W.Va. woman honored for arts work

April 23, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

Editor's note: The West Virginia Women's Commission recently named 12 Women of the Year in the state. Two were from the Eastern Panhandle. Leetown, W.Va., potter Parm Parziale is the focus of today's story while Kim Sencindiver of Berkeley County will be featured on Tuesday.

LEETOWN, W.Va. - When Leetown potter Pam Parziale was named West Virginia Woman of the Year for Art in Charleston on April 14, she was overwhelmed by the company she was keeping.

The annual awards ceremony organized by the West Virginia Women's Commission honors women achievers in a variety of categories.

Parziale said she had no idea how impressive some of the stories would be.

One was that of a woman in the state Department of Transportation honored for her efforts to hire women for nontraditional jobs.

Another award went Mary Crozier Snow, an 87-year-old black woman who was a school principal during segregation and the civil rights movement.


"I was really honored. I really didn't appreciate what was involved," Parziale said.

But Parziale knows how successful she and her husband, Ren, have been as potters.

People from around the Tri-State area, and as far away as Baltimore and Washington, D.C., drive to the Parziale's Sycamore Pottery studio off Paynes Ford Road to buy their creations.

Up to 2,000 pieces are produced at their studio every year, and they specialize in plates, bowls, pots and mugs.

The Parziale's entered their pottery in the first Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival 28 years ago in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and they remain one of only two original participants in the festival.

Jeanne Mozier of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., who nominated Parziale, said Parziale "is a rare combination of working artist, award winning potter, arts administrator and activist."

The Parziales were representative of young adults in the early 1970s who wanted to return to the land to make their homes and living. The couple left good jobs in the Washington, D.C., area and bought 17 acres in Leetown, where they built their own house and studio.

After they started their pottery business, Parziale was encouraged by colleagues and friends to write about how to succeed in the arts business. In the 1970s and '80s, Parziale wrote regularly in trade publications about issues important to working artisans, such as how to juggle child rearing with work and how to deal with complicated issues such as insurance.

"I think one of the things that is important to me is that I represent women who work creatively. It's not that that I want the attention. I want the attention to be on the people who do hand work," said Parziale, who has two children.

Parziale has actively nurtured women art students, and through panel discussions and arts conferences she has motivated women to earn a living with their art, using her own success story to illustrate the possibilities, according to her nomination.

When the Jefferson County Planning Commission was considering placing limitations on home industries like Parziale's studio in 1996, Parziale went to bat for the arts community, going to public meetings to argue against the regulations. Some of the regulations were later relaxed, she said.

She has also taken time to introduce children to the art of pottery, donating time to organizations such as the 4-H Club.

Although Parziale said she has developed strong relationships within West Virginia's arts community, living in the Eastern Panhandle is still a challenge for her sometimes.

Parziale was born and raised in Caribou, Maine, and people in New England are used to being able to stand up and say what they believe, she said.

Parziale said she does not always feel that citizen input is welcomed in Jefferson County.

"When we first moved here, I was pretty lonely," she said. "We were part of the first wave of newcomers. It was very different."

Over the years, the Parziales have used different pottery styles, including salt glazing, which results in different rust-colored tones. Recently, they have been traveling to Italy and studying Tuscan pottery, which was designed by the ancient Etruscan civilization.

"They were wonderful artists. A number of our pots are based on ancient Tuscan shapes," she said.

When asked if she will always be making pottery, the 56-year-old Parziale paused for a moment and said to her husband, "I think we want to travel more, don't we, Ren?"

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