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Appalachia at Heart

Making a Living as a Traditional Weaver in Appalachia



Jane Gilchrist working on her overshot pot holder. Gilchrist’s pot holders are one of her best-selling items. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Most Americans typically wear clothes made in factories overseas. The same goes for fabrics in homes, such as potholders, rugs and blankets. But it has not always been this way.

Hand weavers once made a majority of people’s fabrics and rugs using old wooden fashioned looms that one can often find today in a historical museum. But as the textile industry became more industrialized, hand weavers no longer were a necessity.

However, there are some people who still remember the craft of weaving and even practice it today. One such person is Jane Gilchrist.

Her shop is just off a narrow neighborhood road in Stonewood, West Virginia. It is a small, brick store with a sign titled, “Loomy Ladi Handwovens.” 

The Art of Weaving

When she is weaving, Gilchrist sits on a sheepskin covered bench facing the loom.

On the day I visited, she wore a green top patterned with teal petunia petals. Her nails were painted a rouge pink.

Jane weaving a pot holder. She said she is drawn to weaving because it is a relaxing, repetitive movement that still requires focus. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Floor-to-ceiling shelves were filled with colorful yarns, and a hand-woven, baby blue coverlet blanket with little white flowers was on display. In the corner were some of Gilchrist’s square pot holders and scarves for sale.

“So this is the overshot pot holder,” she said. “A real pretty earthy green with a natural warp.”

The small shop is also Gilchrist’s space for creating.

In the center of the room are three wooden looms, and one table loom hanging on the wall. All of them are no bigger than a desk, and each held a different project. Several looms even sat, folded up in the corner.

When she steps on a treadle, or a peddle, a layer of the tightly strung yarn lifts up, which allows her to thread the colored yarn through. With enough threading she will create a tightly woven item, like a pot holder.

‘I Always Knew’

Gilchrist has been weaving as a hobby for almost two decades, but it only recently became her main source of income.

She grew up in Ohio with eight other siblings and not a lot of money. “I was the next to the youngest and I just always felt lost,” she said. “I was the little fat kid without a lot of friends, middle of nowhere living on a farm and I was pretty lonely.”

She made friends with a woman who was quadriplegic, although she had some use of her arms. This woman introduced Gilchrest to weaving.

“She had a big rug loom and she made rugs, and I sat next to her and I got introduced to weaving. I always knew someday I wanted to be a weaver; that just felt right to me.”

Jane Gilchrist works out of her shop in Stonewood, West Virginia. She recently opened the shop under the name, “Loomy Ladi Handwovens.” Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It felt right because weaving is her happy place. Gilchrist said she finds the repetitive motion relaxing, but also stimulating.

“I don’t have time to think about what is or isn’t, the good or the bad, and dwell on things I can’t change and can’t control,” she said.

Later in life, she learned that weaving was a part of her family’s history. She has record that her great-great grandfather used weaving as a source of income during the long, cold West Virginia winters.

Weaving was vital in the early settler days in Appalachia, Gilchrist said, adding that it helped create cloth for clothing and blankets – items that were not yet available in the rural region.

But as clothing became more available during the Industrial Revolution, weaving became a lost art.

“It went from being an essential, ‘you have to do this,’ to being a hobby,” she said.

Gilchrist does her part to help keep an Appalachian tradition alive.

“When I sit down at one of those looms and I start creating a piece of cloth, I feel connected to my ancestors. I feel connected to the people that have come before,” she said.

Over the years Gilchrist has become a reputable weaver. She is part of the Tamarack Foundation, an organization for professional artists that is not easy to get into.

She sells some of her products, like the pot holders, through Tamarack.

She also has her master’s in education, so she has developed several weaving tutorials for classroom settings. In fact, about 60 percent of her income is from teaching weaving.

‘Mug Ruggin’ It’

But her biggest claim to fame is something she calls “Mug Ruggin’ It.”

It is a hand-woven rug for one’s coffee mug. Gilchrist teaches “Mug Ruggin It” as an informal class at several West Virginian art festivals and fairs, where people can weave the rugs themselves. It’s a spinoff of a traditional Appalachian rag rug, just downsized.

Over the past five years,  about 3,000 people have been through the “Mug Ruggin It” program, Gilchrist estimates.

Gilchrist dying fabric with natural indigo dye. She tries to die her fabrics and threads whenever she can to keep her weaving as traditional as possible. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“I hope when I’m old and decrepit, and I’m walking through a craft show or flea market and I see somebody who’s got their wares for sale and I say, ‘Where’d you learn to weave?’ And they say, ‘Oh, well I went to the Vandalia festival and there were these people who set up these looms. I did this thing called ‘Mug Ruggin’ it’ and I fell in love with weaving.'”

Gilchrist keeps her weaving as traditional as possible. She has even learned to dye her own yarn, as well as spin her own wool – which she has dedicated a decent amount of her living space to. She has a yarn dying station setup near the laundry room, a wool spinner near the T.V. and another loom in the corner.

Some people might caution turning a hobby into a livelihood, but Gilchrist says it’s not work for her. She says she knows she will never get rich off it either, but that’s OK.

