The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


May 1, 2013

Random Acts of Creativity

Crafters make for the love of it

BECKLEY — Wait! Don’t throw that away. These ladies might need it to fulfill their latest visions.

“Do you wake up at night and look for paper to sketch things?” Janeen Rose asks her equally resourceful friends, gathered to discuss the inner workings of a true crafter.

They are historians at heart — pickers with panache. Her living room, where this meeting of material minds takes place, speaks to how she spends weekends and evenings after work — bold, oversized molding, deeply grooved and antiqued to look wrought from another place and time accents her ceilings. An old full-sized barn door stands decorated and leaned against a far wall.

“It was my father-in-law’s. He was just going to throw it away.”

Just in time for Mother’s Day, Rose, along with 30 other crafters from West Virginia and Virginia, will convene May 11 at United Methodist Temple, Beckley, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to display and sell creations and recreations to the public.

Called “A Friendly Gathering,” the inaugural event is one many crafters and craft-lovers are excited about.

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Primitive home décor, reminiscent of rustic Americana with its preference for natural woods, fibers and primary colors, peaked, ironically, at the turn of the new millennium. The cozy-quaint expression of style continues in popularity nationwide, enjoying niche demand fueled mostly by crafters.

Rose’s knack for it was awakened from frequent visits to fairs and craft festivals, where her response to the wares she saw wasn’t, “I want that,” but “Hey, I can make that!”

Whether antique or contemporary, crafters create because they have to, because as they describe it, they’d burst at the hand-embroidered seams if they didn’t.

Carol Dameron and Belinda Martin understand Rose’s midnight brainstorms. Crafters think differently and all the time, explains Dameron, owner of West Virginia Coal Jewelry. Hers is a business evolving — handmade purses, refurbished antiques and now an in-demand line of wearable art made from West Virginia’s favorite fossil fuel.

While her jewelry is creating a stir among consumers who literally want coal close to their hearts, crafting in general is in her blood and manifests itself in diverse ways.

“Last summer, I went through my father’s burn pile,” Dameron recalls. Her father, a coal miner for 60 years, passed away last year. “Thank God I did. There were chairs there his grandfather had made out on Ellison Ridge. I have three of them and I don’t know what in the world I’m going to do with them.”

But she will, undoubtedly, think of something.

Like Rose and her… what do you call them? “Some call them scarves, others call them necklaces. They’re each charmed,” she explains, demonstrating the knotted neckwear expressing her more modern side, her connection to the mainstream. She invented them when she used a charm to attach to a scarf for her own outfit one day and compliments flowed. She charges $10 each for her scarves and says it’s ridiculous how quickly she sells out when she sets up her display at craft shows.

“Many of us crafters are just making these beautiful things and giving them away to family and friends.  We don’t know how to get them out there and we can’t afford to have our own store. Most of us have full-time jobs.”

“I was 10 when I started sewing.” Belinda Martin, who owns Rusty Primitives, selling mainly from Facebook, begins her story. “Growing up at my grandmother’s farm, I loved all the old rustic things.”

As a child, she would sew, but also diversified into owning a wood burner, learning crochet from her mom and combining the lot of her skills into creating country crafts at 18.

“I started making primitives and selling them to friends and family. The movement is not only about making something. It’s about the old things coming back to tell a story.”

Martin is known for her wall hangings, box lights, wooden framed art and other home accessories like benches, as well as her husband’s handmade tables.

“I like to take old windows and make them into picture frames,” she explains. “I do a lot of repurposing of items.”

Martin, like the others, is not only maker, she’s marketer, finding buyers at craft fairs, flea markets and outlets.

If you’re looking for the answer to what every girl wants, these aren’t the ladies to poll as part of the general population.

“I got an air compressor for Christmas this year,” says Martin.

Each confesses excitement at the mention of a scroll saw. For Dameron, it’s a set of metal letter stamps she’s waiting for, and has her hammer and anvil ready to press into silver charms.

Her jewelry line is ever-changing, some necklaces featuring angel charms brushed with coal which many consumers are using as a way to daily and tastefully memorialize or honor loved ones — coal miners still beside them or who have passed on.

As an historical tribute to those with family heritage steeped in mining, or for those who find the added historical element vintage-chic, she is also adding genuine scrip, the currency of the coal companies historically used to use to pay miners. She was inspired from a trip to Whipple Company Store and Appalachian Heritage Museum in Scarbro, one of several locations where her jewelry is now sold.

“I had no idea of the everyday struggles coal miners had. I started incorporating the scrip and had such an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Those people lived and died for that piece of metal — that’s all they had.”

Beyond an expression of art or source of income, crafts, to crafters, are heartfelt extensions of heritage.

“My father and grandfather were awesome carpenters,” Rose reveals. Her father, Fred Tzystuck, was the one who helped her transform her modern home to suit her old-fangled style. “I love to get something new and make it look old,” she says.

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