ArtsOhio Blog

The ArtsOhio Blog is the Ohio Arts Council's way to share stories that highlight the arts in Ohio, feedback from the field, interviews with artists and staff, and more. Sign up for the ArtsOhio newsletter to receive a curated selection of posts each month.

Featured artists whose work is included in the Spotlight at the Governor's Residence art exhibition and First Lady Karen W. Kasich

Stories Speak Through Art at Final Spotlight Exhibition on Display at Ohio Governor’s Residence October – December 2018

Artwork left to right:

The late Ohio artist Elijah Pierce viewed his works as more than just colorful carvings.

“My carvings look nice, but if they don't have a story behind them, what's the use of them?” Pierce said in a 1979 interview with The New York Times. “Every piece of work I carve is a message, a sermon.”

Pierce was a long-time barber (and sometimes preacher) on Columbus’ east side, where he became well-known for his bas relief narrative panels. Pierce, originally from Mississippi, died in Columbus in 1984 at the age of 92.

Using the power of art to communicate lessons, histories, and memories is a common thread linking the artwork included in the current Spotlight: Featured Artists at the Ohio Governor’s Residence exhibition, which opened on Oct. 16.Columbus artist Antoinette Savage by her piece,

Featuring the work of nine Ohio artists chosen by Ohio First Lady Karen W. Kasich with the assistance of the Ohio Arts Council, the exhibition serves to recognize the talented African-American artists living and working throughout the state.

Artists whose works are on view include: Anna Arnold (Cleveland), David Buttram (Cleveland), Clifford Darrett (Dayton), Pepper Kojo (Columbus), Lisa McLymont (Columbus), Kelly and Kyle Phelps (Cincinnati and Dayton), Antoinette Savage (Columbus), and Omar Shaheed (Columbus).

The exhibition also coincides with the 100th anniversary celebration the Harlem Renaissance and its wide-reaching cultural and artistic impact.

“This is our nod to that great celebration, and I know that a lot of today’s artists were inspired and influenced by the people and events of that time period,” Kasich said during her remarks at the exhibition’s opening reception. “I think it’s exciting that, as a nation, we are celebrating that right now.”

During the reception, Kasich reflected on the 20 Spotlight exhibitions held over the past five years and praised the work of Ohio artists.

“We have had the works of over 60 artists displayed here,” she said. “I think that’s really important because artists are our risk-takers, our creators. They enhance our way of life, and art is a good business to the state of Ohio, so we like to do what we can to support it.”

Kasich concluded her remarks with the unveiling of a 1967 piece by Pierce titled “Born Again,” a painted bas relief woodcarving that she purchased for the residence’s permanent art collection.

“I wanted to find something that I could give back to Ohioans for the honor that was bestowed upon me (as first lady),” she said. “‘Born Again’ is a gift to the people of our state.”

Kasich noted Pierce was the catalyst for the direction of the final Spotlight exhibition and nine artists whose works were selected to be showcased. Biographies of the artists and photos of their artwork in the exhibition can be found in the Spotlight brochure.

Artist Anna Arnold by her piece, Anna Arnold, an artist from Cleveland who serves as the director of the Florence O’Donnell Wasmer Gallery at Ursuline College, is one of the Spotlight artists. Arnold said she is thrilled to have a piece in the show. Her acrylic painting called “Storyteller” is hanging on the wall in the Residence’s foyer.

In bright colors, Arnold depicts a woman in a vivid quilted skirt telling kids about what life was like when she was a child. The piece speaks to the knowledge and advice older leaders in the community can provide to a new generation, Arnold said.

“I hope that it gives them a sense of hope. That no matter what is going on, there’s always hope and there are always elders that we should listen to because they have been through things,” she said. “When they tell us, we should listen to those stories because they are so important to who we are and who we can become.”

Details in the painting, such as the bold patterns on the women’s clothes, reflect lessons Arnold said she learned from being around her grandmother.

“My grandmother made quilts, and that came up from when she was a child. But I didn’t learn that skill,” she said. “And now when I look back at that, I should’ve learned that! I should’ve learned whatever she had to offer me, but I couldn’t see it as a kid.”

The work of Kelly and Kyle Phelps also serves to preserve pieces of history. In their metal and ceramic sculpture titled “When the Machine Stops,” the brothers use artifacts retrieved from abandoned factories to depict scenes from an industrialized landscape.

“This piece is, like all the rest of our pieces, kind of a shrine or altar piece to the working class,” said Kelly Phelps, a professor of art and chair of the Art Department at Xavier University. “Ohio is a very blue-collar, working-class state. To have some sort of representation through art about our people—not even just African-American people, but working-class people—is what our message is. We are here, and those jobs do matter.”

Artists Kelly and Kyle Phelps stand by their piece, Kyle Phelps, a professor in the University of Dayton’s Department of Art and Design, said the materials he and his brother use carry a story that emphasizes this message.

“It wouldn’t feel the same if we went to Home Depot and got all this new material and tried to make things look old and worn,” he said, adding that the objects in the piece at the residence were pulled from factories located all around the rust belt. “This has a sense of place and time and history. We are not forgotten. And when I say, ‘we,’ I’m speaking about working-class folks. We are definitely not forgotten, and we are important.”

The final Spotlight exhibition will be on view through December.

Members of the public who wish to view the exhibition can schedule a free tour of the Ohio Governor’s Residence and Heritage Garden by calling 614-644-7644 or online at

Spotlight: Featured Artists at the Ohio Governor’s Residence is a program created by Ohio’s First Lady Karen W. Kasich that celebrates Ohio artists by showcasing a sampling of their artworks in the Residence foyer. The program enhances the ongoing partnership between the Ohio Governor’s Residence and Heritage Garden and the Ohio Arts Council (OAC).  Since 1985 the OAC has assisted in placing artwork by Ohio artists and from Ohio cultural institutions in the Governor’s Residence and throughout the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts. The Spotlight program offers quarterly exhibitions at the Governor’s Residence highlighted by opening receptions. Spotlight Artists are selected by First Lady Kasich with assistance from the OAC. All Ohio artists are eligible to submit their work for consideration. To be eligible for the program the artist cannot be a student enrolled in a degree-granting program and must be a resident of the State of Ohio.

The Jacobean Revival style home was originally built for the family of industrialist Malcom Jeffrey in 1925, and has served as the official Ohio Governor’s Residence for nearly 60 years. Examples of Ohio art, industry, and craftsmanship are showcased throughout the house while outside, the surrounding Heritage Garden reflects the state’s diverse native botanicals and landscapes. Free tours of the Ohio Governor’s Residence and Heritage Garden can be scheduled by calling 614-644-7644 or online at

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


Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Featured photo courtesy of the Office of Ohio First Lady Karen W. Kasich

Comments are closed.


Sign Up for the Monthly Newsletter

From deadline reminders to artist interviews--sign up to receive the monthly ArtsOhio newsletter directly to your inbox.

* indicates required
OPTIONAL-Select additional opportunities: