ALTON - For River Witch, a local artist whose work is featured at Milton Schoolhouse this month, art and social justice have always been second nature to her.

The artist, who prefers to go by the name River Witch, enjoys drawing, painting and sculpting. She explained that her father and grandmother were both artists, so she grew up creating art alongside them. This, combined with a love for social justice, has guided her through most of her life.

“Social justice and art and animals have been things that I’ve just grown up with that are just part of the fabric of my being,” she said, adding, “I’ll say what the hell I want to, where the hell I want to. There’s nothing you can do to stop me.”

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River Witch started creating art as a child. Diagnosed with ADHD, she often got in trouble for drawing when she wasn’t supposed to. Art became her way of expressing herself.

Her family also raised her to be an advocate for others. At a young age, she was attending rallies and marches. She became a steward for the Teamsters when she began work as a welder, and she raised her son at Black Lives Matter marches. As a result, social justice is a powerful influence on her work.

“I came from a union family. We didn’t go to picnics, we went to pickets,” she explained.

She is currently working on “The Cell Door Project,” a project that aims to draw attention to suffragettes who were imprisoned during the 1900s. She is especially proud of a painting hanging in Milton called “Atomic City,” which highlights environmental issues.

River Witch recently returned to the Alton area after spending most of her life moving around the country. She loves Alton so far, especially because she feels like she has discovered her “tribe” of friends and found family. Though she previously only lived in Alton for a few months as a child, she said it feels like a “homecoming.”

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Additionally, she pointed out that the St. Louis region has many free cultural experiences that people can take advantage of, as opposed to other major cities where you have to pay to enter an art museum to view an exhibit.

“That’s why I appreciate so much that the art museum in St. Louis is free,” she said. “There’s no other major city that you can just walk in and see ‘Artemis.’”

This mindset is also partly why she has enjoyed displaying her work at Milton Schoolhouse. Whereas other galleries charge up to 60% commission, the commission at Milton is low, which allows her to sell her work at a lower price.

“It’s such a weird thing to me to sell art at a profit. Maybe I just don’t understand it,” River Witch said. “It just seems like they’re making art inaccessible to the average person, and everybody deserves art. Not everybody is going to sit down and paint a painting, but that doesn't mean they don’t deserve to have it or enjoy it. So when you charge people 60% on top of whatever the artist needs to cover their costs, you’re making art inaccessible to people. I don’t think that’s fair.”

River Witch’s sense of justice, her advocacy work and her love of art have built her into the person she is today. She has enjoyed her return to Alton and, with no plans to leave anytime soon, looks forward to sharing her art with more people in the Riverbend community.

“Wow, these are my people,” she said. “Everybody’s been really cool about my art and stuff and just kind of got my sense of humor right away. I like it here. It’s a good place to live.”

To check out River Witch’s art, stop by Milton Schoolhouse this June or visit “Ghosts and Graveyards” on Facebook.

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