A group of locals hope woodworking skills, ranging from carving and whittling to woodturning and even furniture making, will serve as a ministry to help former incarcerated or low-income individuals become more involved in the community.
The new outreach program called “Harmony Wood Arts” is a collaboration among Hope in the Mountains (an outreach ministry of the United Methodist Church), the West Virginia Wood Turners Association and Academy of Creative Arts.
The organization says the goal is to give Beckley area residents an opportunity to make beautiful objects and learn new skills while making new friends, building confidence and adding skills to make individuals more employable.
Joanne Davis, project coordinator of Hope in the Mountains Ministry, says Harmony Wood Arts is an open invitation to the entire community.
Whoever wants to learn this skill can participate, Davis says.
“It would be great if we could have people of means mixing with survivors of domestic violence and people living in poverty or at risk of falling into poverty,” Davis said.
In that example, “divisions begin to fall down,” Davis said.
“We want to reach out to people living at or below the poverty level,” Davis added.
Jerald Carter, of Beaver, is a member of the West Virginia Wood Turners Association and is one of the organizers of Harmony Wood Arts.
“I’ve always been involved in wood turning,” he said.
While pulling a selection of his hand-crafted pieces from a bag, he added, “My uncle was a master furniture refinisher.”
Setting out the display, including wooden pens, earrings, necklaces, bowls, a candlestick and a chip and dip serving plate on a table, Carter says he hopes Harmony Wood Arts will help encourage locals to take up the hobby he has come to enjoy.
Carter, a retiree, travels to arts and craft shows to sell his handmade items he makes on a lathe.
“I worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for years,” Carter said.
“When they got ready to close that facility, I said I was going to need something to do with my time. So, I bought a lathe and taught myself how to turn,” he commented.
Now an experienced wood turner, Carter is hoping he can share his skills with others.
“It’s not hard to learn,” he said. “It’s hard to master.”
Carter says he’s been hoping to create something like Harmony Wood Arts for Beckley locals for some time.
“The Wood Turners Association has for several years been looking for ways to reach out into the Beckley area,” Carter said.
“A little over a year ago, they created a wood turning studio in Lewisburg. I’ve been looking for places in the Beckley area trying to find something.”
In spring 2019, Harmony Wood Arts acquired a space for the new program at 328 Neville St. in downtown Beckley.
The organization will meet in the basement of the Academy of Creative Arts building, when renovations of the space are complete. They are hoping to open this summer.
“The West Virginia Wood Turner Association has members all over southern West Virginia,” Carter said. “A lot are in the Beckley area and don’t have their own equipment or their own shops.”
Carter says he’s hoping Harmony Wood Arts will reach people who are “on the margins.”
“They may not have the job skills or the confidence to think they can do something,” he said.
In the first phase of opening, Harmony Wood Arts said it will have lathes, a band saw, grinder and dust collector.
In an expansion, they’ll add table saws and other wood working equipment.
“When you’re working with the lathe, it can be very relaxing,” Carter noted. “There are times it can be stressful, too. But once you’ve mastered it, you can forget about the cares of your day... We’re hoping that there will be a lot of interest.”
Harmony Wood Arts says they need donations to help get the program up and running.
They are also seeking students and instructors.
“We’re looking for both one-time gifts and pledges of people who are willing to give $5, $10 or $25 a month to help keep us operational,” Davis said.