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YWCA renovation nears completion

By Emmalee C. Torisk | Metro Monthly Staff Writer

One century ago, after raising $150,000, several members of the city’s most prominent families established a permanent space for the fledgling YWCA of Youngstown: a five-story brick structure on West Rayen Avenue. Constructed in 1911 and dedicated one year later, the building has since been central to the organization’s programs and services. However, in recent years, the structure has often hindered, rather than helped, efficient fulfillment of the YWCA’s mission.

“The women of the community needed a place for women and families. [The YWCA has] been many things for many people and has seen many uses throughout the years,” said Leah Brooks, development director of the YWCA. “It’s a symbol of women’s history, of the women leaders of our community. But it was in need of a facelift.”

Subsequently, in August, the YWCA of Youngstown began an ambitious $10 million renovation and restoration of the historic building that has functioned, at various times in the past 100 years, as a homeless shelter, a place of worship and a center for childcare, education, health and recreation, social activities and women affected by crisis.

The YWCA Board of Directors began planning the project in 1996 after a feasibility study determined renovation of the existing structure more economical than demolition and new construction. Eight years later, the board recommitted to that idea and started searching for an architectural firm to present a visual plan of the renovation. The board chose local architect Paul Ricciuti, primarily for his experience with preserving and adaptively reusing historic buildings.

“[The structure] is very, very sound,” Ricciuti said. “It’s part of the fabric of Youngstown. We’ve torn down too many historic buildings in our community. It’s a major, major plus for our community that the board decided to stay there.”

Approximately $9 million has been committed to the project. In 2007, the YWCA received $3.2 million from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in low-income housing tax credits to renovate a portion of the structure, said Constance Shaffer, executive director of the YWCA. She noted that this award was followed by $1.4 million in historic preservation tax credits, $1 million in state historic preservation tax credits, $1 million from the Federal Home Loan Bank, $750,000 from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, $700,000 from a Clean Ohio grant and $400,000 from the city of Youngstown. The project has also received assistance from the YWCA’s capital campaign and is seeking further community support and donations.

“It’s all been tough,” Shaffer said of financing the project. “It’s never a sure thing. Government grants and the stimulus made the project possible. [We had] the majority of money coming through that way.”

Despite some funding struggles and the project’s inherent risks and challenges, Shaffer stressed the need for up-to-date permanent supportive housing, primarily for those who require “help in maintaining homes.”

“It was not a great environment,” Shaffer said of the building before the project’s start. “It was too hot, too cold, there were things breaking. It was not very modern.”

To better meet the contemporary needs of YWCA residents, the structure’s 36 dormitory-style single bedrooms — which featured common bathrooms, living rooms and kitchens — have been transformed into 30 handicapped-accessible one-bedroom and efficiency apartments for low-income single women. Each unit provides a private bathroom and kitchen facility and ranges in size from 450 to 700 square feet, Brooks said.

“Privacy is important. It’s hard enough for students to live like that, let alone grown women,” Brooks said of the previous housing conditions. “[The new apartments] are cozy; they feel like more of a home.”

All apartments feature several amenities, including a refrigerator, a stove, a phone, Internet, cable, plenty of storage space, heat and air conditioning. Prior to the renovation, residents relied on shared air-conditioning units installed in each floor’s community lounge and one thermostat that controlled temperature settings for the entire building. Now, residents can adjust rooms to their personal comfort levels.

The updated residential space spreads across the top three floors and a portion of the second. Construction should be complete by September or October, while all 30 apartments will likely be rented and leased by December, Brooks said. Licensed social workers will provide on-site supportive services for residents.

This comprehensive effort also includes restoration of the structure’s original two-story gymnasium, which will be used as a community all-purpose room. Areas adjacent to the gymnasium have been designated as small group meeting rooms, restrooms and a kitchen. The YWCA’s health outreach staff will be housed there, but building residents, YWCA program participants and the public are encouraged to use the space, Brooks said.

The public will also be welcomed into the YWCA’s first-floor lobby, which is being restored to its 1911 appearance. Historic elements of the structure were preserved, following state and federal historic preservation standards. What could not be preserved or was otherwise unavailable had to be replicated.

Layers of paint have been stripped from the original woodwork and fireplaces, while multi-pane windows have been installed for historical accuracy, Brooks said. The lobby will also feature a cyber cafe, complete with Wi-Fi, and a limited food service operation.

“[The lobby] will be for public use, a public area. We’ve had public programs, but this will bring more of a traffic [to the building],” Brooks said.

First-floor space will also be used for retail operations, start-up space for women- and minority-owned businesses, case-management support for clients and partnerships with local government, businesses and training programs.

The former pool building, which stood between the YWCA and the new Williamson College of Business Administration, has been demolished. An enclosed garden will take its place.

