Hello, and welcome to the only place for current updates about the unseen scenes of Morgantown, W.Va. Each week, the blog will moderately focus on a different subculture:
The LGBTQ Community
Everyone knows about the mainstream clubs and venues around the city, but Morgantown has so much more to offer than what meets the eye. We hope you enjoy this inside look at the interwoven underground groups that make Morgantown the diverse city it is.
Moving is always a scary, but exciting time. Whether you’re moving to a different state for work, school or a job, it never gets easier and the emotions that come along with moving are generally the same. However, coming to the United States from a foreign country for schooling or other reasons, comes with a lot more emotions, struggles, experiences as well as excitement.
Egill Karlsson, a graduate student in the Reed College of Media here at West Virginia University, originally came to the United States from Reykjavik, Iceland. Iceland, as Karlsson describes it, is a “cold rock in the middle of nowhere,” and many individuals from Iceland have this strong desire to move out and go into the real world while they are still young.
Naturally, when Karlsson came from Iceland to the United States, he experienced various culture shocks. Iceland is a bit Americanized and is more westernized, but there are still some differences when looking at the U.S. and specifically the Morgantown, W.Va. area.
It is important to note that in Iceland, typically students stay at home and commute to and from school, which is what Karlsson did when he attended the University of Iceland. There isn’t really a campus environment like that of many colleges here in the U.S. “[In Iceland] It’s not a campus environment really,” said Karlsson.
“We all have a positive view of America. We all have this vision of American and we all want to try it,” said Karlsson.
One culture shock that Karlsson experienced occurred his first week here at WVU. The first week is full of parties, activities and just general busyness as students get settled in to begin the fall semester. More specifically, Fall Fest, a concert that is put on for students, occurs the first week of the fall semester.
Between Fall fest and fraternity row on High Street, Karlsson felt like the downtown area was “something out of a movie.” Greek life, especially, is something that is absurd in the eyes of foreigners, “It’s nothing that is negative, it’s just so different and it’s really interesting to see,” said Karlsson.
Another culture shock that Karlsson experienced when coming to the states was the difference in political and religious ideas. “You kind of have to adjust to being open about what other people think about certain issues. It’s kind of a different world in terms of ideas that people have about the world and how the whole setting is a small town in west Virginia, it’s a different world, but very charming and nice,” said Karlsson.
Within the U.S. and the Morgantown area, citizens are often polite and open, with strangers going out of their way to help you while also opening their social circles. Iceland, according to Karlsson, is closed off. Icelandic peoples stick to their friend groups, so this shift in behavior was very different for Karlsson.
But what about the university’s international culture? WVU has a very rich international culture, with many students who are living somewhere on campus or at the International House, located on Spruce Street.
“We have people from all over the world. We have the international house here, which is kind of the heart of the international culture. There are other students living in Arnold Hall, University Place and other places,” said Karlsson.
Often times at the international house, there are cultural nights which include a short lecture on the specific culture for the night and dishes from the particular culture also.
In additional to the international house, there is the Office of International Students & Scholars, which handles the paperwork and any issues that international students may have while here at WVU. They “strive to strengthen, enrich and advocate for international education and cultural exchange by anticipating and responding to specific needs and concerns of this international community,” according to their website.
Though we do have a rich international culture here in Morgantown, Karlsson is the only Icelandic student. “I’m pretty much an island,” said Karlsson. There is one Icelandic couple here that he has had the opportunity to get to know, but aside from that, he is the only Icelandic student on campus.
“People come here and make friends with all the international students because we are all in the same position. I mean I’ve made a lot of American friends, but you know it’s also important and fun to meet other people who are on the same journey as you. It’s a pretty vibrant international community here,” said Karlsson.
Morgantown isn’t the only place that Karlsson has been, however. His first trip to the states was with his family when he visited New York City as a teenager in 2007. He then attended the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tn., for a semester during his second year at the University of Iceland. In the summer of 2014, Karlsson became a flight attendant for Icelandair, where he had the opportunity to visit many places in the states. He has has traveled to Florida, Chicago, Seattle, San Fransisco, San Diego, Boston and more.
“I’ve tried to travel a bit when I have the chance,” said Karlsson.
We are very much about “Ohana”and [to be] so far from home and to build your own Ohana with your employees and guests is priceless.
In 2012 Morgantown got their own taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine, something it had never had before.
Brendan and Maria Burchfiel left their home state of Hawaii in 2012 to start a new adventure in West Virginia.
