Front Porch: Feeding creativity in downtown Winchester

Published 10:43 am Monday, February 6, 2017

By Lisa Johns

Sun columnist

I was not born or reared in Winchester, Kentucky. Maybe that is why, for at least the last 35 years, I am glad I wasn’t. You see, I have an unfair advantage that people who are native don’t have.

I see the glass half-full here in terms of what could be instead of half-empty. I am a dreamer. I see beauty in buildings that display trash.

For the past 15 years, I have walked downtown through the alleys and on Main Street, daylight and dusk. I have only been stopped once by a young man who wanted to know if I would like to purchase some vinyl records of Elvis Presley.

I am not scared at night and, maybe, I turn a blind eye. I don’t think so. I celebrate and embrace my sense of community. During the holidays, from September to December, I never realized the offerings made available to ensure even more so that “sense of community” that is integral to growth and creativity as well as sharing commonalities and diversities.

I am a fan of some social media. I am on Instagram. I read both The Winchester Sun and the Lexington Herald-Leader. I am proud to do so. I support our local library and each month, they produce a hard copy and online calendar of events. Because I read the paper, I know what activities are going on at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, the Leeds Center for the Arts and classes offered through Community Education.

This holiday season, I took a break from parties, work and unnecessary buying and took part in activities that stimulated my creativity and allowed me to get back in touch with a side of me I had long neglected.

We are all guilty of not feeding our souls and, in doing so, we forget that sense of community. The second definition of community is “a feeling of friendship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.”

This past year, in our little slice of suburbia, I was engaged in creativity, positivity and a true sense of community. We live in our little worlds, with friends whom we have been with for years. It is not a bad thing by any means. However, what a feeling to create with strangers, laugh, find connections and realize beyond our little worlds lie one big world.

I did some pretty daring things this past year for me. These activities caused me to stretch beyond my own personal safety net. I walked into worlds that began as scary and uncomfortable to ones that ended as comfortable and familiar.

The Farm to Table Dinner was an enormous boost to our Farmers’ Market, a Saturday morning, “have to do” for me. It was an opportunity to meet people who share the love of locally grown produce and meat. The flowers and vases that decorated each table were locally grown and locally made by Dirty South Pottery.

I sat among some people I knew but also sat with those I did not. I left the dinner realizing even more the importance of supporting our local farmers’ market.

Right before Christmas, the farmers’ market convened again to offer hand-crafted gifts as well as honey, beans, bread and meat to serve through the holidays. The atmosphere was much like the summer market seeing old friends and regular vendors.

Our home extension agent, Jennifer Howard, offered free bags, recipes, pedometers and measuring spoons. I could not help but wish for these vendors a year round facility where they could sell their products.

In September, I took a flower arranging class with my daughter Meredith and friends Anne Baldwin and Ann Hampton. Standing out in the field on Colby Road with a myriad of colors and varieties of numerous flowers was truly breathtaking.

Elizabeth Hendricks Montgomery and Val Schirmer of Three Toads Farm made every participant feel as though they could arrange flowers for any occasion. I left there with this gargantuan arrangement that spread beauty into my home for weeks.

In October, Paul Wood with Bentley and Murray graciously offered a class on homemade chalk painting, the latest trend in furniture painting. Paul added a little spin on this painting technique and taught us how to change a traditional orange pumpkin into a virtual piece of art.

In the last part of November, I was fortunate enough to take two classes at Mason on Main. The first was a live wreath making class and the second was a painting class. Again, the creative juices flowed. As I write this, I glance over to my bookshelf at my picture of the winter scene I painted with my friends at Court Street Gifts. The wreath was sent to recycling this week, but its beauty lasted throughout the holidays.

Our public library offered a free ornament making class for five ornaments. Director Julie Maruskin had painstakingly created step-by-step instructions and my friend, Kitty Hall Harmon, and I created some of the cutest ornaments for our trees.

Lastly, I took an ornament class using clay at Dirty South Pottery. Owners Ashley and Carvel Norman were patient and kind and create an atmosphere that Brett Cheuvront and I could not but be totally successful. My family was thrilled with their priceless family heirlooms.

There are activities galore in our town. We have a new ceramics shop downtown, Created By You, where kids and adults alike can create. We have an art guild that offers classes as well as the art classes at Mason’s. The Barre offers classes to help make bodies strong, relieve stress and allows individuals to meet with others doing the same.

I realized fear is the greatest stumbling block to getting things done for a community. What if we fail? We have nothing to lose. What if we succeed? We pat ourselves on the back. Either way, I agree with Louise Penny: “Better to risk than live in fear.” (A Fatal Grace, p. 75)

Lisa Johns is a former teacher and librarian as well as an activist on revitalizing downtown Winchester.