Plans are also in place to further develop the YWCA’s childcare center. A new children’s center will feature an outdoor playground, developmental assessments, therapy and specialized services for children with disabilities. These services target children aged 6 weeks to 12 years, including those with special needs.

Other additions and improvements include activity rooms, a fitness area and computer labs. More efficient and economical operating systems, such as new wiring and plumbing, were installed.

“We’re gutting out the old and putting in new,” Brooks said. “It creates a healthier environment for staff, residents and the public. When people come in here, even members of our own board, they’re amazed.”

Prior to the project’s start, Brooks recalled questioning the YWCA’s downtown location.

“Do we belong here? Do we belong in the suburbs?” Brooks asked. “But we have a value here, a value downtown. We’re very much involved with community revitalization and the renaissance of the community. The community response to this transition, this transformation, has been very positive.”

© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.


YSU construction projects alter skyline

By Mark C. Peyko | Metro Monthly Editor

Construction projects in and around Youngstown State University are expanding the physical reach of the campus and altering the skyline of the downtown and near North Side.

In late summer, students returning to classes saw scaffolding, steel framing and earth-moving equipment on sites north and south of the campus core. Although YSU’s new $34.3 million Williamson College of Business Administration building on West Rayen Avenue is the centerpiece of the university’s Centennial Master Plan, multi-million dollar restorations at St. Columba Cathedral and the YWCA bookend the project and are the most extensive in each facility’s history.

“One of the underlying land-development concepts is to reach out and connect the campus to the rest of the community,” said Hunter Morrison, director of campus planning and community partnerships at YSU. “That was particularly true in the case of the business school – moving into what was known as the transition zone between downtown and the campus in collaboration with the Diocese of Youngstown and the YWCA.”

The new Williamson College of Business Administration replaces an aging structure on Lincoln Avenue. The 106,000-square-foot facility doubles the size of the current building and adds features not found in the 1960s-era structure. New classroom space will facilitate interactive learning and the building will house a student-run business incubator and labs for computers, financial services, sales and communications. Williamson is expected to open in June 2010 and is the largest single capital expenditure in Youngstown State University’s history.

Last October the YWCA of Youngstown kicked off  the renovation/restoration of its historic 1911 building on Rayen Avenue. The $8.6 million project calls for adapting the YWCA to present-day needs, while maintaining the building’s historic ambience. A key component of the project calls for creating 30 one bedroom and efficiency apartments for residents. The renovation will transform current dormitory-style housing into modern, self-contained apartment units with private bathrooms and kitchen facilities. All would be handicap accessible.

“It took a while to find all the resources to put together,” said Constance Shaffer, executive director of the YWCA. “One of the key players was Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing, and they helped us navigate the system to secure low-income tax credits and helped put together the project with funding sources.”

The YWCA project seeks to create job development and “economic empowerment” programming on the first floor. Plans call for a variety of economic development ventures, including a start-up space for women’s and minority-owned businesses and partnerships with local government and job-training organizations. Other improvements include new community meeting spaces, computer labs, a fitness area, and a cyber café in the first-floor lobby. The former pool building is scheduled for demolition and a new enclosed garden is planned in its place.

The total cost of the YWCA project is $8,682,498. The YWCA plans to use a combination of grant monies, low-income housing tax credits and federal historic tax credits to complete the project, but is undertaking a capital campaign to raise the remaining $3,047,926.
To contribute to the project, contact Shaffer or Leah Brooks, development director, at 330-746-6361.

West of the future Williamson College of Business Administration, the Diocese of Youngstown is undertaking a $2 million restoration of St. Columba Cathedral. The work is part of the Diocese’s “Today’s Sacrifice, Tomorrow’s Church Capital Campaign.” The drive, which ended in January 2006, earmarked $22.5 million for a variety of uses, including school and ministry endowments, seminarian support, and restoration of the cathedral. LZ Construction is construction manager for the project. According to the Louis A. Zarlenga & Associates and LZ Construction Web site, the first phase of the project is set to be completed in November 2009.

North of campus and across from the Cafaro House residence hall on Elm Street, U.S. Campus Suites LLC recently demolished the former Electrochemicals Inc. complex, which in recent years had housed a coney island restaurant, car wash, coffee shop and thrift store. U.S. Campus Suites President Dominic Marchionda plans to build a 115 bed student apartment building in the block bounded by Elm, Bryson, Madison Avenue and the West Bound Service Road of the Madison Avenue Expressway. Last spring, the YSU Board of Trustees agreed to lease the parcel for 40 years to U.S. Campus Suites for $110,000.  At the end of the lease, the university will gain control of the building.

The proposed development, called the Flats at Wick, is the first phase of a planned four apartment building complex on the site. Rent is expected to be $685 per month for a one-room apartment and $510 per person for a four-bed apartment.