“We wanted to branch out…We chose West Virginia because [Brendan’s] family lived here. We had only been here once before, but we thought that with the diverse group of people that attended the university, it would be a good place to open a restaurant.”
We would introduce a cuisine that was unique, new and different than anything else in Morgantown.
The Burchfiel’s started their adventure in the mountains by opening a restaurant – The Sandbar – in Westover, W.Va They had chosen Westover given its proximity to the university and downtown Morgantown.
“We figured [our restaurant] was just over the bridge and that we had a great product that would entice people to come. That seemed to not be the case,” Maria explained. “We didn’t research that location and its demographic well enough.”
With the Sandbar’s success lower than desired, the Burchfiel’s relocated to Cranberry Square in Cheat Lake, W.Va.
Everything happens for a reason. We wouldn’t have had the opportunity to open the Cheat Lake location without that previous location.
Brendan, 38, and Maria, 33, both have a history of working in the restaurant business.
Brendan entered the food service industry at the age of 16 and never left. He started as a dishwasher, then made his way up to a cook before changing gears and learning to bartend. Next he learned to manage, and then he graduated to owning his own restaurant.
Maria started off serving in restaurants at the age of 20 before becoming a bartender and eventually a manager.
The duo opened their first restaurant together in 2008 – The Shack, and then later the Shack Waikiki and Shack Attack Fishing Charters.
Maria was born in Hawaii, while Brendan was born in Virginia. His father worked for the CDC and moved the family to Hawaii to work on a Heart Study. The two didn’t grow up in the same town, but the towns weren’t far – Hawaii Kai and Kaneohe.
They now have two kids ages 3 and 6, and Maria tries to visit her family back in Hawaii at least twice a year.
The location needed some work when they arrived. Tropics is essentially divided into three sections.
There is the ‘Main Bar’ area – a large bar, many TVs, and plenty of casual-style seating.
Then there is the Lava Room, which has more of a fine-dining appeal to it. When the Burchfiel’s began their renovations, they built a bar for the Lava Room, painted, removed the carpeting and added wood flooring.
Outside is the deck – which currently holds the title for the largest deck in Morgantown – and the Tiki Bar. Brendan and Maria also added rafia roofing to the bar and the lobby area.
Finally, they repainted all the walls inside the restaurant to give it a brighter, more tropical feel.
“We are proud to be a restaurant that you could go to 3 or 4 times a week and have a different experience,” Maria said.
She described the varying aspects of the restaurant as:
The Main Bar: “The Main Bar is kind of our sports bar where you can enjoy a beer with your friends and watch a football game.”
The Lava Room: “The Lava Room is our formal dining area which is perfect for baby showers, rehearsal dinners, private events; it is an environment where you can have a nice romantic dinner.”
Outside: “Then we have the outdoor deck which is a great place to hang out with your family, listen to live music, and enjoy the weather.”
There are two bars outside, and the second is nostalgically named the Sandbar in memory of their first W.Va. location.
The Tiki Bar
Since their opening roughly two years ago, Tropics has taken off like wildfire – especially in the summertime. Every Friday and Saturday during the summer, there are live bands performing on the stage outside.
The entertainment kicks off this Saturday, April 30, when JBoog takes the stage.
Another fun surprise? Every summer, usually two times, Tropics hosts a Luau which is put on by the Tuika Hawaiian Show.
“We thought it would be perfect to have authentic Hawaiian entertainment at a restaurant,” Maria said. “I’ve enjoyed their authenticity and showmanship since the first time we booked them.”
The troupe teaches the audience how to hula dance, entertains them with Hawaiian music, and closes their show with a fire dancer – all the while audience members enjoy an authentic Hawaiian buffet.
Maria explained that Hawaiian cuisine is a mixture of Asian influences such as Japanese, Chinese and Korean, in addition to Polynesian and American influences.
“The sugarcane and pineapple industries brought many immigrants from Asia and Portugal to Hawaii. With the American influences as well as the other cultural influences, Hawaii has a very unique cuisine,” she explained.
There are different types of ‘Hawaiian’ when referencing culture and heritage, Maria said. There are those that are of native Hawaiian heritage, and then there are Hawaiians that represent varying nationalities. Tropics’ menu caters to both.
The kalua pig and cabbage entree in addition to the poke (pronounced poke-ay) entrees – which are cubed raw tuna served atop a bed of cabbage – are true native Hawaiian dishes, while the ever popular mochiko chicken and spam musubi are Hawaiian dishes.
