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WHEELING – The year Harriet Parsons reached a milestone of 40 brought two problems. One of them was exponentially smaller than the other, but its nice solution remains to this day.

“I was 50 and going through a really tough second chemotherapy in Connecticut,” Parsons said of what suddenly gave her the time and the urge to try something totally different. “I had a large garden and wanted garden ornaments. They were very expensive and I couldn’t see what I wanted, so I decided to make some.

That was it.

Parsons signed up for a sculpting class at nearby Mystic. She got a hammer and chisel and got to work – adding faces and figures to fallen pieces of wood she brought home.

“‘Mystical’ is a good word for it,” she said of this generation of her art. (She has recently turned to oil painting given the heavy weight of wood raw materials.)

Indeed, her carvings are reminiscent of the kind of fairies and nymphs one would easily suspect would be found in a garden as lush as Parson’s – or in his home, where a strand of glittering pearls looks quite appropriate through a vase filled with bare branches.

A face appears under wild hair that was once tree roots, in a single piece tucked into a corner of his dining room.

A lanky beach girl — much like Parsons herself — is on a porch, clearly ready to relax during the summer.

The latter needs a new outfit to face 2022, she says. Parsons needs it, looking for children’s clothing that matches the mood well.


It didn’t take long for these beginnings to sufficiently adorn her seaside garden. Parsons, a longtime psychotherapist, began exhibiting in art shows that eventually included the Crosscurrents exhibit at Stifel Fine Arts. Center when she retired and moved to West Virginia.

There and here his work began to sell occasionally.

She received commissions. Parsons was hooked – thrilled enough to kick off a few decades of artistic exploration.

“It was exciting to have a new calling,” she said of an unexpected and delayed result of constant childhood drawing. “My kids were pretty much adults by then.”

Recently, Parson’s art has taken a new turn.

“As I got older, it became very difficult to find wood that I could transport that wasn’t rotten,” she said of her decision to quit carving, at least for the time being. Not that the decision stopped her from pouring concrete birdbaths last summer shaped like rhubarb leaves.

“I tried colored pencils for a while, but finally settled on oils,” she said of the overall change, which included moving her studio from a “basement solitary” to a bedroom on the ground floor. “It’s good and fun. It was like a whole new thing again.

The whimsical spirit of Parson’s sculpture is found in his paintings.

There is a hint of photo realism, but the overall spirit of the works is fun and impressionistic.

A girl swings happily on a hot summer day, her bare toes trailing over the surface of a pond, in one piece. In another, a pile of pencil-shaped kayaks in the foreground of a seascape suggests boaters lounging nearby, exhausted from a day on the water.

Parsons works both from photographs and outdoors.

Her subjects are drawn from both West Virginia – which she had known since childhood when her father taught music and violin at Bethany College – and Connecticut. She still visits the latter regularly because her longtime partner Bert Dahl has a house there.

In Wheeling, she had the pleasure of making friends with other creators, especially through her Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Bellaire. “Almost everyone there is either a musician or an artist,” she noted.

She still creates. She always sells. “Everything I have may be for sale and I’m definitely willing to do commission work,” she said.

And, she’s always trying new things because a third wind could come at any moment. This spring, she is learning to play bridge. She sighed a little at that. “It’s really difficult.”


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