SOIL SERIES Community Studio Exhibition

On October 27th, 2017, we held the inaugural SOIL SERIES art exhibition at the Empower Youth Ranch. The exhibition was the culminating endeavor of the first session of our Community Studio Program.

The exhibition celebrated the efforts and perspectives of the Community Studio artists while unearthing latent histories, honoring local traditions, and offering new insights and possibilities for the future. 

Curating the Exhibition

Our first meeting with the assistant curators.

The relationships we cultivated with Empower Youth’s summer interns during the renovation of the Barn Studio have become an enormous source of pride for us, and one of SOIL SERIES‘s greatest strengths. When we asked a group of our former interns to join us in mounting the exhibition as assistant curators, they enthusiastically agreed, even though it meant working late into the evening every day for two weeks. Under the guidance of Hillary, who acted as head curator, the interns cleaned and prepped the barn, assisted with curatorial decisions, and learned how to install artwork. We were so proud of the interns’ generosity, leadership, and teamwork throughout the process.

Thank you to all our amazing assistant curators: Tristin Colson-Wright, Sydney Gee, Alec Guenther, Jasmine Ison, MacKenzie Johnson, Tyler Johnson, Hailey Jowers, Kayla Ragland, Ty Scott, and Olivia Taylor.

We couldn’t have done it without you!

Empower Youth Ribbon Cutting/SOIL SERIES Exhibition

October 27th, 2017

On the day of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, community members came out by the hundreds to show their support of Empower Youth and to celebrate the completion of Peachie’s Place, Empower Youth’s new packing facility, named in memory of Peachie Glassmeyer. Speakers at the ceremony included John Essen of Community Savings Bank, Bethel Mayor Alan Ausman, and many more. We were especially thrilled to see Alec Guenther publicly recognized for his incredible dedication and hard work over the past year.

After the ceremony, visitors gathered in the Barn Studio to view the SOIL SERIES exhibition. Upon entering, visitors were greeted with a map and a brief project description. Extensive wall texts placed throughout the space offered viewers further insight into SOIL SERIES and the projects on display.

An excerpt from the introductory wall text:

Nourishment is the key to everything we take on as a part of SOIL SERIES. Our project’s name is derived from soil classification terminology and points to our engagement with place down to the very fundamental level of the soil. […] We see this correlation between soil health and community health as having particular resonance in a community such as Bethel, with its rich agricultural history. Our goal with SOIL SERIES is to develop new nutritional pathways that address the holistic health of a community from its soil to its cultural and intellectual opportunities.

Through our Community Studios, we have begun to provide cultural and intellectual nourishment to Bethel residents, offering a dedicated time and place for creativity, experimentation, and expression. In addition, we use our Community Studio lessons to connect the next generation of Bethel residents to the area’s rich past, providing historical references and opportunities for students to more deeply engage with their home through making. The artwork on display throughout the Barn Studio and “Peachie’s Place,” Empower Youth’s newly completed food packing facility, demonstrates our commitment not only to Bethel’s past, but also to its future, mirroring Empower Youth’s mission of hope for Bethel’s youth on all fronts.

Below, we offer a brief overview of the works on display at the exhibition. We will also be detailing the works in more depth in later posts.