Kalua Pig and Cabbage
Interestingly enough, when it comes to football games in Hawaii, they don’t have a hot dog man walking around; they have a poke salesman, Maria shared.
When it came to creating the menu, the Burchfiels chose items that are very popular in Hawaii but that they also thought the American pallet would enjoy.
As their business continued to flourish, Maria and Brendan upped the stakes and went in with a few business partners to purchase the Uniontown Country Club in May 2015.
Later that summer, Tropics opened their second location: Tropics on the Links.
Between the two restaurants, Tropics has between 50 and 60 employees.
As owners of not one, but two full-time businesses, their days are chaotic.
“As an owner, you are always the first one at the restaurant, doing all the ordering, inventory, accounting,” Maria explained her morning.
Next, they get the restaurant ready for service by setting up the sections, cleaning and stocking before beginning lunch and dinner services. Add in: meetings all throughout the day with vendors, private party meetings, interviews, answering e-mails, returning phone calls.
“Then you do it all over again.”
I am so proud of what we’ve built: great food, great clientele and awesome employees…We are very lucky to have the location that we have which allows us to [whisk] people away to the tropics of Hawaii, even if just for an hour or two.
Many may not know but Morgantown is the home to some of the best international cuisine in the state. From Ali Baba offering Mediterranean dishes to Yama and Ogawa offering the most delectable sushi treats, Morgantown can be a home away from home for international and foreign students and residents by offering international foods. So why is this important? Jon, a local chef says, “I think that as a chef it’s important to know how to cater to many different cultures. For Morgantown, it’s important because there are so many different cultures of people here at any given time and not everyone are fans of the all American food like burgers and fries. It’s vital for Morgantown to have different offerings of food to keep it diverse and welcoming. It will keep people flowing into Morgantown which will help keep it alive”
Morgantown tries to offer food from many different countries and cultures to cater to international residents and students. Just taking a walk down High St, you will find Chaang Thai who specializes in Thai dishes, Mother India who literally transports its visitors overseas with their atmosphere and fresh dishes, and Yama that’s a hidden gem in an alley serving Asian specialties to its guest just to name a few. Venturing off of High St and out of the Downtown area gives endless possibilities to what unique and different food adventures you can experience from another country.
For a chef like Jon, seeing places like this is Morgantown is refreshing. He states, “I love these places and I love seeing them spread out all of Morgantown. I have international friends and they really appreciate getting to have a little of their home here. And I think places like this can really open the minds of some and educate them that there is more out there. As a chef, I want to try it all!”
Those from Morgantown and even those who attend WVU may or may not know about Lavender Cafe. Known or not, this is really truly a different and authentic place. One not so easy to come by in Morgantown.
Located off of Beechurst Avenue, the cafe has gained popularity since their opening in 2008 which has offered fresh Taiwanese food along with everyday dishes since the very first day.
The extensive menu for the latest drink craze, bubble tea is another thing that brings people through the door. Whether you order online or go into the restaurant to enjoy the asian inspired ambiance, you’re almost guaranteed a great experience from the high reviews online and even chatting to locals who go there regularly.
Even those who may not like Taiwanese food or think they don’t like it, Tye Nave says, “just try it, I did!” Nave, originally from Pittsburgh, PA was in town visiting a friend when his friend “dragged” him to her favorite food spot in Morgantown. Nave who says he used to typically stick to the average american food, gave it a try and after moving to, and now living in San Francisco, California, he says he wishes there was one in there too!
And let’s be honest, he’s not the only one who seems to love it, so do the locals!
Von Son Asian Market in Morgantown opened in 2001, yet it isn’t well-known to those outside of the local Asian community. This video shows how to get to the store and what is inside.
Morgantown resident and WVU student Irina Crihălmeanu found out about Von Son only after her friend’s mother from Thailand brought them candy from the store when they were preteens.
“It was delicious and my mom asked where he got it from and he told us about the place,” she said.
While she has personally known about the store for some years now, she may never have without her connection to someone within the international Asian community.
‘To understand a culture, you must accept their food.’ -Andrew Zimmern
“I definitely think it’s important to the Asian community, just like Kassar’s is to the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean people (in Morgantown),” Crihălmeanu said. “Cuisine is a very important part of culture, so when immigrants come here it’s great that there are authentic places where they can buy things so they can keep their traditions.”
She also said if the location were better, people would probably check it out more frequently. Whether or not that’s something the owner would welcome is yet to be seen.
“There’s lots of neat stuff, and it’s so much fun to explore other cultures,” she said.
