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Teenage artist helps lead community arts pilot project

Media contact:

Linda Geist
Writer
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9185
Email: GeistLi@missouri.edu

Photos available for this release:

Seth Ritter, 17, welds a component of his current "found art" project. The Lexington high school student has his own studio in downtown Lexington. A rehabilitated 1850s-era store now holds the bits and pieces he gathers to create his art.

Credit: Jessica Salmond, MU Cooperative Media Group

Seth Ritter, 17, welds a component of his current "found art" project. The Lexington high school student has his own studio in downtown Lexington. A rehabilitated 1850s-era store now holds the bits and pieces he gathers to create his art.

Credit: Jessica Salmond, MU Cooperative Media Group

Seth Ritter works on his current "found art" project, a guitar or banjo made out of objects he's found. His studio is located in a rehabilitated downtown Lexington building. "I love the feeling. It just has a different atmosphere... It has character," Ritter said.

Credit: Jessica Salmond, MU Cooperative Media Group

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013

LEXINGTON, Mo. – Seth Ritter’s studio is tucked away in a rehabbed 1850s-style grocery store building in historic Lexington. Bare light bulbs hang austerely from the ceiling, casting a dim light over a wooden workbench scrawled with an artist’s random sketches.

Metal objects hang haphazardly on exposed brick walls. “Found art” objects spark curiosity and conversation as the young artist welds on a guitar fashioned from a pot, keys and other items.

It’s not unlike many other studios, except the artist who works here is a 17-year-old junior in high school. Ritter also serves with other leaders in Lexington on an advisory committee overseeing the University of Missouri Extension Community Arts Pilot Project

 The three-year project will bring the knowledge and creativity of MU faculty and students to work with community leaders in an effort to stimulate economic development through the arts. In turn, Lexington residents will have opportunities to learn and share at the Mizzou campus so that the project can be replicated throughout the state.

Ritter takes discarded items found in hollers and ravines and repurposes them into art, which is sold in California and his mother’s downtown Lexington store.  He has had his own art show and has been commissioned for several pieces. He is exploring the opportunity for a show in San Francisco.

Ritter enjoys scavenging Lafayette County farms to find objects to use in his creations. Pieces might be relatively new or old, as Lexington was the site of one of Missouri’s most famous Civil War battles. “I like finding just as must as I love creating,” he says. He also likes intertwining the town’s history, art and agribusiness—all components of the diverse rural town of 4,800—into his art.

Ritter bartered his cleaning services for tools that came from the basement of an elderly neighbor.  Community members are always on the lookout for unusual items to offer to him. “I have so many people by my side to support me,” he says.  “Everything I need is here.”

The studio is on loan to him in exchange for watching the property for an absentee owner. “I love having these large brick walls and the higher ceilings. It has character,” he says. “If it weren’t mine, I’d be jealous.”

He solders, welds and grinds items as high school friends visit him in the studio. He also has an easy rapport with adult members of the community, and it was no surprise that community leaders asked him to sit on the Creative Team for MU Extension’s Community Arts Pilot Project. He also serves on the town’s annual concert series, Live in Lexington, as a youth board member, and is a coach for his school’s Science Olympiad team.

He hopes that Lexington, a bedroom community for the Kansas City area, will become the next Eureka Springs, Ark., a village of artists and musicians.  Sitting high on the bluffs of the Missouri River, the town is filled with beautifully restored antebellum homes and quaint downtown buildings that would provide inspiration for artists.

Ritter already is promoting the town as a mecca for young artists. He encourages Kansas City artists to consider Lexington as a place for their studios, touting its proximity to the metropolitan area and availability of large, low-cost buildings rich in architectural detail.

He and his high school friends have had numerous discussions about what it would take for young people to remain in Lexington after graduation. It’s a dilemma for many rural communities with shrinking populations. The availability of community colleges, lower cost of living and love of Lexington are key reasons he and his friends cite to stay in Lexington. But they want to make it a stronger community with an artist’s vibe.

Ritter hopes that his work on the MU Extension’s Community Arts Pilot Project will help fulfill the dream of staying in his hometown and attracting other artists. Spanish conductor and tenor Placido Domingo once said, “When a young artist is ready, one has to bring him into the limelight.” Ritter hopes his work on the project will let Lexington be that limelight.

To read a previously published story on Ritter, go to www.lexington-news.com/LN_detailheadline.asp?key=18219.

For more information about the Community Arts Project, go to www.cafnrnews.com/2012/05/the-community-artist/.