RIPLEY, W.Va. — Thousands descended on Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Jackson County Thursday for the start of the 51st Annual Mountain State Art and Craft Fair.
It’s an all day event for those who go and do some shopping, music listening and eating at what is called the “granddaddy” of all arts and crafts fairs in the state.
One of the things that attracts visitors year after year is the variety of items up for sale. From stuffed animals to fine jewelry, hand-woven baskets to stained glass.
Beth Ann Weber lives in Marietta, Oh. but her family is from central West Virginia. For the past five years, she’s been a juried exhibitor at the fair. Her company is called Appalachian Heritage Soaps and Sundries. She was mixing up a batch of lye soap for customers to see how it’s made.
“I melted down the pork fat this morning and I added lye water to it about an hour ago. Now I’m stirring it so it won’t thicken and separate,” explained Weber.
She said she loves her job because it allows her to make products just like her ancestors. She sells soaps, salves and other folk remedies. A lot of the recipes have been handed down through the family.
“This is my fifth year and, yes, it’s one of the highlights of my festival season because it’s built around traditional heritage arts, it’s built around West Virginia culture. Both are things that I try to reflect in what I do,” Weber said.
Just a few booths away, Stan Jennings of Allegheny Treenware was sitting under an umbrella, chopping on a large piece of wood.
“Well, I had some big chunks of cherry. This is going to be like a humongous, big scoop which I probably will never use,” he said.
But chances are he will sell it. His wooden utensils, mostly hand carved spoons, fly out of his booth like hot cakes. Fair goers can’t seem to get enough of Jennings products. He believes that has a lot to do with the fact that they’re every day items.
“Our products, (customers) really seem to appreciate them. It’s something they can get their hands on and use all the time.”
Jennings and his wife Sue started the business by accident. The two were working in a coal mine near Philippi when it closed in 1995.
“We didn’t have a job but we were making gifts for family. One of them we happened to be making was spoons. We did a craft show and made $1,000 in one weekend. So we’ve been doing it ever since,” he explained.
Some of the exhibitors, like the Jennings, actually make their living with their crafts. Others supplement their incomes with their hobby.
The more than 200 artisans at the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair said it’s the big crowds that come every year to the event that help them make a sizable profit and keep their businesses going.
The Mountain State Art and Craft Fair wraps up on Saturday.