“But if I can make the world more creative, and they understand our heritage as we get further and further away from those days, and if I can share that, I think I’ll have done something pretty successful.”

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Appalachia at Heart

‘Foot by Foot’: Artists Illustrate Ohio’s Appalachian Region



A screenshot from the documentary "Foot by Foot" by Doug Swift.

David Mitzel believes people have stereotypes about Appalachia– about Appalachian attitudes, Appalachia culture, and even Appalachian art.

Mitzel organizes the annual Zanesville, Ohio, exhibit “Foot by Foot,” which celebrates art depicting Appalachian Ohio communities.

“These [sterotypes] are all wrong,” Mitzel said. “It’s a much broader and deeper type of response to the world.”

Mitzel distributes 12 inch by 12 inch canvas or gesso boards to artists in Ohio counties as far south as Athens, and as far north as Coshocton. Completed artworks are then delivered to an opening event and the exhibit forms a patchwork vision of the region.

In the accompanying mini-doc, I selected five participating artists to film in-process as they prepared their piece for the 2018 “Foot by Foot” exhibit. My objective was to illustrate the diversity of Ohio’s Appalachian region.  

A screenshot from the documentary “Foot by Foot” by Doug Swift.

Jane Evans is a sheep farmer who works in fiber arts and plays saxophone in her spare time; Paul Emory restores buildings in downtown Zanesville, Ohio, and sometimes paints the ones which are about to be demolished; Michael J. Rosen works in ceramics and has created a kind of nature reserve in Perry County where he meditates on ecological dilemmas and has begun to etch haiku into his plates.

The documentary short also contextualizes the “Foot by Foot” project within The Winding Road initiative, which, in addition to the arts, seeks to highlight other aspects of Appalachian Ohio, such as heritage, recreation, local foods and more.

“The region has experienced major extraction of its resources,” Mitzel said, but through The Winding Roads initiatives, including such arts programs as “Foot by Foot,” Mitzel and others are working to “make the region [one] of attraction rather than extraction.”

Watch Doug Swift’s short documentary “Foot by Foot.”
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Appalachia at Heart

Woman Leaves Puerto Rico to Learn Farming in West Virginia



It was April and snowing when Aura Broida Fontánez came to West Virginia, and there were no leaves on the trees.

It reminded her of the trees in Puerto Rico, when the leaves were swept away by Hurricane Maria.

Months after the hurricane, Broida arrived as an intern at Harmony Farm, a 5-acre farm in Morgantown that grows around 60 different crops, such as tomatoes and microgreens.

She met the farm’s owner, Sky Harman, at a community garden in Vieques, an island around 8 miles east of mainland Puerto Rico. After the hurricane, Harman flew in with the Climate Justice Alliance and Organización Boricuá to repair and rebuild farms across Puerto Rico. Broida lived on Vieques when both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017.

Now, they both work on the Morgantown farm. Broida is learning to be a farmer, a job she started wanting due to the lack of fresh food in Puerto Rico, especially following the hurricanes.

Damage on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria last year.

“It’s a large learning curve, but she’s doing really well,” Harman said.

One of the first adjustments she had to make was to the weather.

“I was not mentally prepared for how cold it was. I was surprised at the snow,” Broida said. Puerto Rico has no winter, only a dry season and a wet season.

As West Virginia grew warmer, and the leaves returned, Broida found herself surrounded by more and more fresh food. Her work varies by the day. She does things like weeding, fertilizing, mowing and planting. She also participates in the Bridgeport and Morgantown farmers markets.

“I feel like I am learning quite a bit, like [about] the rhythm of a larger food production system,” Broida said.

In September, she left behind her house to stay with the owners of Villa Coral Guesthouse, a business where she had worked at the front desk. Their home, in a different part of Vieques, was better suited to withstand hurricanes, Broida said.

Before Maria, Broida helped with preparations, what she called “hurricane chores.” When Hurricane Irma struck two weeks before, Broida said it swung mostly north of the island.

Broida said she was grateful for that first storm. It helped prepare them for the larger one to follow.

On the morning of Sept. 19, 2017, Hurricane Maria was only a breeze. At around 8 p.m., Broida said, the storm fully hit.

The storm shutters prevented Broida from seeing the storm, but she could hear it.

“It’s like rain is coming down in sheets,” she said. “I was sleeping, but I was having nightmares because of all the sound. Every once in a while, you could hear something crashing. Most of the time it was trees. Afterwards, we realized it was also electrical poles and stuff crashing on top of cars or stuff breaking.”

Mireya Padín Nadal, the owner of Villa Coral, credited Broida with helping before, during and after the hurricane.

Padín said Broida helped do things like put up storm shutters before Maria hit. During the storm, she helped roll furniture to block doors, and helped when wind forced water through the storm shutters. Afterwards, she collected food and water and cleared trees.

“She was our one and only person we could definitely rely on,” Padín said. “She was the backbone of helping keep everything together.”

Padín’s business still does not have a working landline phone. Power did not come back to the guest house until late February. Padín’s home received power in March. They didn’t have running water for around a month, and then it was available off and on.

