Jamie Lee Curtis makes a call to buy artwork from area students


BRIDGEPORT, Ohio, WHEELING, W.Va. (WTRF) – What started out as a photography class project ended up getting national acclaim.

Now, Jamie Lee Curtis has contacted Oglebay Institute saying she loves the images and wants copies for herself.

It all began with a project called The Rural Arts Collaborative, where an artist is paired with an under-resourced school.

Professional Photographer Rebecca Kiger of Wheeling taught a class at Bellaire High School for one school year. The 15 students used their own cell phones or simple point-and-shoot cameras. They got thousands of images.

In the end, 52 of these images are in a magazine or “zine” that is outstanding.

“The All American Town” is the result of their year of photography.

The Washington Post just reviewed it. And Jamie Lee Curtis saw it, and called Oglebay Institute.

“She was so touched by the work and so impressed that she was interested in making a purchase,” said Danielle McCracken, president of Oglebay Institute.

Some of the 15 students led hard lives.

“There were students that were homeless at some point during the year,” said Kiger. “Some other students lost their parents.”

Family addiction struggles were reflected in some of the pictures, but so were beloved family traditions such as Lindsay Hess’ grandmother, making a rug on a loom.

“She loves doing it, so I wanted to capture something of what my family likes to do,” said Hess.

Many of the images were moody, gritty and hard to understand.

“And it’s that mystery and those questions that viewers love, that an audience loves,” said Kiger.

The students, who were not friends at first, bonded and worked to complete the project.

They may or may not continue their photography.

“But pushing through that is a tool that they can apply for the rest of their lives,” said Kiger.

So Oglebay Institute returned that call to Jamie Lee Curtis, who they discovered was warm and genuine.

“She explained that in addition to being an actress, she was a photographer all of her life,” said McCracken. “She just really felt this project was impactful, and is excited to receive her copies.”

The project was supported by the Benedum Foundation and the EQT Foundation.

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