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Minds Wide Open

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Minds Wide Open – Open Wide.  How Wide? Statewide. 

What is the role of women in our lives, beyond the obvious role of procreation?

For thirty years, we have recognized women’s history during the month of March.  And this year, Minds Wide Open is the theme of a statewide celebration of women in the arts, with events occurring all around Virginia between March and June.

On display at the Library are numerous examples of the creative spirit of women of the area and from across the state, from historical past to hopeful present.

Women have always been mistresses of the domestic arts, as can be seen in the array of sewing and needlework to clothe their families and decorate their homes.

Strung across the Library in Tazewell are a laundry basket of aprons made and worn by mothers and grandmothers, aunts, and cousins, as they practiced the art of meal preparation.  Inspired by Apron Chronicles, a traveling exhibit created by EllynAnne Geisel a few years ago to celebrate women, these aprons spark memories not only of our mothers’ baking but also of the central role they have played in the lives of our families, nurturing, teaching, inspiring and sacrificing so we could be all we dream.

From practical adornments for the kitchen and bedroom in aprons, quilts and coverlets, to proud samplers for the walls, women’s creativity extended to baskets for carrying vegetables, eggs, flowers and wool, to pottery for the table.

As time permitted, they painted images for display in their homes reflecting the day-to-day elements of their existence.  They played instruments and sang songs.  And they put pen to paper to record the events of their lives and of their imaginations.


Every day, libraries celebrate the fruits of women’s literary labors by filling their shelves with books.  Favorite writers from the region include Lee Smith, from Grundy, Barbara Kingsolver, from Meadowview, Sharyn McCrumb, from Shawsville, Adriana Trigiani, from  Big Stone Gap.  Among  other women writing past and present, and worth reading, these are also Virginians:  Geraldine Brooks, Margaret Wise Brown (“Goodnight Moon”), Rita Mae Brown, Willa Cather, Annie Dillard, Rita Dove, Nikki Giovanni, Jill McCorkle, Kathryn Paterson, Rita Sims Quillen, Cynthia Rylant, Ruth White, Phyllis Whitney, Charlotte Zolotow.

To see arts events taking place in your neighborhood, go to, click on Calendar, and choose View By Location.  Find presentations, demonstrations, and performances in Bluefield, Cedar Bluff, Richlands, and Tazewell, and nearby in Abingdon, Blacksburg, Bristol, Christiansburg, Emory, Galax, Grundy, Independence, and Wise.
Whither Arts?
The Minds Wide Open celebration is ironically timed.  Just as we are recognizing the value of women to the arts, to history and culture, we read that the General Assembly is planning by 2012 to eliminate the Virginia Commission for the Arts, which brings programming to local communities.
Greg Mortenson, who has had impressive success building more than 130 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has said in books and interviews that he sees greater benefit in educating girls.  Given the barbaric treatment of women in Pakistan and Afghanistan, this, too, seems ironic, but the villagers allow, even eagerly request, his girls’ schools after his gentle appeals.  He often quotes an African proverb he learned growing up in Tanzania, “Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community.”
Several global studies show that sending girls to school significantly decreases infant and maternal mortality rates, helps stabilize population growth, and improves the quality of health and life for everyone in the community.  Mortenson has found that educated mothers are less likely to condone their sons’ joining terrorist groups.  He sees a direct link between building schools in this unstable region and security here in America.
 If one takes Mortenson’s experience and views to their logical conclusion, one can easily see the short-sightedness in eliminating the arts from school curricula and from government services.  Girls and women, and the communities they nurture, need the possibilities to explore and express their creativity, to experience the arts as created by others, and communities need to treasure and protect opportunities for these experiences.  The arts, in all their forms, offer us wide vistas and open our minds to new possibilities-- for solving problems, and for helping us cope with life’s turns, for healing, dreaming, and realizing our potential. 

It is typical, because it’s easy, to turn to so-called frills when budgets get tough.  And tough they are.  Everyone is taking a hit, although some more than others, and recovery is not promised, much less guaranteed.  Greg Mortenson teaches us, though, that there is much to be gained from taking the long view and insisting on doing what’s right.  His book, “Three Cups of Tea”, is required reading for senior U.S. military commanders and Pentagon officials.  It should also be required for government officials in every agency at every level—local, state, and federal.  Keeping minds wide open is good for men as well as women.

For more about women in history and in the arts, visit us at or call 988-2541.

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Online collection of animated, talking picture books to encourage reading in children.


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