bronze sculpture and so much more. I wanted to show a range of media and styles. 

I met Brad Schwieger, professor of ceramics at Ohio University, because he was a juror for the first Zanesville Prize. He and Kelsey Duncan create excellent examples of the highest level of ceramics being produced, both sculptural and figurative. Alan Cottrill is a bronze sculptor with extraordinary talent, receiving national acclaim. There's Yan Sun, a painter of international stature. Paul Emory and Michael Seiler both display very distinct painting styles, yet again showcasing the region’s range. John Taylor-Lehman recently retired from promoting other artists and is enjoying wonderful recognition for his own work. Ultimately, I knew these artists and their talents would shine!   

Q: This exhibition is particularly special because the artists are coming in to give gallery talks, lectures, and demonstrations—all free and open to the public. What can people expect to gain from these live interactions?   

SKG: Inside the Riffe Gallery, Yan Sun will paint portraits of two Ohio legislators, Senator Troy Balderson and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger. Kelsey Duncan will be giving a ceramics demonstration. The other artists will offer conversations and discussions with their audiences. These opportunities to witness art physically being created--for example, to watch the likeness of someone being actualized through paint--expose a layer of our humanity. People will see how an artist harnesses their talent; they’ll be able to assess the personality behind the expression--that’s the “click” in art. When we create that person-to-person connection, we fulfill an essential need.     

Q: Lastly, what do you want people to take away about Appalachian Ohio from this exhibition and programs?   

SKG: (Laughing) Just because we’re Appalachian doesn’t mean we AIN’T sophisticated and talented! Well really, we are, and this exhibition proves this region is full of exciting, worthwhile people and art. So now you’ll just have to come find out for yourself.  

Artists of the Winding Road A-Z will be on display in the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery from April 7 through April 23, 2016. Visit our events calendar for a schedule of artist appearances.  

The Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery showcases the work of Ohio's artists and the collections of the state's museums and galleries. The Riffe Gallery is located in the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts, across from the Statehouse on High Street in Downtown Columbus. Like the Riffe Gallery on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


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