The Aurora Project
The artist residency and workshop group known as The Aurora Project was first founded in 2001. The goal of the project is to converse and promote Appalachian art in a variety of disciplines and mediums. Inspired by the Youghiogheny Forest Colony of the 1930s which was attended by National Geographic photographer Volkmar Wentzel and muralist Robert Gates, the project aims to continue to uphold the area's tradition of supporting the arts.
Backstory and Context
The town of Aurora is known as an artists haven thanks to the Youghiogheny Forest Colony. The colony was established by Frank Reeves in 1930, a year after he had bought the property. Reeves was a Fairmont, WV native who studied geology at West Virginia University and later earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in 1916. He was the first geologist to survey the Wolf Creek Crater in Australia. The first building, known as the Tavern, was constructed in 1930 and was followed by several more primitive cabins and studios until the construction of the Graverns' cabin by colony resident Thomas Hood, an architect from Clarksburg, WV, in 1940.
Though the colony's life was short and declined after the start of World War II, it still fostered many talented artists. Most notable among the Youghiogheny Forest Colony residents was Volkmar Wentzel, a German-born photographer. Wentzel was working at the colony when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited on her way to Arthurdale. She bought a few postcards featuring Wenzel's photography, inspiring him to seriously pursue his hobby of photography. Wentzel went on to work as a writer and photographer for National Geographic from for 48 years, winning numerous awards and publishing a book of photos titled Washington by Night. Other artists who spent time at the colony include WPA muralist and painter Robert Gates whose work has been displayed at National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to Gates and Wentzel, painter Joe Goethe and architect Arved Kundzin attended the colony.
Though the colony has fallen into disrepair after fires and forest overgrowth, the artistic legacy Reeves began in Aurora remains. Locals still view the town as an artists colony and the example set by the original colony is being maintained through this new project.
Mozier, Jeanne. Volkmar Wentzel. West Virginia Encyclopedia. December 09, 2015. Accessed March 03, 2019. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/985.
Robert Franklin Gates, Washington Artist, Dies. The Washington Post. Accessed March 03, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1982/03/14/robert-franklin-gates-washington-artist-dies/1356ce5f-ba88-4526-ab3e-25066763b1c9/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0655046b8312.
Cathedral State Park. WV State Parks. Accessed March 03, 2019. https://wvstateparks.com/park/cathedral-state-park/.
Mission. The Aurora Project. Accessed March 03, 2019. https://www.auroraproject.org/what-is-the-ap.