WVUncovered Blog

Welcome to the West Virginia Uncovered Blog. Use the RSS link to subscribe to the feed, and check back periodically.

Fasnacht

Aaron | February 13th, 2013

Mike Roh is pictured here on the left sitting with his two close friends Phil McAvoy (center) and Owen Davis (right).

Mike Roh has been teaching math and physics at University High in Morgantown since 1995. A West Virginia University graduate and West Virginia native, Roh holds a masters degree in mechanical engineering. He discovered his passion for teaching while spending time with the Peace Corps. However, teaching isn’t the only thing that Roh cares deeply for. A festival known as Fasnacht is held each year in the small town of Helvetia, W.Va. He’s been attending this festival for over 20 years now and hasn’t missed a year since. His passion for the festival and town itself is inspiring. He says it builds true character and that if you enjoy this type of place and event, then you’re probably a pretty fun guy to hang out with. Having gone to this festival for the past six years myself, I would have to entirely agree with him. The residents of Helvetia are as friendly as they come and they’re always ready to have a good time. They’ll prepare dinner for the entire town and offer a complete stranger a bed for the night. The festival itself brings on an entirely new look to the town lighting up the streets with lanterns and bonfires while people parade from one hall to the next wearing handcrafted masks. From then on music and square dancing will take place for the rest of the night. A giant bonfire and the burning of Old Man Winter occurs at midnight to end the festival, but for most it’s just finding the next house to begin celebrating again. Usually musicians will gather with guitars, banjos, fiddles and mandolins and play into the early morning. It truly is a unique experience and something, I believe that everyone should partake in at some point in their life. I know that wherever I am in the years to come, this is one thing that will always keep me coming back to West Virginia.

5th Dimensional

Aaron | January 30th, 2013

Gabe DeWitt is a local artist who does drawings and paintings using only dots. He says that you can only go one step past the dimension a surface will allow, and so he is breaking the rules by doing fifth dimensional drawings on paper, which is only supposed to allow an artist to go to the third dimension.

I first noticed DeWitt’s drawings at a local bar where he goes to draw. He says the beer and sound of people talking help influence his work. The thoughts that run through DeWitt’s mind are, in my opinion, astounding. A short discussion with him, and he can tell you how his drawings might predict his future, and if you were to do your own, they might predict yours – the fifth dimensional aspect of his work. He’s always willing to teach anyone and everyone interested in learning his style of art, but he also wants to see how they turn out, and that’s simply because he has a book in mind. These pen drawings are not the only works of art DeWitt creates, he also does paintings using the same method, and you can find one hanging on the wall at the new Black Bear in the Evansdale area.

Working Leather

Mary | November 29th, 2012

Charles McEwuen is the owner of Tanner’s Alley, a leather design studio in Morgantown, West Virginia. McEwuen was waiting on a customer with a special request when I first walked into Tanner’s Alley, so I wandered around a bit looking at the hand crafted leather briefcases, belts, and purses. Tanner’s Alley has shipped items to as far off as Singapore, according to McEwuen. He personally began working with leather in Shop Class in high school and would eventually opt to open a leather shop instead of pursuing a degree in Geology. Some of his recent work has been with alligator hides, pictured in the interview above.

Words of (Slight) Wisdom

Chelsi | November 26th, 2012

When it comes to journalism – especially the kind we do in Uncovered that involves travelling and making very few trips– you have to be prepared for potentially crazy things to happen. Sometimes, things happen that are completely out of your control, like having a story fall through. Most of the times, unfortunately, there are things you could have done to prevent disasters from happening. This is a tough thing to admit because the following things are all things I have done.

To be honest, I did a short video about someone to post, but I am writing this instead because I did one or more of these things last week. Ugh.


1. Don’t assume you have everything you need

Multimedia reporters use multimedia equipment. Multimedia equipment requires chargers and batteries to work properly.

Trust me, it is much easier to take five minutes the night before you leave to make sure you have fresh batteries and all the cords you need than to get to a location and look like an idiot because the XLR adapter on your camera kit is dead.

My first semester in Uncovered, I unpacked my camera and reached for the lavaliere mic to give to my subject, only to find all I had was a shotgun mic. I had to do the interview over the next week. My subject was annoyed. I was embarrassed.

My second semester in Uncovered, I got to Charleston and didn’t have the tools I needed to assemble my DSLR video kit. Luckily, I was shooting in a mall, so I went to Sears and got what I needed. I spent $7 more than I needed to spend, but everything turned out all right.

It’s easy to forget the clip that goes on the tripod or batteries or a specific lens, but if you don’t assume you have all those things, there will be less of a chance you will have to go without them.