Farther north on Elm Street, Common Wealth, Inc., a non-profit organization, purchased 901 Elm on July 17. According to the Mahoning County Auditor’s Web site, the organization purchased the 5,698-square-foot building from the U.S. Government at auction for an undisclosed price. The two-story brick building formerly housed the Penguin Pub and Amy’s Campus 2000. Constructed in 1929, the Stuart Building contains six one-bedroom apartments and first floor commercial space. Common Wealth is asking between $550 and $700 for a one-bedroom apartment and is marketing to students, hospital employees or anyone else wishing to live on the North Side. The apartments feature hardwood floors, new kitchens and baths and off-street parking.

Two other projects, still in the preliminary stages, include a new CVS drug store on Fifth Avenue and an indoor athletic training facility on Elm Street north of the YSU Physical Plant. The proposed Watson and Tressel Training Site, was announced in 2007, following a $1 million donation by the Watson and Tressel families. Like Williamson, the $10 million project is part of YSU’s $43 million Centennial Capital Campaign. According to the YSU athletics department Web site (, the $7.5 million first phase of the complex is expected to be complete for the fall 2010 semester.

The enclosed, climate-protected practice facility will be used for YSU football and athletic training as well as area high school teams and youth organizations. The facility will include athletic fields for football, baseball, softball, soccer and track. A video, hosted on YouTube, shows a short, computer-generated video on the proposed facility. To view, visit

For more information on the WATTS project or to donate to the project, contact Joe Casesse at 330-941-2756.

© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

Suggestions for researching your family history


Each year, hundreds of Mahoning Valley residents join thousands from across the country starting their own personal quest to reach out to their past.

Genealogy is a fast-growing hobby that provides a wealth of family history and uncovers, oftentimes, unexpected glimpses into the past. But where do you start?

“One mistake many new genealogists make is by not beginning with themselves and working backwards,” said Judy Williams, a member of the Mahoning County Chapter of the Ohio genealogical society. “You should research information concerning your parents before you research your great-great-great-great-grandmother. Also, don’t take all family lore as fact. Try to find documents to either prove or disprove family legends.”

Once armed with some of the basics – names, birth and death dates, Social Security numbers, hometowns or cities – you are ready to begin. With the proliferation of many family history records and sites available online, you can start the search from the comfort of your home. Just Googling your name, or the name of an ancestor, may give you some idea if there is any information out there and if someone may be looking for you.

The main branches of public library systems in our region are wonderful places to start. With books, microfilm of old newspapers and phone books, and land maps showing streets and locales that may or may not still exist today, you can find a wealth of basic information. Most libraries have computers dedicated to genealogical research, which provide free access to sites like,,, plus Ohio death certificates and other sources.

A first stop is usually the 1790 to 1930 U.S. Federal Census records, along with international census data. These pages provide information on each individual family: city, state, who is in the household and the relationship, sex, age, and, in some cases, occupation and the value of what they own. This data can be used to determine if you have found your ancestors. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the 1890 census was destroyed in a fire. Other records such as property documents, marriage licenses, and other sources can be used to fill in the gaps.

For African Americans, research often slows down tremendously prior to 1870. That Census decade was the first to list all households regardless of race. From 1860 and before, the Census counted primarily white Americans, and blacks, if slaves, were often indicated as a mark under the owner’s name and only identified by sex and age range.

Emily Davis, past president and current treasurer of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, believes that although slave research is at times difficult, it is not impossible. “It becomes more challenging because many of our ancestors were slaves, and, depending on the state, public records were not always kept. And if they were, they are not always easy to identify or find.”

For researchers who go in knowing the name of the plantation their family was from or the name of the owner of their ancestors, their search may be a little easier. Records that can be searched that may hold clues include: owner wills, property ledgers and diaries. If these records exist, they may be housed in the county courthouse where the owner lived, in special collections donated to libraries, or privately held by descendants of the owner.

It helps to know going in that there are research, copying and postage fees that can become quite expensive. Not all blacks were slaves. Some were termed Free People of Color and may exist on a separate Census. They were often freed due to old age, in return for some act or service rendered to the owner, or they were the offspring of an owner/slave relationship.

Davis points to a high-tech tool that has become a more-affordable option for family research – DNA testing. “There are a number of persons other than Alex Haley who have been able to trace their ancestors back to Africa. Others may not have traced their families using documented records and resources, but have chosen instead to do a DNA test to determine the region or origin of their ancestors.”
Since this scientific sleuthing method has been available to the general public, it has become less costly. A simple mouth swab that will lead to some basic information is available for about $100.

Naturally, a more extensive the test will be more costly. Many companies now offer the service, but do your homework. Ask what may be the best test – the one that will give you reliable information at a price you can afford.