Walking through the store is like taking a stroll down a microcosm of the streets of East Asia. One can imagine the smells and sounds as you walk through street vendors in China or Japan.
“Seriously, when you step into there, it’s like you’re getting transported to China,” Crihălmeanu concluded with fond laughter.
Aaron Simpson (Weebit), member of the WVU Flow Arts club, got a yoyo for this birthday eight-years ago and little did he know that’s where his passion for flow arts would start. Eight years after receiving that gift, he is now the best yoyo guy in Morgantown, W.Va.
However, Simpson’s favorite part of flow arts is the community. “The community is always so willing to teach and everyone is willing to teach and learn from each other,” said Simpson. “It’s the community coming together and making the community better together.”
Individuals within the flow art community are always willing to teach someone a new skill or help them perfect their skill.
The WVU Flow Arts Club came to Morgantown in 2013 after initiators Jenni Whitener, Cassidy Brown, and Kayla France brought a bunch of people together to just flow. It started as place where people could relax and get a break from their crazy schedules, but during the 2013-14 school year, WVU Flow Arts Club became officially registered as a student organization through the university.
Caitlin Santa Barbara, former president of the WVU Flow Arts Club, also loves the community that surrounds flow arts, but Barbara also loves the mediation and relaxation that flow arts provides her with. “The community of it and just the fact that it gives me a place to relax because I am really busy and [it] gives me time to meditate,” said Barbara. “It’s active mediation pretty much.”
Barbara started experimenting with flow arts when she was a junior in high school, staring with a friend’s hula hoop. Flow arts, however, is more than just hula hoops. Flow artists can use balls, flags, yoyos, juggling materials, fire or just anything that the individuals wants to use.
Object manipulation is a huge part of flow arts, according to Simpson, but flow is more of a psychological principle.
According to the Flow Arts Institute, flow arts is used to describe the intersection of a variety of movement-based disciples that include dancing, juggling, fire-spinning, and object manipulation. Flow arts takes skill and creativity to reach a state of “present-moment awareness,” which is typically known as flow.
“Flow is when you get into this trance almost that lets you focus in so hard that you’re prop becomes an extension of you,” said Barbara. “Flow is generally prop manipulation, but your flow is really what you want it to be.”
There are students in the flow arts club that manipulate staffs, balls, unicycles, hula hoops, flags, yoyos, fire and there are students who use video games or other aspects of life as their flow.
So how did this movement come about? Flow arts draws from many ancient and modern movement disciplines such as taichi, Maori poi spinning, martial arts, juggling, circus arts, fire dancing and hula hooping. Taichi is used to help reduce stress and anxiety while Maori poi involves swinging tethered weights through rhythmical and geometric patterns.
Students who participate in this club perform in various places around the Morgantown area. Local venues, such as Mainstage Morgantown and 123 Pleasant Street , allow the WVU Flow Arts club to perform. Flow artists are also seen at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Park.
Simpson, whose stage name is Weebit, has the wonderful opportunity to also perform with Mr. Twister’s Total Entertainment, which is a family entertainment company. Currently, Simpson is the only flow artist and juggler with the company. The company performs all over the Great Lakes area, according to Simpson.
The club has a Facebook page where members can coordinate meeting times to flow and play together, and currently the page has 367 members. The club typically meets on Wednesday nights, but with the nice weather, they typically meet various times throughout the week.
Interested in becoming a member of the WVU Flow Arts Club or just want to know more about it? Visit their Facebook page in order to see meeting times and events surrounding the group.
Aaron Simpson juggling. Taken by Kaitlin Davis
Andrew Szanto flowing with a staff. Taken by Kaitlin Davis
Robert Chandler flowing with some flags. Taken by Kaitlin Davis
Jake Gordon, now 21, has been tattooing since he was a junior in high school. He works at Patty’s Art Spot in their new downtown location alongside professional piercer Brandon Bailey and tattoo artist Hippie Marks.
“I’ve always known I [could] draw, but the transition into high school was also my transition into working at the tattoo shop,” Gordon explained. “[With that] I learned a lot of tricks in my artwork that the other kids didn’t really have access to.”
Gordon believes it was then that his artwork really started to stand out from the other students’ work.
His junior year of high school, Gordon was recruited by local businesses in Kingwood, W.Va. to paint the outsides of their buildings.
“I really don’t remember when I first started because I have always drawn and been artistic growing up,” Gordon said. “I do remember getting serious about drawing when I was a freshman in high school.”
Some of Gordon’s sketches from high school. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page.
