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Artist and historian Noel W. Tenney celebrates the grand opening of the Old Orchard Gallery. Friday, Aug. 6 is the last day to catch Tenney between 1-5 p.m. in the Hawk's Nest above Fish Hawk Acres, but his art may continue to be viewed by appointment. / Photo by Beckie Boyd

Local artist unveils ‘Wild, Wonderful, and Whimsical’ at new Old Orchard Gallery

BUCKHANNON – Nestled high above West Main Street in the Hawk’s Nest is a new art gallery with a row of windows that provide plenty of daylight and a pleasing, bird’s-eye view of downtown Buckhannon.

But that’s not the only scene patrons who stop inside the recently opened Old Orchard Gallery can drink in. Once inside, curious visitors and art connoisseurs alike will also get glimpses of seasonal, countryside landscapes from around Upshur County, courtesy of artist and local historian Noel W. Tenney.

You might know Tenney as the head of the Upshur County Historical Society, but he has another passion: He’s been making art since he enrolled in high school art classes six decades ago. Tenney has dabbled in almost every medium that exists since he retired from teaching cultural studies, museum studies and folk-art classes at Fairmont State University seven years ago. However, he focuses primarily on creating oil paintings on canvas and intricately crafted cut-paper pieces.

The Old Orchard Gallery, located above Fish Hawk Acres, was established about a year ago, but on Tuesday, Aug. 3, Tenney’s first exhibit, “Wild, Wonderful and Whimsical” made its debut – and marked the grand opening of the gallery. Tenney has been greeting visitors since Tuesday, and the last day to chat with him in person is this Friday, Aug. 6 from 1-5 p.m.

“‘Wild and Wonderful’ is kind of to represent a sense of place because we use that terminology for West Virginia and then there’s the whimsical, which is what I consider this piece,” Tenney said, motioning to a playful, fanciful painting of an older woman in front of a house and garden, titled, “My grandmother always said, ‘She’d rather raise flowers than youngins, since the flowers would come back to see her every year.’”

The majority of the oil paintings on canvas – most of which Tenney completed in 2020 or 2021 – center on rural landscapes. There are a few still-lifes, but local folks might recognize familiar vistas, such as “Pink Sky on Stony Run Road,” “Roessing’s Pond,” “The Victor Tenney Farm,” and “Late Spring Snow, Tenney Farm.”

“They are all local scenes, Upshur County scenes, and most of them I pass by every day,” Tenney explained. “I paint from photographs I take, and they’re mostly all done in season. I like that sense of looking out the window and saying, ‘oh yeah, it’s spring out there.’”

Tenney prefers bringing winter, spring, summer and rainy-weather scenes to life (fall can be a bit dull sometimes, he says), and when he’s painting those vistas, he will work for up to eight consecutive hours.

“I don’t like to be interrupted when I’m painting, so when I do an oil painting, I work straight through,” he said. “It may take six or eight hours, but I work straight through it because I don’t like it to start to dry because it changes the texture and changes the ability to move the paint around.”

A peek inside the Old Orchard Gallery above Fish Hawk Acres on West Main Street. / Photo by Beckie Boyd

Oil paint is his preferred medium since it’s relatively malleable, but of the nearly 30 pieces featured in the “Wild, Wonderful and Whimsical” collection, only about half are paintings, while the other half are detailed cut-paper pieces that he’s created with tiny scissors or an Exacto knife in his home studio, Old Orchard Studio, in Tallmansville.

Tenney said the cut-paper collages are primarily inspired by a Ukranian folk art known as Pysanky, Easter eggs that are hand-painted and showcase bright colors and elaborate, interwoven designs. His pieces, made with origami paper, have also been inspired by Polish paper-cutting.

“A lot of these cut-paper pieces are takeoffs and have some of the qualities of (Ukranian) decorated eggs and cut, layered Polish paper-cutting,” Tenney said.

Tenney, who has a master’s degree in teaching with an emphasis on art education from West Virginia Wesleyan College, said he delved into cut-paper when he learned that the famous French artist, Henri Matisse, began working in that medium when he could no longer stand.

“When he got old and had something wrong with him, he couldn’t stand up in front of the easel to paint anymore, so he took to his bed with his scissors and his paper and he did all his famous paper collage pieces when he was in bed, as an old man,” Tenney said, “and I thought, ‘well, I’m getting a good start. I might be an older man, but I’m not confined to bed.’”

While cut-paper pieces can prove to be tedious and time-consuming, oil paintings on canvas “are like second nature” to Tenney, he said.

“When I see a landscape, I don’t necessarily see just the landscape; I see it as a painting, too and that’s what I like about it,” he said. “It inspires me. Art-making has a lot of background to it. You have to learn to look and see, and then drawing is an important aspect in art-making.”

While Tenney has tested out more experimental techniques like abstract expressionism, he prefers painting picturesque vistas, which some people consider “conventional” or “traditional,” but which incorporate artistic principles that have stood the test of time, he said.

“What I say to people is, ‘When you look at my paintings, don’t say it’s good or bad because unless you’re an artist and an art expert, you don’t really have the authority to say that. What you have the authority to say is, ‘I like that’ or ‘I don’t like that,’” he said.

Tenney invited the public to come see his art and talk with him while he’s still there Friday from 1-5 p.m.

“If they like my art, come and look at it. I appreciate anybody that wants to come and look at it,” he said. “If they want to say they like it, I’d like that. If they don’t like, I don’t mind.’”

Tenney extended his gratitude to Fish Hawk Acres co-owners Teresa Lipps and Dale Hawkins for furnishing the gallery space, which also doubles as a catering room for special events.

Can’t make it Friday? Anyone interested in perusing “Wild, Wonderful, and Whimsical” may email Tenney at noelwtenney@yahoo.com to set up an appointment.

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