This collaborative art project will be unveiled during the opening reception of “The Big Read Art Collective,” 5-7 p.m., Mar. 4 in the art gallery.  The show continues through Mar. 31. 

With the help of groups and individuals, we started with an idea…and then with a story.

Jo Powell

Jo Powell

As a part of The Big Read in Spearfish, The Matthews Opera House and Arts Center had an idea for a graphic novel project that utilized the full spectrum of talent in our community. The project consisted of:

A Vision

Dr. Jo Powell of Spearfish, a retired art teacher, with art center staff, visualized a project to create a graphic novel which would be shaped by the inspiration and talent of several different groups. The project would move piece by piece, with each section building upon the last. The end result would be a large installation art exhibit that visually outlined the process and a graphic novel that was a culmination of each part.

A writer and a story

Chanel Wiggan

Chanel Wiggan

Black Hills State University Senior, Chanel Wiggan, was asked to write the story. Chanel was inspired by the natural mystery of The Matthews Opera House and developed a crime story around the theater and a community play gone awry. Chanel was asked to created characters with specific personalities but no physical characteristics, all within the format of a graphic novel. A talented illustrator and artist, Chanel gave artistic freedom for the physical aspects of her characters to an ambitious group of fifth graders. The story is titled, “Nothing to See.”

The vision of our youth for character details and descriptions

With a story plot and list of characters, a group of Creekside Elementary students took hold of the project and started creating the physical appearance of each character. The students were given blank life-size cut-outs of each character and asked to determine their appearance and dress. Their vision would later be utilized in the illustration of the graphic novel.

The talent of our local artists to bring it all together…

Five talented artists from the Spearfish community were given images of the cut-out characters and asked to create a page for the graphic novel. Each page completed by the artist consists of the text and illustrations from a section of the story. Together the pages come together and create the final product –the graphic novel itself – a culmination of each part and each vision.

About the graphic novel, “Nothing to See” by Chanel Wiggan

A loosely connected group of individuals are at the Opera House for a community theater play. When an important prop and art piece goes missing from the production, they all band together to figure out which one of them might have taken the prop within the span of the 15-fifteen minute intermission.

Graphic Novel "flat people" characters completed by Creekside Elementary 5th graders.

Graphic Novel “flat people” characters completed by Creekside Elementary 5th graders. L-R: Jude, Sammy, Mia, Rikki (lizard), Lena, Pat, Ezra

gn4-webEzra (male) is a horror film enthusiast and a believer in all things supernatural. He spends his free time researching the unknown, legends about his hometown, and unsolved mysteries of the world. He works part time at the city newspaper and part time at The Matthews Opera House.

Pat (female) is Ezra’s quirky, yet logical best friend, who keeps Ezra grounded in reality. She’s observant and witty and is a lover of theater and animals. She has many pets, but her favorite is her new lizard, Rikki.

Rikki (female) is Pat’s pet lizard. Pat spoils Rikki and claims that she’s smarter than the average lizard. Rikki is a theater snob as is Pat.

Sammy (male) is Ezra’s kid brother, who’s somehow already a few inches taller than Ezra is. Sammy has to go everywhere with Ezra as he’s only a child. But Ezra doesn’t mind because Sammy is very calm and doesn’t speak much.

gn6-800Mia (female) is a small, meek, and awkward girl, who ironically longs to be an actress and be in the spotlight. She’s also an artist who works with sculpture and creating.

Jude (male) is Ezra’s mysterious next door neighbor, who he and his friends spy on sometimes. Jude is an actor and a perfectionist, and he hates it when anything goes wrong.

Lena (female) is the most average girl in town, which makes Ezra suspicious of her. She works with Ezra at the newspaper and is very passionate about her work, willing to risk her life for any cutting story. She shares Ezra’s love of film and does most filming for the newspaper. She is also afraid of germs.

The characters started as blank slates

The Matthews' staff posing with the blank flat people--created by Ava Sauter.

The Matthews’ staff posing with the blank flat people–created by Ava Sauter.


Creekside Elementary Artists (5th grade)

Dominique Brandis
Daleila Pearce
Kaylee Beuernfeird
Danielle Valentine
Alyshya “Aly” Wilde
Grace Ligtenberg
Kiera Keyes
Moira Rehm
Ava Zoller
Norah Zoller
Evan Roles
Lindsey Huck
Karlee Paulson
Addie Lebsock
Melody Rages

NEXT STEP: off to the Library

Transporting flat people to the library.  Our very own "Abbey Road" moment.

Transporting flat people to the library. Our very own “Abbey Road” moment.

Once completed, the staff at The Matthews transported the completed graphic novel characters, to Grace Balloch Memorial Library–see photo above. They are on public display until the opening of the March art show on Mar. 4.  In the meantime, Lisa Howard, Spearfish High School art teacher, and her students are creating masks (some photos below) that will be placed over the faces of the characters (we like calling them flat people). 

FINAL STEP: Illustrating the Graphic Novel

Now that the story is written and the characters are designed, five Black Hills artists will illustrate the entire graphic novel story.  Each of the artists has a page from the script of the novel–written by Wiggans–a set of instructions, and pictures of the completed characters.  The final panels will be displayed in the art gallery Mar. 4-31. 

Graphic Novel Illustrators and Biographies


CLICK to enlarge.

Chanel’s study of cluttered illustrations, old children’s books, and gaudy backdrops is a love of hers. Even so, when she creates her own pieces, she tends to leave figures hanging within an invisible environment. She focuses more on their hair, hands, and skin blemishes. The emptiness behind the figures feels echoing to her. It causes the subjects in the pieces to come off as a bit detached or caught in a quiet moment. Chanel finds herself inclined towards that softer, shy emotion.