Independent contracted researchers are available for hire and will likely take on your individual case, but be willing to pay. With minimum fees as little as $10 per hour to hundreds of dollars per hour, many may find the service out of their reach and there are no guaranteed results. Subcontracting the work also takes away some of the thrill of making contact with a relative you may have never met as a result of your own research efforts.

Services based on donations, such as Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, are good for getting obituaries and other information at minimum expense, but you have to follow the guidelines for making a request.

Funeral programs, obituaries, cemetery records, birth records (after 1908 in Ohio), military records and family Bibles often hold valuable information as well. Making audio or video recordings of the older members of your family is also key. It provides a valuable family history record or a precious keepsake for those who come after you.
Both Williams and Davis agree that while it is not mandatory, joining a genealogy group is important. Such organizations provide a support network of other researchers who may be able to give you guidance on ways to search and things to consider, in order to take your research farther.

© 2009, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2010. That’s about 31 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 2 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 23 posts. There were 2 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 395kb.

The busiest day of the year was July 18th with 422 views. The most popular post that day was Can’t forget the Motor City: Motown hits 50.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for temptations, the temptations, the temptation, motown hits, and the original temptations.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Can’t forget the Motor City: Motown hits 50 February 2009
1 comment


Time runs out for Jeannette Blast Furnace February 2009
1 comment


Downtown from the 7th floor of the Realty Building: Recalling life in 1940s Youngstown January 2009
1 comment


‘Steel Dreams’ reconstructs community lost to time December 2009
1 comment


Berry Gordy Jr., Motown and American culture January 2009

Online DJs tune out corporate playlists

By Tyler Landis
Metro Monthly Staff Writer

With a motto like “Blasting forth with complete disregard for the mainstream!” you’d think the minds behind Rukus Radio were a pack of crusaders looking to liberate Internet listeners everywhere.

Quite the contrary. Moe Angelo, Trevor Quillan, and Chris Rutushin have their own sense of style, but seem content with being ordinary guys with a huge passion for music.

While their listeners may know them as Trevor Q and Moestrodamus, it was acoustic performer Trevor Quillan and Kelleys bassist Moe Angelo who got the ball rolling for Rukus Radio back in 2007 during a chance encounter at “Vex Fest IV,” an annual musical festival in downtown Youngstown.

Shortly after, the two were recording podcasts and brewing an idea for a radio show. The result is a Youngstown-based Internet radio station that has been broadcasting free of FCC regulation for a few years now.

The station has a singular identity. Each D.J. has a distinctive style and sound, but everything played on the station is categorized under the umbrella of independent music.

However, listeners won’t hear what is being played on most radio stations. Rukus’ mission is to expose listeners to an eclectic variety of bands and musical genres. Quillan and Angelo take pride in the fact that the station can say or do whatever it wants.

Because they are unencumbered by FCC regulation that means just about anything goes.

“We’re like the extended home show,” Quillan says. Angelo’s free spirited demeanor is what best embodies the themes and tropes of Rukus. “All these stations get playlists from above, we don’t have that,” Angelo says. Each show doesn’t consist of a tidy script or checklist of topics; it’s all very loose with its on-the-go approach.

D.J. Rutushin’s show “Happy Hours,” airs every Monday from 9 to 11 p.m. and features interviews and music from indie artists who Rutushin has had shows with or met during his travels. “It’s about having fun and strays away from sad bastardly music,” Rutushin said.

Angelo’s show, “Notes from the Underground,” is a multi-genre live program that features new releases. It airs every Wednesday from 9 to 11 p.m.

“The Jam Band Breakfast,” hosted by Trevor Q, is the station’s daily morning show and primarily focuses on all aspects of the “jamband” genre. It airs Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until noon.

In addition, “The Rukus Roundtable” airs every Sunday from 9 to 11p.m. and features a discussion forum and a revolving cast of characters.

“Chris [Rutushin] does a fantastic job of knowing what he’s doing the entire show, where I tend to wing it a little more often. It all goes to show the acceptance that anything and everything is O.K.,” Angelo said. Quillan’s on-air style is similar to Angelo’s: He lets the vibe of the day lead the show.
“When I get up, I sit in the captain’s chair and just go from there. The first song I choose dictates the rest of the show,” Quillan said.

Sitting with these guys is like getting a musical and a geek education all at once. “Star Wars” references are spat from all three at a dizzying speed. True to their indie-music focus, each dons a T-shirt with the name of a less-realized band. Their laid-back chemistry and keen insight into each other’s refined taste is what makes one believe that Rukus will be around as long as these guys are friends.

In terms of where Rukus can go in the future, signs point upward. “We definitely have plans to make it grow; we’re constantly adding people and content,” said Angelo.

Quillan said they were definitely not running at full capacity, describing the station as a “duct-tape operation.” “If we wanted to full out blast this thing, it’d probably cost us a couple thousand a month,” Quillan said.

