Washington Court House Inchworm

One of several large outdoor murals painted by Harry Ahysen around Fayette County, OH.

Two and two are four. Art is around us, but it is something that you have to open your eyes to see. Fairly often we find ourselves focused on a task too hard to take a look at our surroundings. We need to learn to take time to glimpse at the world around us. The towns and cities we live in may not have the Louvre or the Met; they may not have a thriving theatre or a concert hall, but there is art everywhere. I am glad to have grown up in Washington Court House because I have had the opportunity to grow up with art. Some of it is hidden in the confines of old buildings; some however, is in plain sight. It blends into the town’s culture and heritage and eventually is forgotten, because we forget to open our eyes to it. We forget the brushstrokes and sweat it takes to make our masterpieces blend in with the community. We forget how boring the blank canvas was before those brushstrokes took effect.

Four and Four are eight. I had the opportunity to take a walk on a sunny August day to take in some of the city’s beauty. Stopping by the historic middle school peeking through the windows, I remembered what it felt like to grace the halls. I remembered what it felt like to walk among statues and rub my hands on the Romanesque architecture. That is what art does. It feeds the senses. Now that I am old enough to appreciate those memories, it gave me a youthful spring in my step. It converted me back to the awkward 12 year old that saw them for the first time. Those statues watched over us, they made sure we knew our way. They were placed there by students that had the same struggles as us decades before. They told us to keep our heads up and push forward like the many that already had. The wall hangings and pictures gave us a glimpse of our history, a glimpse of exploration, and triumph. They taught us to explore, to go against all odds and come out on the other side victorious. Those feelings that rushed through my head touched each of my senses. I could smell the wood floors and the greasy pizza we enjoyed. I could hear the floors creak and the chatter of students. I could taste the cool water from the water fountains. I could see the stern but caring look from our Assistant Principal Mr. Moore. I could feel the number 2 pencil filling in the bubbles of a Scantron page. The statues reminded me of this. They were our friends.

Eight and eight are sixteen. Leaving the Middle School was hard, but I had to venture forward. I had to find more art. I had heard stories of the brilliance of the murals in the court house, but had never fully taken them in. It was this mystery that drove me to continue walking, though my feet were sore from inadequate footwear. Each footstep I took the more brilliant the world around me looked. I spotted the stained glass windows of First Christian Church. The way the pictures told of biblical stories reminded me about my own faith, and how it could not be forgotten in this journey, this enlightenment. Then I spotted the beautiful pillars of an old yellow house. I took in the modified Ionic form. I marveled in the complexity it took to make the wood uniform. I realized that I had never created anything so artistic, or functional for that matter. Realizing that broke my heart a little. It saddened me to find that I did not have the ability to do anything like that, and that the brilliance that it took to craft something that beautiful was easily cast aside, because it blended in with the rest of the structure. That day, I noticed it though. Every time I walk past it now, I will see it. I will gaze with the eyes of a child and recreate the carpenter carefully crafting the art. I will see his calloused hands and approved look. I’m pretty sure the owners of the house thought I was casing the joint, so my feet carried me away. 

One of several murals inside Fayette County, Ohio court house by Archibald Willard.

Sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two. I finally reached the courthouse, a brilliant building built in the late 19th century. The town leadership had commissioned Archibald Willard to paint some murals on the top floor. I was curious. As I stepped in the door, I instantly felt out of place. The Greco-Roman architecture blended in with today’s technology. That felt out of place too. It was as if everyone had boarded a time machine and plopped into the same building with all their gadgets. I took a walk up the stairs where Willard had laid his brushstrokes. The figures were dated. The paintings told of a different association with technology than what we are accustomed to. Spirit of the Telegraph? Kids these days don’t even know what a telegraph is. let alone could they find a reason that would make someone paint such a picture. His other murals were The Spirit of U.S. Mail which is begging for the fnds to stay afloat, and The Spirit of Electricity, which price continues to climb higher as energy becomes increasingly more expensive. When he painted the murals, these themes were progressive. They were cutting edge, but today they are lost in the history books like “The Spirit of the 8-Track,” or “The Spirit of the Floppy Disk” would be. It’s nice to have the pictorial history in my backyard, though. I appreciate the history lesson. I stood there in awe of the representation of these themes. I enjoyed the way the light from the roof trickled down making the “spirits” shine. After taking a few snap shots, I knew that the walk was worth it. The quest to find fine art was completed, but I wasn’t done. My eyes were opened to a new world. I had been Danny Kaye’s inchworm. Finally, I stopped and saw how beautiful they were. 

On the way back to my house, I stopped at Veteran’s Park, a little downtown area that was vibrant with flowers. There was yet another mural, this one painted by the late Harry Ahysen, who did a series all over Fayette County. This particular mural depicted a passenger train letting go of its passengers downtown. The train, which seems to be a nuisance these fast paced days, was really what built our community. Had it not been for the trains, Washington Court House may have had a similar fate of many of the other Washington’s across the map. They were stagnant. The train brought life. It brought money. It brought a chance. The mural shows that off perfectly. 

In retrospect, I am very pleased with the walk. Not only did I have the opportunity to see some of the most amazing sights in the area, I experienced emotion. To me, that is what art is. It’s something that stirs up an emotion. The unfortunate issue with today’s society, even in a small community is that we spend way too much time measuring the marigolds. It seems to me we should stop and see how beautiful they are.

One thought on “Washington Court House Inchworm”

  1. Back in the 90s I helped McClain art instructor, Dan Crusie, take some of his students to Harry Ahysen’s WCH studio. Besides the interesting and historical tour of his home, spending time in his studio and meeting him was a wonderful experience. That was the only time I met him but found him to be one of those you’d like to share a brew with on occasion.

    I love the murals he did around Fayette County and certainly hope the county can find the needed funds to maintain Ahysen’s works.

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