Pastoral beauty of lower Kanawha Valley broadcast by W.Va. painter

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Pastoral beauty of lower Kanawha Valley broadcast by W.Va. painter
Suzie Siders Cole has long been inspired by the landscape of the lower Kanawha Valley in West Virginia.

FRAZIER'S BOTTOM, W.Va. — One of the most scenic pastoral landscapes in the eastern U.S., the valley of the lower Kanawha River in West Virginia is attracting the attention of tourists, according to a landscape painter who's captured its beauty through her work.

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Thanks to the completion of a new expressway that's routed traffic outside the valley rather than through it, interest in the region as a destination for biking, paddling, and sightseeing is noticeably growing, says Suzie Siders Cole.

"Here, farming is still a way of life. Much of the land is passed down through the generations," Cole says.

"It's wonderful to see people biking along where heavy truck traffic once made travel so dangerous," Cole said, rejoicing in the increased interest in the area that has inspired her.

The new US-35 expressway has rendered the valley a more attractive landscape for travelers drawn by the lower Kanawha River and views of its historic farms. Though the beauty was ever-present, the highway was deadly and demanded attention.

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According to Cole, the landscape may be appealing because it has a unique character, which is quite unlike other regions of the Mountain State.

"The appeal of the local landscape is the broad, flat land, cradled between distant hills."

"The appeal of the local landscape is the broad, flat land, cradled between distant hills, a bit of an oddity—a contrast with the rugged mountains of West Virginia," she says.

"Here, farming is still a way of life. Much of the land is passed down through the generations. Dotting the landscape are historic homes with broad front porches and summer kitchens, many facing the river instead of the road. At the time of their construction, the Kanawha was the main transportation source."

Cole, who's long been inspired by the landscape, says she looks forward to seeing a day when the scenic value of the valley is being invested in, now that travelers can concentrate on its beauty and history rather than dangerous traffic.

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"The land is the draw for people who enjoy the ride along the Kanawha. The farms, historic homes, and beautiful sites are privately owned, yet there for the pleasure of people passing by," she said.

"A viewer of my painting may see cedars in a fence row, but as I paint those cedars, my mind connects to the owner of the farm."

While the landscape has significantly influenced her work, she says the valley's residents have been as inspiring.

"The people and the landscape around me are the biggest influences in my paintings. I love painting the dramatic skies over the bottomland and the patches of varying shades of brown of the winter landscapes. But more than that, each painting ties to the people of the area that still live in my mind," she says.

"A viewer of my painting may see cedars in a fence row, but as I paint those cedars, my mind connects to the owner of the farm, the older Mr. Holloway. He sat in the same pew at the Methodist church on the hill every Sunday morning. During sermons, he usually looked out the window. I wondered if he looked at the lichen-covered headstones or if his mind wandered to stretching an extra strand of barbed wire to the cedar come Monday morning?"

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Expressway US-35 follows the lower Kanawha Valley between the Ohio River and the Charleston metropolitan area.

Travelers who wish to explore the valley will find it easily accessible from several exits off US-35, which carries traffic between I-64 at Charleston, West Virginia, and I-70 at Columbus, Ohio. The new scenic route, formerly US-35, is now designated as WV-817.

Motorists should be aware of increased bike traffic along the new scenic route and automobiles driving slowly as drivers explore the area.

Cole's art may be found at .


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