Tour the Exhibition

(From the wall text) “We began the morning of July 24th by considering our roles as artists as akin to that of the ‘explorer.’ One of the jobs of an explorer is to chart maps of areas previously unknown. We decided that for the day we would become explorers of the EY Ranch, using map-making as a way of better understanding our site. […] Focusing on Nina Katchadourian’s work in which she deconstructs and and re-imagines ready-made maps, we challenged our artists to create new maps out of an assortment of maps we provided. The artists could choose to work with maps at varying scales, including maps of Bethel, Clermont County, the United States, and even the world. There were also maps of local roadways, rivers, and soil. The artists selected the maps they wanted to use and then proceeded to ‘re-map’ them, deconstructing and re-assembling them into something new.”
(From the wall text) “The dérive (‘drifting’) is a revolutionary strategy developed by the Situationist International in the 1950s. Guy Debord describes it as ‘a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll. In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.’ We have taken up the dérive as a regular practice towards understanding our ranch and how we each relate to it. Each time we partake in a dérive on the ranch we draw maps of our experiences. Together the maps reflect a constellation of experiences on the ranch, revealing its complexity and vitality.”
(From the wall text) “Our Community Studio artists use their journals to create freely at the beginning of each class. Occasionally our lessons will invite the artists to use their journals to write ideas, draw, or consider new questions, but most of the work in these journals is the result of unrestricted creativity. “

(From the wall text) “In September we dedicated three weeks of our Community Studio Program to unpacking the significance of quilting in Appalachian culture. Framing quilting within the history of folk art, we discussed how folk art traditions are deeply rooted in community and culture, and as such they are expressions of cultural identity. […] After learning about the complex and diverse history of quilting, our Community Studio artists had the chance to try some techniques of quilting on their own. Instead of taking a traditional approach, however, the artists were allowed free reign with the materials, and their resulting compositions have an exciting energy and dynamism. Inspired by Faith Ringgold’s narrative quilts, they also created ‘quilt squares’ on paper that used ‘patchwork’ techniques to illustrate a personal story.”
(From the wall text) “Our first Community Studio: Drawing was all about testing the limits of drawing and imagining what drawing can be. We considered the questions: What makes a drawing? What makes a drawing ‘good’ or ‘bad’? What do you use to make a drawing? […] Our artists were then tasked with finding items around the farm that could be used to make drawings. These drawing could take any form as long as they were not made on paper. The resulting drawings were made from flowers, a garden hose, found objects, and charcoal from the fire pit.”
(From the wall text) “Our fourth and final Community Studio: Drawing session started a bit differently than usual. Instead of looking at the work of a particular artist, we focused on an exhibition recently mounted at The Drawing Center in New York. […] The exhibition in question, Exploratory Works: Drawings from the Department of Tropical Research Field Expeditions, examined the role of artists in popularizing and making accessible scientific research at the turn of the 20th century. […] During our session, the Community Studio artists looked closely at field drawings from the Department of Tropical Research, studying the artists’ techniques and methods. […] This prepared us for the day’s project: making detailed field drawings of objects collected from around the ranch as a way of practicing deep observation of our surroundings.”
(From the wall text) “During our first Community Studio: Sculpture session, we discussed assemblage. Assemblage is a form of sculpture comprised of everyday, ‘found’ objects, often disparate elements scavenged by the artist. […] The artists we looked at included Louise Nevelson, Joseph Cornell, Johann Dieter Wassmann, Robert Rauschenberg, and Pablo Picasso. Looking at these artists and their work helped us think about how art can be a tool for understanding our lives. We applied this idea to our first project: using assemblage to help us get to know the EY Ranch. We talked about how assembling objects collected from around the ranch would begin to tell a story about the place and its history. The objects we chose and the way in which they were assembled would then represent our diverse perceptions of the ranch, creating a dialogue between the place and us. We agreed that if we get to know our ranch better we might be able to love and care for it in better ways.”

(From the wall text) “On the morning of August 2nd, our artists entered the Barn Studio and faced a journal prompt: ‘You have 5 minutes, make a list of EVERYTHING you own, GO!’ […] This writing prompt was inspired by the artist Mary Mattingly. Mattingly’s work explores themes of home, travel, and cartography. […] In class, we looked specifically at Mattingly’s 2013 series, House and Universe. […] Mattingly sometimes refers to her sculptures, composed of bundles of objects, as ‘icons.’ We discussed the definition of icon: a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something, and the definition of symbol: a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a material object representing something abstract. The artists were invited to participate in their own ‘icon-making.’ We started by first making a ‘material inventory’ in which we sorted the materials found on the ranch into four categories: hard, soft, man-made, and natural. Based on these categories, the artists then crafted four different icons representative of EY Ranch. Each item that went into our bundles was photographed first, and some were even given histories and narratives. This inventory is displayed across from the icons.”

