Letter from Birdland: An artsy journey home

Letter from Birdland: An artsy journey home

The road home from Virginia was full of art stops. First, in Floyd, we found Wooly Jumper Yarns open. I had been looking hungrily into the window of the tiny storefront on every visit, but it is a small shop and open only three days a week. Today, I lucked out and spent a happy half-hour soaking in all the varieties of colors and fibers.

The friendly shopkeeper apologized for the 23-degree weather and asked where we were from. I assured her 23 degrees seemed plenty warm for us.

We talked sock yarn, and she pointed me to some locally handspun and dyed skeins. I told her I was on a strict yarn ration until I made a dent in my main stockpile, but that I made an exception for sock yarn, since as soon as I get skein, I knit it up.

I chose a hank of yarn with some alpaca in variegated blues, hoping it wouldn't be too itchy for my wool-intolerant son.

The shopkeeper admired my choice. "You know, it only takes three skeins of sock yarn to knit a sweater."

She put my yarn in a paper bag stamped with a sheep in a jumper. "Not a sweater for everyone, but for people our size."

I felt happy in her cozy shop, happy that she included me in the three skein club, although I would clearly need four or more, happy that she sells local creations, helping to sustain a thriving culture of artists in Virginia.

We got on the road, planning to stop at the West Virginia Welcome Center we had spotted on the way in. West Virginia does a great job of supporting and sustaining their state culture.

At this rest stop was a shop featuring coal carvings and the famous Fiesta Ware, which I knew was American made, but I did not remember it was particular to West Virginia.

On the road again, we set our sights on the Tamarack, a larger crafts center that is really like a museum. The website says, "We envisioned a vibrant cottage industry in West Virginia where jobs, market opportunities, training and educational resources abound for West Virginia's artists, artisans, craft people and food producers, and our rich cultural heritage and artisan skills and traditions are preserved and strengthened for future generations of West Virginians."

Illinois used to have one near Rend Lake that I would visit on my way to Kentucky, but we lost it with the budget crisis. (Google it, and you'll find it says "permanently closed.")

At the Tamarack, we saw a juried exhibit of paintings inspired by folklore. One was a mashup of Old McDonald's Farm. We saw regional arts, weavings and woodcarving, instrument making — dulcimers, cigar box violins and tin can banjos — pottery, photography and work by regional writers and musicians.

In one studio, a glass blower coached travelers on how to blow their own vases. I thought about standing in line to do the same, but the line was long and we were not yet halfway home.

The artist helped a young woman turn and turn the long tube while she blew into it. Together, she and the glassmaker considered the vase, and he instructed her on the next step. I couldn't hear what he was telling her, turn it more slowly to get a different pattern of swirls? Blow more quickly for a more pleasing shape? I am making this up, of course, since I know nothing of making crystalline designs from molten glass, but she was intent on his advice.

We all watched the glass bulb at the end slowly inflate. I thought how this simple act of teaching could have a ripple effect. Her lesson might inspire this young woman to create more of her own art. Our watching might inspire the audience to buy a vase to take home, supporting the craft and the artists.

I thought about how showcasing the arts and culture of West Virginia will help the state in more than just tourism and bringing jobs into the state and money into the state economy.

Arts centers like the Tamarack are really job creators, employing artists, yes, but also people to work there, selling the wares, cooking and serving the delicious regional food in the cafeteria (Wikipedia says 150 jobs through direct employment).

These people then may have more income to support more artisans and craftspeople and create more jobs. I think it's the state's business to protect the treasure of its arts and culture, to nurture the artisans and craftspeople who make West Virginia a place to visit. And the ripples spread out.

Maybe one day they'll spread out to Illinois again.

Create in beauty; ripple in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in visiting people in interesting pockets of culture. You can follow Birdland on Instagram (@BirdlandLetters) and Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper.

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