The general themes connecting her illustrations are relationships, nature, gender, ethnicity, beauty, and illness. She enjoys drawing hair and so many narratives circle that idea. Chanel primarily works with graphite pencils and black Micron markers for her 2D work.

Wiggan is also a writer. She finds her most productive art-making days start with the rough draft of the story already in mind. The stories often come from plant news. More often, she likes to find and watch beautiful strangers, trees, or leaves in nature.


CLICK to enlarge.

Desy Schoenewies received her M.F.A. in painting from Fontbonne University in St. Louis, Missouri in 2010. Her master’s thesis work consisted of large-scale figurative oil paintings titled, “Interactions.” Besides oil painting, she has experience working with different mediums and themes. They include encaustic, collage, drawing, and illustrative works.

Desy’s exhibits her paintings in many juried and invitational exhibitions. These shows are local, national, and international.

Desy taught middle school and high school art in the St. Louis area for 9 years before moving to San Francisco, California in 2010. She taught art at City College of San Francisco. During this time she participated in drawing and painting groups. In 2012, Schoenewies moved to the Black Hills. She is in her third year as assistant professor of at at Black Hills State University.

CLICK to enlarge.

CLICK to enlarge.

Kaylie currently studies Art and Gallery Management at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, SD. She has lived in the Black Hills most of her life. Art has always intrigued her. Specifically, how creating a piece is a silent ritual between the artist and the medium. Kaylie enjoys exploring different ways of using mundane objects and manipulating paint to enhance her work.

Her work involves the observation of cause and effect. There are reasons for how the universe unfolds and how each step can lead to a different direction in her work. Applying this thought to her art helps her focus, not on what she wants, but what the piece wants during its creation.

Most of Kaylie’s inspirations come from people and travel. These subjects change in any given situation and something new is lurking behind a closed door. By creating art, she is able to see how sticking to the beaten path can be as frightening as exploring the unknown.

CLICK to enlarge.

CLICK to enlarge.

Jo Powell is a Spearfish artist and educator. She has been interested in sequential art–or comic books and graphic novels. It is the art of making the pictures that tell most of the story.

Some of her early influences are the black and white comics found in the newspapers, such as “Batman” and “Dick Tracy.” In 2013, she completed her own graphic novel, “Dr. Spot and the Moon Queen.” Jo is now working on a sequel.





CLICK to enlarge.

CLICK to enlarge.

Jayne has been a professional oil and acrylic painter since 2000. In 2010, she moved from northern Illinois to the Black Hills. Since 2013, Jayne is both marketing manager and gallery artist at The Matthews. 

Rose’s work is primarily representational in style, but many paintings lean towards Impressionism. Recently she has turned to an illustrative style in her work. Being asked to be an illustrator for “A Graphic Novel from the Ground Up” is both frightening and exhilarating at the same time.

View entire “Nothing to See” Graphic Novel



“We all Wear a Mask” by Spearfish High School


Getting started.

In literature, particularly in the genre of mystery, characters often wear a facade or “mask” that hides their inner dialogued – their true nature. The mask can be used as a tool, a defense mechanism, or a placeholder.

In our own lives – we wear masks

We do this to disguise our feelings, hide insecurities, do the necessary work in front of us – and more often than not – protect ourselves in a complicated world.

The Matthews Opera House and Art Center worked with the Lisa Howard and her Spearfish High School art students to create a series of masks that represent the common facades within literature and also the many masks we wear in everyday life. You will see themes on the gender and race continuum, age, beauty, and nature.

As you move through the art installation, feel free to move the masks and place them on the different characters within the gallery. When doing so, we encourage you to challenge your own perceptions of the world and consider your own facade. What is your inner dialog and how does that differ from what you present to the world. The installation will remain in The Matthews Art Gallery through Mar. 31, 2016.

Great thanks go to Lisa Howard and her students – your passion shines through.

Three of the finished masks.

Three of the finished masks.

One of the completed masks placed upon the "Lena" character.

One of the completed masks placed upon the “Lena” character.


Spearfish High School Students 


L-R: Paul Carriveau and Gus Kruskamp

Catie Walton
Charity Crenshaw
Scott Valentine
Hreanna huey
Gus Kruskamp
Olivia Smith
Vivian Steckline
Sierra Hauff
Cecily Munro
Peter Marich
Angely Hovdenes
Cody Fender

Sierra Hauff

Sierra Hauff

Sydney Knutson
Thomas Owen
Lexi Olson
Paul Carriveau
Morgan Sandidge
Mady Pfeifle
Jacey Keller
MaKenna Hartwig
Shantay Walton
Kameryn Olness
Layni Gienger
Briana Johnson
Daphne LaRose
Abbie Woodard
Catie Walton
Sabian Kremer




Sammy's character changes with the addition of this mask.

Sammy’s character changes with the addition of this mask.




CLICK HERE for Art Project #2: Wall Jewelry by Canyon Hills Youth Center

CLICK HERE or Art Project #3: Treasured: A Community Collective on Value



TBR-Logo-PartnersThe Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. 



Sponsored by…

Thank you to the sponsors that help us bring art shows, plays, concerts, and other live entertainment acts to The Matthews.  We couldn’t do it without you.  

KEVN Black Hills Fox, Modern Woodmen, South Dakota Arts Council, Great Western Bank, Killian’s Tavern, Black Hills Pioneer, Century 21, Bay Leaf Cafe, Clark Printing, City of Spearfish, Wolff’s Plumbing & Heating, Inc., Lucky’s 13 Pub, Spearfish Holiday Inn, Zonta Club of Spearfish, Optimist Club of Spearfish, The Matthews’ family, The Kelley family — CLICK HERE to visit these sponsors’ business websites.

Would your business like to become a sponsor?  CLICK HERE to learn more.