(From the wall text) “Why is soil important? This question kicked off our Community Studio Saturday program on September 9th. While considering this question, we introduced a book that has been very important to our research for SOIL SERIES, David Montgomery’s Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. […] David Montgomery is a geomorphologist, which means he studies the physical features of the earth’s surface and their relation to its geological structures. In Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, Montgomery argues that soil is our most essential natural resource and that it is necessary for modern civilization’s survival. […] If soil is so vital to civilization’s survival, how can we begin to value and take better care of our soil? The first step, we believe, is to listen. What can the soil on the EY Ranch tell us about its history, the history of Bethel, and how we can become better stewards of the land? Our Community Studio Saturday lessons on September 9th and 16th focused on this question.”

(From the wall text) “We decided that the only appropriate way to wrap up a summer dedicated to getting to know our ranch was to spend time learning about and paying respect to the local indigenous people who lived on the land long before us. […] A number of Native American tribes called this area home, including the Shawnee, Miami, Lenape, Delaware, Mingo, Ottawa, Cherokee, and Wyandot. The last Native American village in the county was located two miles south of Marathon in Jackson Township, along the mouth of Grassy Run on the East Fork of the Little Miami River. The Wyandot lived there until 1811. For the sake of our lesson, we focused on the Hopewell culture, which flourished between roughly A.D. 1 to A.D. 500. […] We looked at some examples of Hopewell art, which was often made of materials imported from distant locations in North America. Specifically, we focused on Hopewell pottery, which would have been used for a variety of purposes, from storage and cooking to holding offerings during burial ceremonies. […] Clermont County is famous for its ‘Clermont clay,’ which exists in large concentrations in the soil of the area. The clay bears heavily on how everyone from the average citizen to the farmer lives on and interacts with the land. […] Once we had grasped the history of the clay and the ways it has been used by the people who have lived in this area, we descended to the creek bed to find some ourselves. Hillary taught the artists how to find deposits, and after a while, they were finding clay all on their own. We emerged from the forest with two full buckets of shining, wet clay and returned to the Barn Studio to begin forming our pots. We rolled out coils, wound them, patted them, and smoothed them out, developing our own coiling methods inspired by the Hopewell culture. In the tactile experience of working with the clay, we found ourselves connecting viscerally to a body of knowledge largely lost to the modern residents of Bethel, if only in a small way.”

(From the wall text) “We began the morning of July 26th by considering the value of restriction in creativity. A clip from an interview with Jack White from The White Stripes helped us better understand this concept. We then looked at the work of Richard Serra and discussed how ‘action’ plays a part in the making of his sculptures. Each artist received a copy of Richard Serra’s 1967-68 ‘Verb List’ and was asked to brainstorm which verbs they might assign to images of Serra’s early works. The artists were then invited to think about Robert Smithson’s ‘Non-Sites’ and his use of ‘raw’ materials in his work. Finally, the artists looked at the work of Andy Goldsworthy and considered the definition of ‘raw’: raw – adjective – (of a material or substance) in its natural state; not yet processed or purified. […] With the goal of creating videos within strict parameters: a raw material + an action, the group created a list of ‘raw’ materials that one might find on the ranch. The list included but was not limited to: wood, metal, dirt, rocks, plants (leaves, branches, bark, etc.), water, ice, and paper. The artists then went on a walk around the ranch […] When they returned, they sketched their ideas in their journals, deciding their ‘actions’ and their ‘materials,’ as well as the site where the video of this performance would take place. As a group we toured the sites around the ranch that each artist had chosen and witnessed their action + material performances. Each performance was documented with a flip camera.” (Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post featuring the videos.)
(From the wall text) “Painting ‘en plein air,’ or painting in the open air, revolutionized painting at the turn of the century. In the wake of industrialization and with the advent of the camera, artists were forced to reconsider their role in society and began venturing outside the controlled environment of the studio. In addition, paint tubes were invented and the time-consuming process of grinding and mixing one’s own paints became suddenly expedited. […] We looked at the seminal works that came out of this practice of painting en plein air in the late 19th century. These artists became known as ‘Impressionists,’ and included Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, inspiring later painters such as Vincent Van Gogh. Although these artists have become synonymous with canon, during their time they were ridiculed and despised for their unorthodox methods. Many of the Impressionist painters worked outdoors in order to better understand and capture light, movement, and everyday activity. Some Impressionists even painted the same scene over and over again at different times of the day and in different weather to truly understand how light can affect perception. In a final effort to better understand the EY Ranch, we carried our canvases to the back of the property and tried painting en plein air—bugs, weather, and all. Some of our artists took creative liberties with their work, while others tried to remain purely observational. Regardless, the paintings show a range of perspectives and personalities, and they are a testament to the creative freedom the EY Ranch allows.”