For now, running the station and having other jobs keeps the guys busy. “We’re working jobs to try to build a job,” Quillan said.

With future plans to expand the station, the men behind Rukus realize that it’ll get more expensive. However, Quillan is tickled by the idea that they’re able to run the station for very little right now, prompting Rutushin to jump in and advise Quillan not to pull back the curtain.

Still, Rukus boasts a modest – but increasing – following on their site.” It’s our own social network, our version of MySpace or Facebook,” Quinlan said. “People can be a member for free which gives them the freedom to create a profile, chat, post blog entries, and upload music or videos.”

The site had gone from zero members last May, to approximately 600. Although Rukus enjoys exposing listeners to their favorite bands, the guys remain snake-bitten over the lack of support they’ve received from some local bands. “We’ve done our fair share of promoting Youngstown,” Angelo says, but admits that the response could be a lot better.

To hear Rukus Radio, visit You can listen live and most shows are available for downloading after their original air date.

© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

The crew at Rukus Radio. Electronic image by Jack Hughes.

Photographer chronicles working artists of the Mahoning Valley

By Mark C. Peyko | Metro Monthly Editor

Although it started as a feature on Facebook, a project by Youngstown photographer Tony Nicholas is rapidly becoming an important chronicle of the creative culture of the Mahoning Valley.

Nicholas, who earned his master’s degree  from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2005, didn’t plan on staying in the Mahoning Valley after graduation. He said he returned temporarily to teach part-time, but “one thing led to another.”

“The more I was here, the more I got involved with the local arts scene, the more I wanted to stay,” Nicholas recalled. “And now I feel like I’m so entrenched, and I feel all these good things going on, and things evolving in a good way. And, you know, I just want to be a person here, pushing that along. Just try to help that.”

The Metro Monthly recently spoke with Nicholas about his ongoing project. The interview appears below.

Metro Monthly: Tell me a little about how the project started.

Tony Nicholas: . . . I actually woke up one morning, at about 4:30 in the morning, and I had a couple of other projects that were ongoing and this thing just hit me. I was working with all these other local artists, getting ready for these local festivals at the B&O Station and so forth. And it’s always overwhelming to me how many talented artists there are in the area. A lot of them are friends of mine, and they’re struggling to gain a bigger audience. That was one aspect, just trying to put a face with a lot of these people’s work and create something of it to draw attention to the area about the talent that’s here in the arts. And the other aspect is that photography is my education. I have a master’s degree . . . , but it was just a document for historical reference of the people who are here working in the arts at this period in time. I had seen photos and done studies in school of . . . artists in their workspace and it always intrigued me to see people in their own environment, comfortable working in their own environment, and I thought it was something that had to be done. And I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before.  . . .  I just thought this was needed and something that had to be done just as a record.

Metro Monthly: Are the portraits only available on Facebook or do you have a Web site where people can see them, too?

Nicholas: I actually do a blog sometimes, but I haven’t posted anything about this. I haven’t actually posted anything in a couple of months. I was going to put them there. The only place there is right now is Facebook and it’s really an edited-down version of just a couple shots of the ones that I’ve done so far. If I would photograph somebody, I’ll probably post four or five from that session and that’s about it. But, at this point, that’s about it. There is no other place to see them at this point.

Metro Monthly: Who is your intended audience for this? Facebook is really friend-to-friend. Are you getting some people who might not be familiar with some of these artists who are linked peripherally to other people who are seeing this?

Nicholas: Somewhat, but to me it’s not enough. Part of the motivation for me was to draw a bigger audience, to show people all these artists right here from the Mahoning Valley, and to try to bring attention to them because I do a lot of these art festivals in the area.  . . . A lot of times you’re in the same crowd of people and you talk to them about their struggle to draw people in and make people aware because a lot of people aren’t even aware of the talent that’s right here underneath them.

Metro Monthly: There’s a small group of people using “Rust Belt” as a brand. I was wondering what the thinking was behind that and are all these groups of people affiliated?

Nicholas: It’s an identifiable term that can be used to group a lot of different things together.  . . . I’ve worked on shows with Daniel Horne. He’s a local sculptor and he started Artists of the Rust Belt Festivals at the B&O Station.  . . . It’s a marketable term that people can relate to. This is where we’re from and this is who we are.

Metro Monthly: The thing that’s interesting about it is that you’re taking [and using] something that has been – for about 25 or so years – a pejorative way to describe the region. Everyone knows what Rust Belt means, but your group has redefined it in a way where you’re using the recognition that Rust Belt has but really creating a new identity for it.

