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Heritage festival attracts 'lots of lookers'

June 13, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION, W.Va. -- To make a living as a full-time craft maker, Anna Fleckenstein of Wilmington, Ohio, takes her decorative candle business to about 43 craft shows each year.

The Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival, going on this weekend near Harpers Ferry, W.Va., is one of her top five, she said.

"It's the higher grade of craftsman that they have here that brings in more of an appreciative customer, more of an art patron," Fleckenstein said.

Her Little Creek Candles booth is one of more than 150 included in this year's Mountain Heritage festival at Sam Michaels Park. The three-day festival, sponsored by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, began Friday and continues today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Before guests even stepped through the festival's gates Saturday, they were greeted by the sounds and smells of "mountain heritage" traditions. Just inside the gate, bluegrass artists strummed on a stage for an audience perched on hay bales, and members of the Rotary Club of Charles Town, W.Va., stirred a steaming cauldron of apple butter over a fire.

Throughout the festival, artists and musicians could be found demonstrating their crafts for clusters of captivated patrons. Sam Rizetta of Inwood, W.Va., played a hammer dulcimer, a maker of "whimsical woodcarvings" whittled away at a block of wood, and, in a nook between racks of small paintings, Cheryll Arnold busily personalized the "Appalachian Artwork" she makes with her husband, Jeff, by writing patrons' names or messages on blank signs depicted in the paintings.

"Everybody likes to have it belong only to them," Cheryll Arnold said. "And it's something you can't find at Wal-Mart. Everybody's so tired of the same-old, same-old."

The couple, from Mountain City, Tenn., paints scenes ranging from country homes to offices and workshops, but in each picture, they work in an image of a beagle in memory of a former pet.

"He's in beagle heaven now, but we keep him alive in our pictures," Cheryll Arnold said.

Another animal-lover artist at the festival, John Garton of Petersburg W.Va., said he draws on his experience as a veterinarian to make carved wood animal sculptures more realistic.

Garton said he had no woodworking experience in 1987 when he decided to try to carve his son a hobby horse. More than two decades later, he works full time carving wildlife-themed sculptures and furniture, depicting critters from playful raccoons and foxes to majestic elk and bears.

"Some of 'em I get a little attached to," Garton said as he brushed white paint onto a buffalo carving on a bench, per a customer's request. "It's kind of like seeing your kids go off to college. But I know where they're going to -- people who appreciate 'em."

Garton said the bench was the largest piece he had sold at the festival. Many of his pieces are too expensive to make good impulse buys, he said.

For something like his $3,500 bear-shaped jewelry cabinet, "the average working person, they've got to think about it," Garton said. "Maybe next year, they'll come back to buy it."

Garton said the recession has slowed his sales, but he still receives inquiries from repeat customers and others who hear of him through word-of-mouth.

Festival co-chair Heather Morgan said the economy didn't seem to cut down on the number of people attending the festival this year, but she hoped they would buy things while they were there.

"There's a lot of lookers," she said.

The Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival returns in the fall from Sept. 25 through 27.

If you go



What: Mountain Heritage Arts and Crafts Festival

When: Today, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Sam Michaels Park, 1330 Job Corps Road, Shenandoah Junction, W.Va.

Cost: Adults, $7; children 6 to 17, $4; children younger than 6, free

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