The easiest way to avoid this is to carefully put things away right after you use them. I know you want to (gently) toss your stuff in the trunk of your car and come home after a long shoot, but taking the extra five minutes at your location to put everything in its place will save you a world of trouble later if you accidentally lose or forget something.

Also, if you haven’t used your gear in a little while, take a second to turn everything on before you leave or can’t get back to campus to switch stuff out. Not only will realizing your equipment isn’t working when you get to your location be stressful, it will also inconvenience your subject because you’ll have to go back and do whatever you were doing again. It’s better to have something you know will work when you turn it on.

2. WEAR HEADPHONES

Wear headphones. There is nothing else I can say. Put headphones on your head. Plug them in. Wear them the whole time.

Really. Wear headphones.

It’s better to hear there is too much background noise or that the mic is rubbing on the subject’s shirt and fix the problem then than to have to deal with it later in Final Cut and probably fail.

I once went through half an interview without headphones before I realized there were no levels on my camera. I had to ask those questions again, which added about 20 minutes to the interview time. Had I worn headphones, I would have been able to tell there was no audio and addressed the problem right away?

Actually, it wouldn’t have mattered in that case because it was the time I only had a shotgun mic and had to do the interview over anyway. That was just a bad day all around?

3. Give yourself an extra hour (at least)

Are you sure you know exactly where you’re going and aren’t going to get lost finding the subject’s house or the event location?

When we travel, it’s often to places we haven’t been before. Google Maps can only do so much, and sometimes it’s easy to get turned around somehow and have to figure out where you are. It’s much easier to handle being slightly lost when you have extra time because you won’t be freaking out because you’re late. You can feel better about having to call your subject or stopping to ask for directions, too, if you aren’t supposed to be there in 15 minutes and are 20 or more minutes away because you got lost.

Also, it’s just nice to be able to get there, scope the place out, set up your equipment and take a deep breath before diving into the project. And sometimes you get footage, photos or quotes that you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise when you’re early.

4. Don’t assume people know you’re coming

Sure, SOMEONE knows you’re coming because you spoke with them beforehand and set up the time to come. But chances are they didn’t tell everyone else at the event that you’ll be there shooting pictures and video.

It’s best to introduce yourself to key players in the situation to avoid confusion or anger regarding your presence.

This semester I went to a ballet company to take pictures for another class. The dancers were in the middle of a photo shoot for a poster to promote an upcoming performance. I walked in and said hi to the director, who knew I was coming, and stood behind the other photographer and snapped a cool shot of the side of his face with his camera up to it and the dancers posing for him.

Big mistake.

He screamed at me in front of at least 15 people because he didn’t know who I was. Nobody told him I would be there. He thought I was trying to steal his pictures.

I cried.

Needless to say, I introduce myself to more people than I probably need to now before I start shooting so everyone knows why I’m there.

5. Don’t wait until the last minute to edit and put a project together

It’s easy to procrastinate when it comes to school stuff. However, if you do it might end up in disaster because something might happen beyond your control.

After you do an interview, at least listen to it and think about what parts you want to use. Put it in Final Cut and cut it up a little. You never know if the computer will malfunction or you’ll need to go back to get something until you listen, and if you choose to do that the night before something is due it could be a problem.

Sure, it’s not your fault that there were no labs open or that your computer or hard drive crashed. It is your fault, however, that you waited until the day before a project is due to work on it when you had three or more weeks to do it.


The stories scattered through this are awkward. Don’t put yourself in awkward positions. Don’t assume things in journalism. Take your time and prepare. It will be so much better for you later.

Hand Crafting Cakes

Mary | November 8th, 2012

Nonna’s Bakery and Deli is one of my favorite locally owned businesses. Bring it up and I’ll gush eagerly about the Pumpkin Muffins, Homemade Vanilla Almond Buttercream, and the pounds I’ve put on since finding the place 7 years ago.

Owner Sandy LeDonne has been decorating cakes for far longer than she’s owned the bakery and deli. She says she’s been decorating for over 25 years and is self-taught through trial and error. Her passion is evident in the multiple wedding cakes they do every weekend, the countless birthday cakes, and the christening cake she is pictured decorating above.

What is your favorite local business to support? Who are the characters you see and have come to love?

The Scariest House in Town

Chelsi | November 2nd, 2012

My mother has a newspaper clipping from years ago, when I was a little girl trick-or-treating at the “Halloween House” on Madigan Avenue in Morgantown. It was the first time my name was in the paper.

We still go see the monsters, ghouls, werewolves and the vampire on the roof every year.

John DeProspero started decorating 29 years ago and has since become famous for attracting the most trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood with life-size monsters in his yard.

His love of Halloween began when he was young and saw a witch and cauldron decoration on a porch in his neighborhood.