Nicholas: Absolutely. That’s part of it. That’s part of the motivation – to show people that we are, in a sense, the Rust Belt. We are from here. This is who we are. But, at the same time, we’re trying to change people’s perceptions, their attitudes about the area that has evolved so much, and is always evolving to a more positive light. To show people.  . . . You don’t know what you’re missing if you don’t come to these [art] shows and see what’s going on. I’m trying to use this as a tool to show people that this is not just what you read 20 years ago. Youngstown is a different place. There’s a group of people here that choose to be here and they live their lives in a really interesting way and they make art that speaks about the area in more ways than I can even explain.

Metro Monthly: One thing I found interesting about the [photography] profiles is [that] you’re seeing the artists. With a lot of these people, you’re usually only seeing their art. And so you’re really giving identities to a lot of the art that’s out there. The people who created the art.

Nicholas: Right, right. And that’s exactly it. There’s a lot of times where I’ve seen a lot of these people’s work. Some of them, a few that I’ve already photographed – I never really knew them personally, other than to see them socially here and there. You might chit-chat for a second but the time spent photographing them might be a couple hours here or there. You sit and get comfortable with them.  . . . It’s just a valuable tool to put a face with this work. I’m hoping to evolve it into some type of book form where I can have the photo, a portrait, and maybe an example of their work, and maybe some type of bio. I’m not really sure at this point. It’s [at] such an early stage, but I’d love to see a book that could be marketed to a much broader audience – to introduce people to who these people are to shed light on this area in a positive manner.

Metro Monthly: The portraits are very striking. They seem to capture what the people are about. Like you said, they’re in their environment. There are examples of their work, in some cases, or they’re in very casual settings. I’m just wondering if there’s a common thread that runs through the profiles. What are you trying to convey, I guess, with each person?

Nicholas: I guess I’m just trying to show them in their more comfortable environment and show them that they’re just people like anyone else, but at the same time they convey their creativity in such a way. It’s hard to explain. When I come to photograph them I tell them, “Don’t dress up; just be yourself and show people who and what you are.” I always try to start photographing them with their art in the space where we’re photographing, but it seems like the best photos end up being the photos of them where we almost seem to be having a conversation more about what it is. Just giving them the opportunity to relax because some of them don’t know me that well. Some do, but that interaction is really key to getting them to relax and kind of just sit there or whatever and capture them as they really are. A lot of times when you’re photographed, you put up a shield. You put on your best look and your best shirt. My only stipulation was to not dress up and don’t clean up your space. Don’t clean your studio; just leave it as if it’s another day at the office.

Metro Monthly: You mentioned Daniel Horne as a subject, but could you name other artists you’ve photographed and the art that they create?

Nicholas: Mary Farragher Evans. She does paintings and she also helps organize a lot of shows in the area. In fact, she just had a show at the Old North Church in Canfield. Fascinating work. Fred Shepherd is a guy who has a studio in the Ward Bakery Building and he does it all. He makes these beautiful Christmas bulbs. They are all unique to themselves. He does photography. He did one of the “Goddess of Speed” statues a year or two ago in Trumbull County. Multi-talented guy. Marcie Applegate is a jewelry maker. She’s been at this for a long time and she’s one of the driving forces behind the Artists of the Rust Belt movement. Her and Daniel Horne, as well. And Daniel is a sculptor. He’s not traditionally-trained. It was something he wanted to do and he did it. His style is his own. It is really intriguing. Jenn Cole is an artist. I just met her last Saturday. I’ve seen her before a few times and she does this multi-media collage work that are basically one-of-a-kind originals that are just something else. She’s well-traveled; she gets around to shows throughout the summer. She’s one of those who are really out there making it happen. There’s just so many. And every one I meet, [leads to] getting introduced to five other ones.

Metro Monthly: The impression I have – because this area has an industrial heritage and a blue-collar heritage – is that you see that blue-collar work ethic being infused into the work and the creativity of the people.

Nicholas: Yeah, absolutely, especially some of the sculptors. Those guys like Charles Hughes. He’s basically a blacksmith. He and Daniel Horne, and even some of the painters and photographers. It’s the way they carry themselves, how they put themselves to work. It’s real working class. They put hours upon hours into it. It’s not, from what I gather, it’s not about the glitzy art shows. It’s more about, you know, the creativity to make these works and put it out there. Hopefully, people find it interesting. There are not a whole lot of big egos in the people I’ve met. It’s more down-to-earth, toiling away. Some people won’t even admit to some degree of being an artist. It’s just what they do, what they are. To me, there’s a real working class grit to it. In fact, [after] the first few that I photographed – some of the feedback I got back from others on Facebook was “how come no one’s smiling?” And that wasn’t something [I did]. I never directed anybody to smile. They only thing I told anybody was to look at me now and then. But I think that said something about their mentality. They were serious about their work. But at the same time, it brought joy to them because you can see that in their interaction. You’ll see a couple of photos where they’ll start to relax and show themselves a bit of a smile. But it’s a real workmen’s kind of mentality that pushes them.

