Ohio’s Winding Road Stories: Muskingum County (part 2)

In this three-part series, our own Grant Joy travels throughout Muskingum County, telling the stories of its places and people. In this installment, Grant visits the artists of Zanesville, including Alan Cottrill, and the Art Colony of Zanesville.

Artist Alan Cottrill in his studio.

The Joys of Ohio’s Winding Road: Appalachian Ohio’s Art Enclave 

While Zanesville is a great place for history buffs of all interests, Zanesville also offers a host of artistic experiences for those interested in immersing themselves in local and regional art. Historically, art has played a vital role in helping to enrich, enliven, and strengthen the community within the Appalachian region. Appalachia has a long lineage of traditional art as a way for its residents to express themselves, share their stories, and reflect their culture in a personal and meaningful way. It also provides another way forward for communities to reposition themselves as they think about sustainable ways to build a just economy. The Art Colony of Zanesville (ACOZ) plays a key role in cultivating and connecting local and regional artists to the community to create a vibrant and up-and-coming art scene around Zanesville. ACOZ has played an instrumental role in putting on the Y-Bridge Arts Festival in recent years. Though the event was canceled this year due to COVID-19, ACOZ is still scheduled to have its third annual ArtFest on November 14th, 2020 from 10-5 pm at 205 N. 5th Street in Zanesville. COVID-19 has also impacted the First Friday Artwalk. However, you’re able to get insights into what it’s like to attend a First Friday Artwalk in downtown Zanesville through reading this OWR article here. To learn more about ACOZ, visit them online at http://www.artcoz.org/.

 Zanesville has been an enclave of art production. From Muskingum County’s early history of pottery making to the present day, Zanesville has positioned itself in the same vein of cities like Paducah, Kentucky, or Abington, Virginia, in that arts play a central role in the long term revitalization efforts of the community.  In the area around Zanesville, there are around 32 different art studios, galleries, and museums for art connoisseurs to investigate. From the work of Yan Sun to Art Untapped and the Art Loft, there are a plethora of different options for the art lovers to explore. 

A sculpture by Alan Cottrill.

Perhaps the Dean of Zanesville’s Art Community is renowned sculptor Alan Cottrill. Cottrill played a key role in helping to establish the arts movement in the community. Cottrill, a Zanesville native, found that working with clay for the first-time became his life’s work and passion. The passion, talent, and love of sculpture is evident to anyone who walks through his studio door, located at 110 S. 6th St. in Zanesville. Cottrill’s work can be seen in the U.S. Capitol Building, the Ohio Statehouse, and on the campus of Ohio State University. Cottrill possesses an inner drive, persistence, and passion that is emblematic of Appalachian Ohioans. As we explored his studio and the countless sculptures that were housed there, I got the sense that Cottrill was bringing to life characters of American history through his love of sculpture. For example, his monumental-sized sculpture of Jesse Owens, that greets visitors as they enter the stadium that bears his name at Ohio State, captures the courage, dogged determination and steady self-confidence Owens possessed. 

What stands out to me about the work of Alan Cottrill is that he doesn’t just bring to life notable historical characters such as Abraham Lincoln, Jesse Owens, or Ulysses S. Grant, but Cottrill humanizes everyday figures that contribute to the character of the country. I found this to be notable in two examples. First, located outside of the Muskingum County Courthouse, is a memorial to the 297 soldiers from Muskingum County that lost their lives while serving in World War II and Korea. Cottrill created a sculpture of 297 empty helmets, each with a name of a fallen Muskingum County soldier inscribed on them. Through this sculpture, Cottrill humanizes those 297 lives while also evoking an enormous sense of loss, as the helmets are empty. Secondly, Cottrill’s sculpture of the Hocking Valley Miner, captures the dignity, persistence, strength, and courage coal miners possess that enable them to make a living to provide for their families. In both these examples, Cottrill visually tells the story of working-class, blue-collar Americans that played an instrumental role in shaping the historical narrative of this country, as he humanizes ordinary people in his work. In this way, I got the sense that those stories are a common thread and influence in Cotill’s work. The same passion, grit, determination, and love that Cottrill possesses can be seen through his work of his subjects.

About the author: Grant Joy was the 2019-20 AmeriCorps member serving this year for Ohio’s Winding Road. This was his third AmeriCorps service year. He spent the past two years serving in Colorado and Vermont before deciding to come back closer to home in southern Ohio. After AmeriCorps, he is looking forward to continue sharing stories of the people and places that make Ohio’s Rising Appalachia a unique and vibrant region.