Some of Gordon’s sketches from high school. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page.
Some of Gordon’s sketches from high school. / photo courtesy of Gordon’s Facebook page.
Gordon reminisced on a guy whom he worked with.
“I worked with a guy who was seriously talented, and being as competitive as I am, I knew I wanted to be that good – if not better than him. So that year in high school, I really started drawing a lot.”
One of my first finished and framed artworks was this alien DJ guy I drew in high school, and that was somewhat of a starting point in me creating actual pieces of art versus just sketching.
He first started his work in the tattoo shop in Star City when he was in the 8th grade.
In a typical tattooing apprenticeship, the artist has to find someone who’s willing to teach them and allow them to become an apprentice. The apprentice then does work around the shop such as cleaning, helping customers, answering phones, scrubbing tools, and all the other ins and outs of the shop.
Eventually the apprentice will start to clean up before and after their mentor tattoos someone; they’ll put stencils on their mentor’s clients and often even draw the designs.
The apprentice then learns machine set ups and will try to get volunteers who are willing to be tattooed by the artist-in-training.
Months later, the apprentice becomes a tattoo artist.
Gordon’s training went a little differently. Patty Colebank of Patty’s Art Spot is Gordon’s aunt, who has been tattooing in Morgantown, W.Va for nearly thirty years.
“She is an artist of many mediums,” Gordon said. “If art can be made with it, she’s probably used it.”
She is very talented and has established a great reputation in the area, so she was able to teach me a lot of stuff over the years.
In addition to working alongside Patty and Craig Colebank, Gordon was in the company of Cory and Donna Phillips, whom Gordon also describes as “artists of many various materials.”
Starting at the shop at such a young age allowed Gordon the opportunity to learn the inner workings of the shop over a long period of time rather than trying to cram them into a few months to start making a living.
Gordon was young, and with that came the luxury of taking his time to really learn how everything worked.
I got to absorb these methods as I grew up.
By the time he was ready to start working, his years of training had paid off.
I was very confident and knew every out and end of the shop.
The first tattoo Gordon ever received, he actually did himself – a blue beetle on his left thigh. He now has ‘traditional tattoos’ on his right shin, a stomach piece, and his left arm is almost entirely tattooed.
After graduating high school, Gordon juggled college and tattooing full time. He was enrolled at West Virginia University for two years before dropping out to focus on tattooing full time.
“These two years I learned so much about art.”
The last course he took in college was Oil Painting from Associate Professor Naijun Zhang.
“His knowledge about painting has been some of the most productive advice I’ve ever received. I still consult with him whenever I finish an oil painting.”
I don’t know if he realizes the impact he’s left on my life and artwork.
Pictured above is Gordon’s final painting for Zhang’s course at WVU – his last class at the University. They were instructed to do a self portrait.
“My mom will be receiving this for Christmas,” Gordon wrote when he posted the photo to his Facebook page. “Sorry for ruining your surprise, Momma.”
Gordon explained that he eventually dropped out because it took him away from tattooing too much and was too expensive.
“I [could just] go home and practice from-life drawings by myself, which I still do regularly.”
Gordon lives a busy life full of art. On a typical day, he tattoos for roughly 8 hours. After leaving work, he heads to the gym and then draws at home until about 2 or 3 in the morning. The next day: repeat.
“It sounds really bad, but it’s really a lot of fun.”
Additionally, Gordon says he deals with a lot of e-mails, social media direct messages, and internet research for tattoos. He says his life is “very fun, but very busy.”
When I have extra time, I oil paint.
Gordon also did an oil painting that reflects the damage that plastic is doing to the ocean and sea creatures. It took over 90 hours to complete.
A misconception Gordon feels people have about tattooing is that they can get a whole sleeve tattooed in one day.
“You also have the stereotypical judgment [that] having tattoos means you’re a ‘thug’ or a bad person,
but my opinion is you shouldn’t get tattoos if people like that bother you.”
Gordon doesn’t have a particular favorite when it comes to different tattoo styles.
“I like all styles of tattooing. I don’t limit myself to a particular style. I love tattooing as long as it fits the body.”
He says he doesn’t like tattoos that look like stamps, ones that limit the ability to put other tattoos around them, or tattoos that don’t have any black in them.
He also doesn’t favor ‘trendy’ tattoos: “anything that’s been done on Pinterest a thousand times.”
Gordon has created quite a fan base all on his own, and the majority of his friends go to him for their tattoos.
To see more of his work, check out the slideshow below! Or visit him on Facebook and the shop on Instagram!