By SARAH BRADBURY
Appalachian artist Willard Gayheart, whose art and music recently showcased at the Fine Arts Center for the New River Valley, is continuing to make an impression on people’s lives around the world.
Gayheart and local researcher and writer Donia Eley have collaborated on two different books, both of which were available for purchase and singing at the Fine Arts Center’s event.
It’s clear to anyone who sees Gayheart and Eley together that the two have impacted each other’s lives in a lasting way, and now that impact is being felt in a classroom in South Africa.
Eley sent a copy of ‘New Art of Willard Gayheart’ to a family friend, Darren Troy, who is serving 27 months in the Peace Corps in South Africa as an education volunteer.
She said Troy is teaching English to grades 5-7 in the rural and poor village of Tshanzhe, South Africa, located in the district of the province of Limpopo with no running water or indoor plumbing. “He and the villagers walk to the village pipe for water and appreciate electricity, ‘when it works.’ The villagers and Darren’s ‘learners’ are Venda (a Southern African people living mostly near the South African-Zimbabwean border) and speak Venda.”
According to Eley, Troy’s second Peace Corps goal is to share information about America in order to give the host nationals there a better understanding of what America is like.
“Darren wrote that when I sent him the Gayheart book he saw an opportunity for his ‘learners’ to learn about southwest Virginia culture and especially the music because music and dance are such a big part of the Venda and all other South African tribes,” said Eley. “He wrote that his ‘learners’ love to draw, they loved the amazing artist ‘Gay Heart,’ and so they took up their pencils and did their own drawings to send back here.”
Over 40 pencil drawings of Willard Gayheart playing a guitar arrived at Eley’s home not long ago from the appreciative learners. Troy wrote to Eley, “I’ll bet Mr. Gayheart never thought African village kids in Venda, South Africa, would be looking at his artwork.”
“That is absolutely true,” said Eley. “Mr. Gayheart is thrilled with this latest appreciation of his talents so far away and so grateful that the children took up their own pencils to express that appreciation.” Troy said he also enjoyed the 5 lb. bag of Virginia peanuts in the shell that traveled to him along with the book.
The books “New Art of Willard Gayheart” and “Willard Gayheart, Appalachian Artist” can both be purchased online at Amazon.com and also locally at The Draper Mercantile.