By Cody Neff
The Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce and crafters from all over the United States are gearing up for the Appalachian Festival today.
The festival, which is in its 17th year, was created when the chamber decided to expand the Appalachian Arts and Crafts Fair to become a community-wide event. More than 100 vendors have set up at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center to sell their crafts that range from quilts and pottery to jewelry and glasswork.
Vendors have come from far and wide to share their hard work and mingle.
“The people are the best part,” Greensboro, N.C., native Margaret Owen said. “Meeting the other exhibitors and seeing what they do is wonderful. Those of us who do this lifestyle, we stay working on our craft in between shows. You have to spend your time making your stock. But when you go to your shows, it’s just like going to a carnival and everyone is there and it’s just loads of fun.”
Owen says she has loads of fun making and selling her botanical metal sculptures.
“I start with a piece of sheet metal, it’s just a printing plate, and I cut and shape it into the flower shape with pliers,” she said. “I make over a hundred kinds of flowers. I tell all the kids that I’m into heavy metal.”
Owen says she has been making the flowers for almost 43 years and learned from a wives club while her husband was in the Army.
“I eventually did a few shows in Greensboro and I was hooked. I started doing a lot of shows in West Virginia and I did the Mountain State Arts and Crafts Show up in Ripley. My neighbor at the festival told me about the Appalachian Festival and here I am.”
Owen’s neighbor in Ripley was Wess Harris, who happens to have a table near hers at this festival where he says he “tells it how it was.”
Harris has several items from important events from West Virginia history, including items that belonged to Bill Blizzard. He also sells books that he has helped to compile and edit.
“One was written in 1952 by William Blizzard,” he explained. “His dad was the first redneck. His dad was Bill Blizzard, the man who led the March on Blair Mountain and the Red Neck Army. He wrote this book in ’52 and it sat in a box until 2004. No one would publish it. We’ve been on The History Channel with it and we’ve sold almost 10,000 copies.
“The other book is a collection of articles and is a companion to ‘When Miners March’ and wouldn’t be possible without the Whipple Company store in Scarbro.”
Harris says that some of the proceeds from selling the books will go to preserve the company store and its history and that he is happy to discuss the true history of the mines with anyone who’s interested.
Aside from the Arts and Crafts Fair, the Appalachian Festival also features daily musical entertainment that will range from traditional Celtic to bluegrass.
Those who attend the Arts and Crafts Fair can also take their ticket to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine to receive a tour at a reduced group rate. Tickets can also be presented at the Cliffside Amphitheatre to receive discounted tickets to see “Rocket Boys, the Musical.”
Ellen Taylor, president and CEO of BRCCC, said she and her staff always look at this event as kind of a last summertime hurrah. “It’s a fun three days for the community and it is a very family-oriented event.”
Arts and Crafts Fair hours are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and Saturday and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Other weekend events include artists demonstrations and a juried art exhibit from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Saturday at the Cynthia Bickey Gallery inside Beckley Art Center on Johnstown Road.
The gallery will also host a Make and Take Workshop Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in which adults and children can create a small watercolor painting to take home.
Another Make & Take, this one a traditional mountain craft, will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia.
A coal mining photo exhibit by George Bragg will be shown at Crossroads Mall.
The big event of the evening will be the Taste of Appalachia, a block party showcasing the flavor and music of Appalachia in Beckley’s Historic District. In addition to cuisine from local restaurants, there will be performances by Clinton Collins & the Creek Boys and the New River Jazz Band in Uptown Beckley at Main and Neville streets from 6 to 9 p.m.
Another evening activity is the Historic Beckley Ghost Tour, which explores local history and unusual happenings. The tour takes from 60 to 90 minutes and starts in front of the Raleigh County Courthouse.
A variety of activities in the New River Gorge National Park are available as well, including ranger-led activities to learn more about nature.
Craft demonstrations of textiles and turned wood will be available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Tamarack.
An Oldies Car Show by Shade Tree Car Club will be Sunday at Crossroads Mall; registration is from 10 a.m. to noon and the show will be from noon to 6 p.m.
Tours of Historic Wildwood House, home of Beckley’s founder, Gen. Alfred Beckley, showcase materials dating back through the 19th century and a doll collection. Hours are 1 to 4 p.m.
Tamarack’sweekly Sunday@Two performance features Bobby Maynard and Breakdown.
For more information, including ticket prices, visit www.appalachianfestival.net or call the Beckley-Raleigh Chamber of Commerce at 304-252-7328.