Published On: Fri, Aug 1st, 2014

Celebrating crafts in WV

Dear Editor:

Thanks to everyone who is making the Lewisburg Literary Festival happen!

And thanks, in particular, for inviting Carter Seaton. Her book, Hippie Homesteaders, goes way beyond the title to explore an important piece of West Virginia cultural history.

This is a well-documented tale of handcrafts, and some performance art, in Appalachia. Seaton notes that In the early ‘60s, the poverty level in Appalachia was high – almost 35 percent in West Virginia – and the War on Poverty was launched. “Several national studies, including one by WVU, showed rural economic development was best achieved through cottage industries.”

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, many young people in West Virginia left the state to find jobs. But in the ‘60s and ‘70s, other young people arrived. She interviewed some of those who stayed: crafts artisans and musicians and performers she has worked with over the decades, to find out why they came and why to West Virginia. Many speak of the generosity of local people who took them under their wing, helping them survive winter and learn planting and building skills.

There was a blossoming of crafts cooperatives and an extraordinary outpouring of support on the state level. She includes the Crafts Center at Cedar Lakes and the Mountain State Arts and Crafts Fair in Ripley, the Cultural Center in Charleston and The Shop there, the WV Art & Craft Guild, Tamarack, and grants to apprentice and to work in the schools.

This is the story of how that all happened. And how some out-of-state young people fell in love with life here and devoted their lives to doing crafts in West Virginia, how they changed and their crafts evolved.

Shoshanna Schwimmer

Lewisburg