When he realized people liked his decorations, he became more elaborate with his designs. Included in his yard are a moving body bag hanging from his tree, a ghoul in a vibrating electric chair and a mysterious green ghost in his upstairs window.

Members of the DeProspero family gives out candy, scare trick-or-treaters and help build new decorations. Jason, his son, has taken over most of the construction, and he dresses up and chases children around the yard on Halloween night.

Some of the same people have been coming for years to see the new and old decorations and to bring their children to see the house for the first time. John estimates more than 300 children come every Halloween.

Caring for the Living

Chelsi | October 19th, 2012

I met Jason at a funeral.

He, along with the rest of the staff at Hastings funeral home, in Morgantown, W.Va, handle the entire funeral process, including embalming, cremation, visitation services and the funeral and burial ceremony for hundreds of families. The job of a funeral director, I have learned, is important because they help so many people through tough times in ways no one else really can.

I wanted to talk with him to show he (or really anyone in his profession) is not creepy or morbid or any other stereotype you would think of when you see a funeral director. He is a pretty normal guy that truly cares about people.

He plays the drums. He has a family and a dog and cats. He loves his job and takes pride in working in this community.

However, his profession was something I knew nothing about, and it was hard not to just go in and ask what a dead body is like, like most people would.

Jason jokes that he is a great party favor because people always want to talk about his job and ask questions. He spends every day in the funeral home, being a funeral director, embalmer and pre-need counselor.

I just hope I showed that the job is much more than just being around dead people all day.

Multimedia in Art and Journalism

Mary | October 16th, 2012

One of the hardest parts about creating a multimedia piece is sorting through the massive amount of information and content you gather. It’s depressing to cut down 1-2 hour interviews to 1-2 minute videos; to take over 1000 pictures and have to sort down to the top five, and to select one quote out of the aforementioned 1-2 hour interviews for a print story.

This semester I’ve been working with the Shepherdstown Chronicle on a story on a local art group. It started with Mike Austin, a local artist, whom editor Toni Milbourne put me in contact with.

Austin is an artist, beekeeper, and was formerly in the Navy and worked for FEMA. Mike was also a journalist, which was represented well in his story telling skills. He’s had such a fascinating life, seeing the turmoil in Vietnam, covering President Kennedy, and traveling across the globe.

In the end, the focus of my story was another artist, but Mike Austin’s story is an interesting one, and I want to share a piece of it here.

Dancing Queen

Chelsi | October 5th, 2012

Some people call Ashton Brown the dancing queen.

If there is a concert in Morgantown, chances are she will be there enjoying the music and, yes, dancing her heart out. Ashton says dancing is her therapy. She moves wherever the music takes her, and she doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. Music sets her free.

Ashton sees a show at least every week, and she loves music festivals. They are her vacation, and she would rather be in a tent in the middle of a makeshift neighborhood at a three-day-long festival than go to the beach. Everyone, like her, is there for no other reason than to hear the music.

And to dance.

Appalachian Appetites

Mary | September 27th, 2012

Two college roommates open a restaurant. They bring in bands and display pictures of local artists on the walls.

It sounds like the plot of a sitcom or an awesome dream. Yet it is exactly what Black Bear Burritos co-owners Jason and Matt have done. The two WVU alumni opened a restaurant that focused on their love for food, while supporting local businesses and artists.

Black Bear’s steaks are from a farm in Clarksburg. W.Va. and their chickens come from a farm in Ohio. A local artist created the bear print sign pictured above. Though it is impossible to make their menu items with just local products, both Matt and Jason say supporting local business when they can is important.

“We spend our money more locally and try to support local business. Especially in the economy that we are in, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to us to send our money to the other side of the United States when you can try to foster the economies that are in your state or in the surrounding states,” said Jason. “There’s more likelihood that money comes back into West Virginia or to the residents of West Virginia or even the surrounding states, if you choose to do your business locally when possible.”

The business has been so successful that a new location opened in Evansdale this July. The new location has the same feel as the Downtown location and all of the charm; walls are lined with art and the floors have painted bear claws to lead you to the counter. The stage is constantly host to local musicians.

“Playing at Black Bear affords a lot of these musicians the opportunity to come play for a dinner crowd early enough in the evening, in a very safe and family friendly environment, and they get to go home at a reasonable hour,” said Jason. “Maybe they are families that come in and they’d certainly like to catch some local live music and enjoy a local craft beer that we serve off our taps. Black Bear affords them that opportunity to enjoy some local music.”

BlackBear4 BlackBear3 BlackBear2

For more on the food offered at Black Bear Burritos you can check out WV Uncovered alumnus Candace Nelson’s blog.