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Modern Business Reimagines Traditional W.Va. Folklore

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Liz Pavlovic working on a poster she designed, featuring Mothman and Flatwoods Monster. She says those two characters are best friends in her artwork. Photo: Caitlin Tan, WVPB

Greasy pepperoni rolls, pungent ramps, sweet apple butter, shaggy Big Foot, scruffy Mothman – these are all symbols that represent West Virginia. Local treasures that began from traditions and legends from long ago that are getting a modern flair, thanks to a graphic design artist in Morgantown.

Liz Pavlovic’s business “Liz Pavlovic Design and Illustrations” recreates West Virginia’s mementos with an endearing modern, cartoonish flair.

The Studio

Her studio is nestled in a bright corner of her living room.

Everything is colorful and quirky, like Pavlovic herself. She sports a rainbow-hued T-shirt, a Mothman tattoo and bright purple hair.

A doll head that looks like Pavlovic sits on the windowsill.

A doll with an uncanny resemblance to Pavlovic. Her work space is decorated with fun, bright artwork, such as this doll, cat cartoons, various Mothman depictions, etc. Photo: Caitlin Tan, WVPB

“I found that in a thrift store and I was like I can’t not buy it,” Pavlovic said.

But what stands out the most is Pavlovic’s art. On her computer screen is a work in progress featuring two West Virginian monsters. Below the illustration is the words “not all who lurk are lost.”

“That’s a new poster I’m working on. It’s Mothman and Flatwoods Monster – I have them hanging out a lot. They’re kind of the best friends of the group I guess,” she said.

Pavlovic keeps stockpiles of her artwork on her bookshelves, neatly organized. She has become somewhat of a West Virginia celebrity for her state-themed graphic designs.  

The Art

Her art is mostly featured on pins, stickers and posters. There is a food collection, including pawpaws, apple butter, ramps, buckwheat cakes and pepperoni rolls, which are a bit controversial. Her design includes cheese, which for pepperoni roll purists is not traditional.

“The next round of pepperoni roll pins I might remove the cheese, there’s been some debate about it,” Pavlovic said.

Some of Pavlovic’s designs featured on stickers. Her West Virginia collection includes cryptids or folklore creatures, as well as state foods like the pepperoni roll. Photo: Caitlin Tan, WVPB

Another popular design is her West Virginia hotdog, or better known as the slaw dog. It’s topped with mustard, chili, coleslaw and onions. The slaw dog is thought to only be loved below what’s known as the “slaw line,” or everything south of milepost 111 on Interstate 79.

“Occasionally, people will come to my table when I’m vending and say that’s disgusting,” Pavlovic said. “People get really heated about it — more than the pepperoni roll.”

Some of Pavlovic’s favorite designs are the area’s cryptids, or animals from legends that may or may not exist (creatures like Bigfoot). However, Pavlovic likes to focus on more unique and local characters, such as the Flatwoods Monster, named for the West Virginia town where it was sighted.

“I believe it was the 1950s when it was seen in the woods there by some people who saw bright yellow eyes, and I guess it had a coppery smell,” she said.

Often her cards and posters will feature cryptids with a pun. For example, her headless Grafton Monster valentine’s card reads, “I’m headless over heels for you.”

One of Pavlovic’s “cryptid valentines” featuring Bat Boy. Pavlovic has been running her own business for two years. Photo: Caitlin Tan, WVPB

Pavlovic explains that the Grafton Monster was supposedly seen by a news reporter, “and he described him as being like 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide with seal skin and basically no head.”

Those descriptions might seem creepy, but Pavlovic’s designs render these monsters as adorable oddities. Her Mothman is a fuzzy, black being that is often doing everyday activities, like surfing the web or riding a bike. On one sticker, Pavlovic includes the words “live, laugh, lurk,” with Mothman confidently laying on his side.

“He’s in sort of a model, sassy pose. Some people say it’s like a ‘draw me like one of your French girls,'” she said.

How she got here 

Pavlovic studied graphic design at West Virginia University and graduated in 2010. Two years ago, she opened her own business. The pepperoni roll pin was the first design she sold.

She grew up in Alabama, but as a child, she visited her West Virginia family every year and says she’s always felt connected to the state.

“I grew up eating pepperoni rolls. My mom made them at home even when we lived in Alabama,” she said. “I guess there was a big part of my life that was West Virginia that I didn’t even realize.”

It took about a year for Pavlovic’s business to take off. At first, she said, she was just trying to break even. Now, after two years, she says her art sales make up her income. She does half of her art sales through her online store.

Pavlovic’s sales follow a national trend. According to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report, a little less than half of art buyers choose to purchase their art online, which is in itself more than a $4 billion industry.

“Instagram has been a huge part of it for me because there’s a lot of artists on there and just a big community. And it’s easy to share your art there, obviously,” Pavlovic said.

Instagram launched in 2010. And today, the majority of people who manage art galleries say Instagram is the best way to promote their art. Even more, the majority of consumers under 35 years old say Instagram is how they discover new artists.

Pavlovic’s pins at her vending booth. The first design she made for her business was the pepperoni roll pin. Photo: Caitlin Tan, WVPB

Pavlovic has a lot of fans. She has a respectable 2,836 followers on Instagram, including Candace Nelson, the author of “The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll” book.

“Anytime I see any art or products, or anything even remotely related to the pepperoni roll, I get really excited,” Nelson said.

She fell in love with Pavlovic’s pepperoni roll collection. One of her favorites is Pavlovic’s Valentine’s Day cards.

“One of them said, ‘Pep rolls before bros,’ and I thought that was really funny,” Nelson said.

Selling to the People

Pavlovic also sells her work in boutiques and tourism shops around West Virginia and Ohio, but she also does a lot of in-person vending.

Recently she sold her merchandise at a music show at Morgantown’s Retrotique store. Several bands played, including the local punk-rock duo Haggard Wulf.

Pavlovic vending her artwork at Morgantown’s Retrotique store. She sells everything from stickers to posters to pins to sweatshirts all adorned with her graphic designs. Photo: Caitlin Tan, WVPB

Her booth was a long table filled with all of her stickers, pins, T-shirts and posters with twinkling lights weaving through the items.

People of all ages stopped by, including one young boy named Devlin, who purchased a bedazzled Mothman pin.

“I like Mothman and also I like sparkly things,” he said.

It is through the little designs on pins, cards and stickers that Pavlovic is able to capture a part of West Virginian culture. Nelson, the pepperoni roll fan, says Pavlovic’s art takes traditional West Virginian things and adds a sense of humor.

“I love that she draws on these almost inside jokes that we have as West Virginians and turns it into something beautiful,” Nelson said. “I like that it’s almost as though you have to be in on it. You have to know West Virginia culture to really truly appreciate it.”

And Pavlovic says she hopes to keep up with it. The motto for her business is “Keep on Creepin’ on.”

Be on the lookout for her newest cryptid, the Ogua. According to local lore, this 500-pound serpentine creature can be spotted swimming in the Monongahela River.

This episode is part of an Inside Appalachia episode exploring folklife and material culture in Appalachia. 

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.