A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Op-Ed – Constance Alexander: Survivors pressed on and have risen from the rubble in post-tornado Mayfield

In less than two years, Jana Duffy has gone from downtown boutique owner to boudoir photographer, almost without pause. “I have forty other jobs,” she quips. “I just don’t know when to stop.”

Nanc Gunn, director of the Mayfield-Graves County Art Guild and the historic Ice House Gallery, has also spent the last two years juggling tasks that most of us would have found daunting. But when we talked the other day, she had an uplifting lilt in her voice.

“I’m writing checks for artists,” she declared.

Anaj following the 2021 tornado (Photo courtesy Jana Duffy)

Both Duffy and Gunn are survivors of the tornados that ravaged downtown Mayfield on Dec. 10, 2021. Duffy’s brainchild was Anaj – Jana spelled backwards – a retail venture specializing in unique attire and fashion accessories.

“People would walk in and tell me how beautiful everything was and how it didn’t look like a store that should be in a small town,” she explained.

When the tornado struck, Anaj was destroyed in an instant, but Duffy did now allow the shocking loss to defeat her. “Often times, the universe takes things away from us to replace it with something better,” she said in the aftermath. “I know better things are coming for us all.”

Nanc Gunn’s spirit was also undaunted in spite of the total loss of the Art Guild’s historic Ice House Gallery.

“Everywhere we looked, everything was destroyed, every telephone pole, everything,” she recalled.

Despite the devastation, Gunn focused on priorities that accented the positives. One hundred and nine artists had work destroyed or damaged in the twister and she was able to facilitate their compensation.

The Mayfield-Graves County Art Guild has a new home in Helen LaFrance’s former gallery. (Photo courtesy Nanc Gunn)

“Our insurance was paid up and all the artists got checks,” she said. “It was a high point to be able to tell everyone their work was insured.”

Two years later, Gunn is still writing checks but today artists are getting paid for works purchased by buyers who visited the guild’s gift shop. With newly leased space in Helen La France’s old art gallery at 825 Paris Road in Mayfield, the guild is able to provide a showcase where local artists can sell their work.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Gunn said.

She goes on to describe the combination of retail, gallery, and workshop areas. As she reflects on the past two years, she credits arts organizations and non-profits in the region for the guild’s survival.

The rotunda of Paducah City Hall, Graves County Co-operative Extension Office, and Graves County Public Library are three organizations that pitched in to help. “We were very fortunate,” Gunn admits. “They reached out to us and helped us survive.”

Because of that kind of support, the guild could offer summer art camp to kids, exhibitions for artists, workshops for those of every skill level, and viewing opportunities for the public.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Without a pause, the guild pressed on and survived. Gunn’s days are filled with scheduling, facilitating classes, staffing workshops, managing the website, social media postings, getting the gift shop off the ground, and writing checks to artists whose work was purchased.

“It’s a lot of hats to wear,” she says.

Entrepreneur Jana Duffy still owns now-empty property on what used to be the Courthouse Square, and she continues working at Magnolia House, a local day spa, part of the time. Another gig has her tending bar at a local hangout.

“I hear everyone’s problems, no matter where I am,” is her matter-of-fact declaration.

“I’m still a small-town girl with a dream. If you don’t dream big,” her voice trails off on an up-swing, suggesting that big dreams are the ones she clings to.

She runs her newest enterprise – Divine Feminine Energy — out of Mayfield’s Holly House, combining photograph and fashion with other skills cultivated over time. A licensed cosmetologist and make-up artist, she has been an Usui and Tibetan Karuna Reiki Master since 2011. Through D.F.E., she says, “I do the whole thing.”

According to the website, “D.F.E will combine all steps necessary to help you discover your personal power and create beautiful photographs to unleash your Divine Feminine Energy.”

“I want everyone to feel good,” Duffy concludes.

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