Think you know about all of West Virginia’s artisans? Think again.
Written by Shay Maunz
Etsy is a behemoth in the world of makers. The online marketplace for artists and craftspeople has more than 30 million members. Think of it as Amazon’s funkier, more personable cousin. It’s the place you go to sell the stuff you make in your home studio in the mountains—or at your kitchen table in the suburbs—to an international audience.
We all know West Virginia is home to a ton of great, talented artisans, but it’s more than just the people whose work you see at Tamarack. Turns out, there are plenty of artists in the state with thriving Etsy businesses, making hundreds of sales every year or even every month. Here’s just a sampling of what they have to offer.
Although Katie Poore has worked in lots of mediums including painting, printmaking, and collage, it was a post-art school job at a bead store that had the most influence on her work. “I began what turned into a gigantic and never-ending collection of stones and beads and wires and techniques and kept going until I started Violetfly in 2009,” she says. Poore and her husband live on an old farm outside Charleston where they grow their own food and live off the land—albeit with Wi-Fi, electricity, and gas-powered machinery. She converted a room on top of the root cellar into a studio, and when she’s not working on the farm she toils away up there, making and designing modern, delicate pieces of jewelry with clean, pretty lines. Since she started selling her work on Etsy, brick-and-mortar stores from all over the world—think Paris, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, and Chicago—have found Poore’s work and started to carry it. “The main thing I have found is that if you have a cohesive and quality line that you present with beautiful pictures, it will speak for itself and find its way out into the vast world of the Internet,” she says.
Amber Kantes started crafting with Perler Beads, or “melty beads,” when she was in grade school—along with an entire generation of kids who grew up in the early 2000s. But unlike most of those kids, she rediscovered the beads a decade later when she was packing for college and found an old set in the closet. She started using the beads to make her own designs, inspired by retro video games. Four years later, Kantes has sold more than 2,700 of her creations on Etsy. “While there are so many aspects of the craft that I love, I think my favorite part is it makes me feel like a kid again and helps me relive my childhood every day,” she says.
Three years ago Sheila Mace started a series of bold, bright dog paintings, and she has found an audience for them on Etsy. Mace plans to paint 100 dog breeds in her signature style. She’s done 29 so far. “I’m an animal lover and enjoy giving my paintings expression and a spark of life,” she says.
Each of Megan Brown’s pieces starts with a live flower. She presses each one, sets it in resin, and places it inside a bezel, creating a pendant with a floating piece of flora in the center. Brown was always crafty, but jewelry making became her favorite creative outlet when she learned it several years ago. She started her Etsy shop in 2010 so she could sell her pieces. It’s really taken off since her mother-in-law gave her a flower-pressing kit as a gift and she started her botanical line. “It does feel good to know that I’m bringing people joy while representing our state and myself with these little pieces of art,” Brown says.
A few years ago Erin McClure wanted to sew a rag doll for her two-year-old daughter and went looking online for a pattern. A Google search led her to fellow crafters on Etsy, and she began making dolls with their patterns. “I got better at it and started making them for gifts and then it blossomed from there,” she says. “I really never considered myself crafty until I started sewing, and that sparked my interest in other things.” Now McClure, a stay-at-home mom, sells dolls, purses, and jewelry in her shop.
“I’ve always used a planner—whether or not I actually needed it,” says Misty Oberlin. “And I’m never happy with anything until I put my own personal stamp on it, so decorating and accessorizing my planners was like second nature.” When she posted her designs in a Facebook group for planner enthusiasts, requests started rolling in, and she decided to start an Etsy shop. She works on it in her free time away from her day job in human resources. “It’s exhilarating,” she says. “Having my own small creative business is a dream come true.”
Cathy Chany is an avid gardener and loves all things fantastical. A few years ago, she started to combine the two by making garden statues for fairy gardens, things like little doors only big enough for a fairy. “I like to walk along a garden path and come upon little fantasy pieces tucked here and there—a fairy door, a rabbit, or baby dragons,” she says. Chaney is recently retired and lives in a remote area. She wanted to put her creative impulses to use to make some extra money, but didn’t have any local outlets to sell her wares. Then she found Etsy. Since 2013, Chaney has made more than 1,000 sales. “Each item I create has to pass my inspection before shipping,” she says. “Each piece is special to me, so I want it to be special for the buyer, too.”