Metro Monthly: You said that you wanted people to be comfortable in their own environment and really try to capture them in a very relaxed state. How long is a session and how long does it take to get people to that place of being comfortable?

Nicholas: Well, usually the sessions aren’t that long. It varies. I’ve had a couple where they’re an hour-and-a-half. I want to say that’s probably the average time and some others it’s two hours, three hours. Like Daniel Horne and I; we hit it off. I go a little bit and we start talking and you’re going on and on and on and as you’re doing that you’re just photographing. They key for me is just to get them to relax. And I want to say the first five or 10 shots are just kind of warmups. I can sense in their face that they’re uncomfortable. A lot of them don’t like to be photographed, and a lot of people are that way. They don’t want to show themselves too much. I think maybe it’s just my nature to talk to them. I want them to know that this is a painless effort. It’s something that’s going to be taken in a positive light. It’s not something where I’m trying to take advantage of them. It’s to show them at their best and get them to relax. I want to say I take five or 10 shots before I start to see that smile in their face. It’ll soften. The key is to get that genuine response.

Metro Monthly: You said that when you met someone it led to you meeting maybe five more people. I have a few questions. How many portraits do you plan on doing and what is the area that you’ll cover geographically? How far out do you consider the Rust Belt to be?

Nicholas: Well, I try not to be too limited because it can be a vast area.   . . . But, at this point, it seems that most are in the Mahoning Valley, the Youngstown area. Jenn Cole lives in Liberty. That’s probably the furthest north I’ve gone, actually. But if you live from here to almost to Cleveland and to Pittsburgh – in-between that. To me, that’s the heart of the Rust Belt. It [the project] has become such a big thing already.  . . . I don’t want to say I’ll limit how many I will shoot. It’s more who’s willing to let me photograph.  . . . The more the merrier, is what I say. I had to turn away a few musicians who wanted to do it. I’m happy to photograph them, but this has got to be more or less the visual artists. I just had to narrow the focus. It’s just too vast already.

Metro Monthly: One thing I’ve been wondering. Are you considering doing a self-portrait? Are you considering including yourself in the series?

Nicholas: I’ve been asked by a few of the other people I’ve photographed and I guess so, yeah. . . . I probably will at some point. I don’t know if I’ll do it myself.  . . . I haven’t really figured that out how I’ll do that. But I would because I feel I’m in tune. I feel, as humans, we always want to be included in some type of group or something like that. And a lot of artists feel that you never really fit in. To me, this is really a type of group where I really fit in.

Metro Monthly: O.K. Getting back to the Rust Belt thing. You have the Chamber and other business organizations and a lot of time they try to distance themselves from the past and they always look toward the future. Does the business community at large understand what the Rust Belt thing is? Are they embracing it at all? Do you see that in any way?

Nicholas: I want to say they’re starting to embrace it. I don’t see it on a wide scale by any means. But at the same point, it’s more, basically, this vision of Daniel Horne’s making this. He has an Artists of the Rust Belt community Web site and the shows he does – two or three a summer – the Blues Festival is all part of his vision – with a few other people involved, of course. I think the more you see that term, the Rust Belt, put on these kind of positive things, I think the business community will start to see that the past is where it is and we’re looking forward. Let’s try to make it a positive, an asset to our history. It’s part of our history. It’s who we are. At the same time, it can be shown in a new light – this is part of that light.

Metro Monthly: Just to give proper credit to the person or persons who came up with the Rust Belt name. Was it Daniel Horne or was it someone else? Or was it a group of people brainstorming? Do you know?

Nicholas: Not positive on that, but I want to say that Daniel Horne, Marcie Applegate, and probably a couple others came up with Artists of the Rust Belt and were instrumental in getting it started and having a venue like the B&O Station where they could regularly have shows as a group. But at the same time, they don’t exclude anybody. If you want to partake in one of the shows, they’re all for it. They send out invitations or applications to show samples of your work. What you do if you want to set up a booth. They don’t exclude anyone. They’re an inclusive kind of a group. But I want to say it was their origination, this Artists of the Rust Belt.

Metro Monthly: Ten years from now, when someone’s looking at these portraits, what do you hope they come away with? Or even five years or even in a couple years. What would you hope they come away with when they see your work?

Nicholas: Well, I would hope they would see that things are changing a lot in the area in a good way. And the arts are a big part of that – to help show the changes. I would hope that, in five years, people will look at those pictures and say, “These are some of the people who helped this move along and bring the arts to a higher level of attention and respect in the area.” And that’s all I can hope for. For myself, it’s just something I felt I needed to do. And, in the same manner, it helps me. It’s just a way for me to work and do what I love to do. I’m hoping people see it as a historical document and at the same time show the people who helped bring the arts to a higher level in the area, a higher level of respect.

© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

Time reveals a father’s generosity

This photo is Wildwood, B.C. (before children). The image depicts (L-R) Aunt Liz, Uncle Ed and my mom on the porch of the cottage Uncle Ed and cousin Eddie built in the 1940s. Mom looks like a newlywed, so I’m assuming it’s from 1953-54. Dad probably took the photo. The cottage was located on what is now Shawcrest and Lavender roads, southwest of the Rio Grande drawbridge. Too bad about the unfortunate broom placement; Uncle Ed looks like a British punk rocker.

BY MARK C. PEYKO | Metro Monthly Editor

For two weeks every summer, my family made the journey from northeastern Ohio to the Jersey Shore. Our family vacation was something my brothers and sister anticipated – even expected – each year. My dad managed this annual feat on a teacher’s salary and without complaint or much variance in routine. When young, you don’t truly appreciate the sacrifices that are necessary to pull off such a hat trick, but time and the economics of adulthood have made me further appreciate my father’s discipline and generosity.

My Uncle Ed – actually a great uncle – and cousin Eddie built the cottage in Wildwood, N.J. where my family stayed every summer for almost three decades. Constructed some time in the 1940s, the cottage was located near the inlet area off Rio Grande Avenue. Vacation homes of similar scale and vintage lined the street and raw beach grass filled scattered lots. The cottage faced east, so we could see the fishing boats returning to dock at day’s end and the distant glow of the boardwalk at night.

The cottage was a two-story frame building set back on a sandy lot. A low, open porch ran the width of the cottage and wrapped around the side and part of the back. Since it was a summer building, the cottage had no central heating system, nor did it need one. Dormers on the east and west sides of the building ventilated the entire second floor and brought the cool, ocean air into the sleeping areas. A low-rise, U-shaped enclosure for the central staircase afforded everyone a measure of privacy.

The first floor consisted of a large living room, kitchen and small bathroom. The cottage was a mix of old furniture: Art Deco lamps, mission oak dressers, and even a few console radios from the 1930s. The kitchen had blue, yellow, and gray sheet linoleum in a sort-of Mondrian pattern. Although it seemed equal parts museum and storage shed, the cottage was a fascinating, multi-decade time capsule.

The bathroom was tiny, the hot water tank smaller yet. After a day at the beach, you’d want to be first or second in the shower, but colder water sometimes was just the thing for sunburned skin. After our first day at the beach – and every day afterward – the bathroom floor was gritty with sand.

Uncle Ed lived in Gloucester Heights (outside Camden), worked at RCA, and could fix anything mechanical. He and my great aunt visited at least once while we were at the cottage and stayed the entire day. They always joined us for dinner, but left before dark. Aunt Liz always brought along exotic treats we never had at home, things like Ritz crackers, boxes of Hostess doughnuts, or regional snacks not found in Ohio.

I think my mom really enjoyed seeing her aunt, because she and Aunt Liz never seemed to leave the kitchen table during the visit. My dad genuinely liked them, too. Uncle Ed and Aunt Liz were good-natured and fun to be around. My dad paid them for use of the cottage, even though they never asked for anything.

The cottage was pretty far from the boardwalk and motel district, so my family’s vacation experience may have been different than most on the island. The usual drill was breakfast, beach all day, then pick up some fish or steaks and jelly doughnuts from the Marine Italian Bakery.

There was a distinct compartmentalization of activity due to our distance from the beach and entertainment districts. When we went to the beach, we stayed.  (A rainy day usually meant a trip to Cape May to look at the ruin of the U.S.S. Atlantus in the deep water off Sunset Beach.) There were shopping trips, of course, but the late afternoon meant relaxing at the cottage, reading the Philadelphia Inquirer and waiting for dinner. There’s a peculiar hunger you have after being on the beach all day, so we were always ravenous.

Family vacations meant a temporary reversal of parental roles and I think it was truly a nice respite for my mother. She was freed from the daily grind of feeding and caring for her family and my dad did all the cooking. Consequently, everything tasted different – the steaks, the home fries, even the way my dad chopped the ingredients for the salad.

Other things were different, too. We didn’t have television for two weeks and busied ourselves with making our own fun while waiting for dinner. As children, we would run upstairs when a boat’s horn signaled the Rio Grande drawbridge to open. We’d stand on the edge of the bed and look out a northern window to watch the vessel pass. From the upstairs, we could see fishing and tour boats from two directions. It never seemed to get old.

After dinner, we’d feed our table scraps to the sea gulls then relax before getting ready for the boardwalk. When we returned for the night, it was common for us to eat Italian hoagies and large bowls of ice cream after 11 p.m. The hours of walking the boardwalk made it all balance out, I guess.

I want to thank dad for giving my mom and all his children this experience.

Happy Father’s Day!

© 2010, The Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.