As part of the exhibition we also shared some of our dreams for the future of SOIL SERIES and the Empower Youth Ranch. We displayed ideas and experiments, including an NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) hydroponics system, which we had started building with the help of our research assistants, Alec Guenther and Kayla Ragland.


We were so pleased by the amazing turnout at the exhibition and the enthusiasm and support demonstrated by all who attended. The night was made all the more special by the incredible generosity of Chris Bean of Pneuma Coffee. “Pneuma” means “breath,” “air,” or “spirit” in Greek, and Pneuma Coffee is founded on the belief that “enjoying great coffee is like fresh air in the lungs of our social souls.” Chris uses his coffee business as a vehicle for building relationships and promoting compassion and community, which we can certainly say he did at our event. People queued up in a never-ending line all evening long for the delicious drinks Chris provided free of charge, yet he was present with each and every person who came to his counter. We even caught Chris giving lessons about the physics of latte art!

Chris believes in the work of SOIL SERIES so much that he donated his time and his coffee to our event. We are overwhelmed with gratitude! You can support Pneuma Coffee by visiting The 86 Coffee Bar and Concert Venue in Cincinnati, or by purchasing the company’s ethically sourced coffee online.

We would also like to express our gratitude to all those who donated to and participated in our silent auction. We were touched by the outpouring of support from local individuals and business, and we are especially grateful to Empower Youth for making the auction possible. Proceeds from the auction will go directly to more Community Studio programming at the EY Ranch. We can’t wait to get started again in the spring! If you would like to support our efforts, please visit our Support tab, or click on the button below.

Donate with PayPal

Thank you to our silent auction supporters:

Village Hardware, Joe Glassmeyer, Lisa Rose, Hairy Solutions, Wilson’s Auto and Truck Repair, The Creation Station, Stephanie Fiore, Bethel Feed & Supply Pet & Garden Center, FC Cincinnati, Newport Aquarium, Graeter’s Ice Cream, Domino’s Pizza of Bethel, Grammas Pizza of Bethel, Country Fresh Farm Market, Sweet Frog, Advance Auto Parts of Bethel, Tim Horton’s of Amelia, Pine Lane Soaps, Ben Franklin Store, Kim Dahlheimer, Clover Creek Pines Primitives (Amy Guenther), Sheila’s Fused Glass, Slime-Paluza, Cincinnati Arts Association, Laura Ormes, Judy Woodruff, and Just a Little Something (Janet Swarthout).

Finally, a heartfelt thank you to all who attended the exhibition and contributed to the night’s success. This was the first time many of our Community Studio artists showed their work in public, and it was an absolute joy to share their pride in their accomplishments. We can’t wait to see what our artists do next!

Stay tuned for news about upcoming programming and events, and follow our Facebook and Instagram for more updates and information.


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