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Woodcarver, dancer, playwright, and educator Jude Binder was born on September 6, 1942, in Maryland to Sidney and Elizabeth Binder. She grew up primarily in Washington, D.C., where her mother, a classical pianist and music teacher, took Jude to see the finest ballets, concerts, plays, and musicals that passed through the city.

At age 11, while a student at the Washington School of Ballet, Jude played a stage role in Igor Stravinsky’s Petrushka, performed by Sadler’s Wells Ballet (later known as the Royal Ballet). This life-changing moment propelled her into a career in dance, arts, and teaching, beginning in 1958. She also studied watercolor and drawing at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and enrolled as a full-time student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

Long before she moved to West Virginia, she was fascinated by the Mountain State and its culture. The family sometimes vacationed in the Eastern Panhandle, and she quickly grew to love the region. Growing up, she was captivated by children who had moved from West Virginia to D.C., “I was a little Jewish girl," she says, "and these kids came in with their red hair and freckles. And somehow, to me, they carried the magic of the forest or something. I imbued them with some kind of specialness — they were from West Virginia!”

She and her partner, Frank Venezia, met in West Virginia in 1973 as part of the back-to-the-land movement. In 1981, they moved to Grantsville and realized their dream in rural Calhoun County of creating “a school for the arts in the heart of the country, celebrating the artist in every person.”

Venezia built them a house and, perhaps more importantly, a large dance floor with a lot of “bounce.” The nonprofit Heartwood in the Hills opened at Five Forks in 1982 on Jude’s 40th birthday. Her local post office was named Big Bend, and she immediately recognized the synergy. “Big Bend” translates in French to grand plié, or a full bending of the knees in ballet.

Word spread, and the program quickly developed a sizeable enrollment. Her students learned various forms of dance, made theatrical masks of all kinds, and immersed themselves in the arts. She created a syllabus for dancing and holistic movement called “Movement for Health and Centering,” inspired by her own serious dance injury.

Her projects often blend art with social justice. For instance, in 1995, Heartwood in the Hills presented a theater-intensive Peace Festival in which her students made and exchanged 1,000 origami cranes with survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan.

While Binder’s school centers on the arts, the underlying principle is for students to find their own self-confidence through self-expression. For more than 40 years now, she has touched untold lives while providing inspirational lessons through art, dance, theater, music, and literature. Above all, though, her greatest impact comes from her boundless energy and positive approach to life.

This energy has manifested itself through many creative outlets. She learned woodcarving from a local mentor, Roy Talmidge Geho. In 1981, she and Parkersburg artist Norm Sartorious teamed up to produce Autumn Hare, an intricately carved wooden spoon, which earned a Governor’s Award at the 1981 West Virginia Juried Art Exhibition. She also received a Juror’s Award in the Crosscurrents 1982 exhibit in woodcarving at the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling, the Outstanding Contribution to Theater in West Virginia Award from the West Virginia Theatre Conference for her project “Broken Bough,” the 1996 annual “Celebrate Women Award” in art from the West Virginia Women’s Commission, a 2016 Governor’s Award for the Arts, and the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts’ 2017-18 Master Artist Fellowship — just a small sampling of her recognitions.

For 11 years, she worked on a film highlighting the extensive family damage caused by domestic violence. For this film she partnered with her son, Gideon Kendall, an Eisner Award-winning graphic artist; singer-composer David Wall; Ethel Caffie-Austin, “West Virginia’s First Lady of Gospel Music”; singer-storyteller Ilene Evans; and dancer Ira Bernstein. To research the topic, she visited shelters throughout southern West Virginia and talked with women and children who had suffered physically and emotionally at the hands of domestic violence. She worked closely with her son and other colleagues to develop puppets, shadows, masks, and dances to reflect a wide range of emotions. Field of Flowers debuted in November 2006 at the Culture Center in Charleston. At the same time, the Culture Center featured an exhibit of her art, Moving Wood, which included a number of pieces associated with the theme of domestic violence.

Of Jude Binder’s many accomplishments, she is perhaps best known to the public as the “FestivALL Princess.” In 2004, Charleston started an annual street fair with the motto “a city becomes a work of art.” From the beginning, Binder has been the “face of FestivALL,” entertaining festivalgoers with her handmade costumes, dancing, and masks upon masks. During the event, she is in perpetual motion, gliding up and down Charleston’s busy streets, encouraging crowds to get up and dance, and leading instructional workshops. Without uttering a word, she charms everyone she encounters. Children wait in line for a chance to meet and get their photos taken with the magical Princess.

Now in her 80s, Jude Binder has a rare knack for bringing the arts to life and inspiring people of all ages to see art and beauty everywhere they look.

Last Revised on October 10, 2023

Related Articles


Heartwood in the Hills. Website. 40 Years and Counting: The History of Heartwood in the Hills, 2022.

Imbrogno, Douglas John. The Dancer in the Hills. TheStoryIsTheThing, December 11, 2018.

Imbrogno, Douglas John. The Hills Are Alive: Jude Binder's Lifelong Dance of Artistry and Instruction. Goldenseal, 46, 4, Winter 2020.

West Virginia Division of Culture & History. Press release. West Virginia Division of Culture & History to Present Jude Binder Exhibition and the Premiere of Her Film Field of Flowers on Nov. 18, 2006, November 2006.

Cite This Article

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Jude Binder." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 10 October 2023. Web. 14 June 2024.


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