Broida’s own home, which she was caretaking for a friend, was damaged by the hurricane. The windows were broken, the inside damaged by wind and water. Another house, which she had been planning to soon rent, fell in on itself. Without phone reception, she was unable to contact her mother, who lived on the mainland.

Still, she helped others in Vieques. She did work for a governmental administration addressing mental health following the hurricanes. She worked at kitchens making food for those in need, she put up tarps, cleaned yards and houses, and worked at the community garden, where she met Harman.

Broida expressed an interest in farming to Harman, and Harman told her about his farm’s internship program.

“That’s how farming goes,” Harman said about the encounter that led Broida to his farm. “It’s a serendipitous kind of activity where you meet a lot of interesting people who find common ground and can work together to build a better future.”

Her internship ends in November. Broida said she’s not sure if she will stay another season in West Virginia, or work and learn at farms in other countries, like Cuba or Peru.

For now, Broida is enjoying West Virginia. She’s gone swimming in Cheat Lake, hiked at Coopers Rock and plans to explore the bike trails of West Virginia University’s Arboretum.

“I’m enjoying seeing all of the different blooms and getting to know the birds,” Broida said.

This article was originally published by the Charleton Gazette-Mail.

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Children Share Memories of Growing Up in the Mountains, Puppy Pilates & More: Inside Appalachia



Our region has challenges, from the economic decline of the coal industry, to the opioid epidemic, there’s work to do in our communities. In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll hear from several people who are trying to reinvigorate our region with opportunities for change. We’ll also hear from some younger voices in Appalachian, North Carolina about growing up in the mountains.

Newly Appointed ARC Co-Chair Lays Out Vision for the Region
We’ll start this episode with someone who is now charged with helping to give Appalachia an economic boost. President Donald Trump recently appointed a new federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, or ARC. Tim Thomas spent the past three years working for U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell out of Kentucky. Inside Appalachia host Jessica Lilly spoke with the newly appointed ARC leader to find out what vision he sees for our region, and what approaches he plans to try that may be different from things the federal government has tried in years past.

Coal Country Students Working For a Power Switch
The coal industry’s decline is felt in many school districts across coal country. Tax revenue from mining has decreased, along with the local economy, while rising electricity rates make it a struggle to keep schools open. But as Benny Becker reports, there’s no shortage of students who are trying to create a new energy future.

What Teacher Protests Portend For Schools, Labor & Elections
Recent demonstrations in Arizona were just the latest in a series of walkouts, protests and pickets by teachers in four states from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Kentucky. Glynis Board reports on what the unrest among teachers could mean for schools, for labor, and for upcoming elections.

Student from Appalachian North Carolina who studied with the PAGE program
Photo by Mikalah Creasman.

Kids in North Carolina Share What it’s Like to Live in Appalachia
In this episode we’ll also hear the voices of several students sharing personal stories about growing up in the mountains of rural North Carolina.

The pieces were crafted during a summer program of the Partnership for Appalachian Girls’ Education (PAGE) for girls in grades 6 through 9. The youth in the program worked with facilitators to write, edit, and voice “digital stories” that say something about their lives. In this episode we’ll hear from Wrenn Treadway, Preslea Harwood, Megan Anderson, Katlyn Lewis, and Skyler Shelton.

These students wrote, voiced, and produced their own stories as part of a summer project with a group called PAGE. It’s part of a series called Postcards from Madison County, which originally aired on WUNC.

Kids in Charleston play soccer at the 25th annual Healthy Kids Day while volunteers from the WV State football team supervise on Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Photo by Kara Lofton, WVPB.

 Community Celebrates Healthy Kids Day
The small community of Montgomery, West Virginia, in Kanawha and Fayette Counties, used to be home to West Virginia University Institute of Technology, or WVU Tech. But the school moved to Beckley last year. Now, people in Montgomery are wondering how this change may affect the town’s economic future. But in the midst of these challenges, there is a bright spot. A new YMCA gym has opened there for families. The gym hosted an event recently, called Healthy Kids Day, aimed at teaching kids and families how to eat well and stay active through the summer months.

Puppy Pilates
West Virginia University students had an unusual way of decompressing during finals week this semester. Have you ever heard of Puppy Pilates? Recently, as WVU students were preparing for finals, the school’s student health center hosted a Puppy Pilates class aimed at de-stressing students before exams.

Photo by Kara Lofton/WVPB

We’ll also hear a piece that StoryCorps recorded a few years ago when they were in Morgantown, West Virginia. Gene Kendzior told his daughter, Jennifer, about her grandfather, who died working in a coal mine in 1967.

Kendzior told his daugther that coal mining “was a hard, dirty job. And everyone who worked there suffered from it. And most of the people went right from high school to the coal mine.”

She asked him to talk about his father. “It was a very hard life for him. I’m sure it was. And he died in a coal mine as so many others have. And to think that as I sit here I’m older than he was when he died. And just think how nice it would be to have your father to talk to. That was a great loss.”

Shortly after recording this interview for Father’s Day, Gene Kendzior passed away.

Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy ToddLiz McCormick edited this episode. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia. You can e-mail us

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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100 Days