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They are as different as, say, the next five or six people you’d meet on the street. And yet they have joined forces — and stayed joined for seven years — to promote a common goal.
That goal is to support and encourage each other in their creative work, and to share the labor and rewards of marketing it.
They are songwriters and potters, calligraphers and artists; they produce cut-paper art and unique lampshades, turned wooden bowls, and woolen rugs and mats.
Some are men and some are women and as for their ages, well, the only thing they’re telling about that is, they’re all old enough to have learned their skills and practiced them enough to be considered masters of their art.
In fact, that’s one of the things that brought this particular group together as Grayson County Artisans in 2003, and it’s one of the ideas that defines the group.
“We’re a non-profit group of highly qualified production craftsmen and artists,” said Terry Clark, woodturner and founding member.
Asked to explain what that means, artist Kathye Mendes said, “It means someone who takes his craft seriously, one who is willing to take extra time and effort to produce a quality product, and one who is willing to keep growing in his art, to keep getting better.”
“One who can do the job, on time, under budget, and consistently produce a beautiful, individual product,” added Joyce Rouse. Rouse is a singer/songwriter who lived and worked in Nashville for 20 years before retuning to Grayson County.
From her home and office in Independence, Rouse works as “EarthMama,” performing and educating audiences about environmental issues as well as crafting and recording music.
“It’s someone who loves her art or craft so much she continues to create it through good times and bad… persevering until she reaches mastery,” said Michael Floyd. “Sometimes it takes a lifetime of dedication.”
Like most of the other members of Grayson Artisans, Floyd and his wife, Jane, are “Graysonites by choice.” The Floyds moved here in 1979 “for the beauty of the mountains.”
Michael explains how they started their careers as makers of unique lampshades and other paper art by saying, “Jane grew up making things, with a crafty mother, and it was only natural for her to continue the tradition.”
Clark arrived in western Grayson County by “marrying a local,” but the area’s rich wealth of trees — the raw material of his work — was also a draw, as was his perception of a greater appreciation for crafts here than in his native Midwest.
Mendes thinks the feeling that traditional farmers have for their work is similar to what people who came to this area to be craftsmen and artists feel.
“It’s like the farmer who loves being his own boss and doing what he loves to do. We also love being our own bosses, and we do what we love doing… working with our hands, producing something of quality. It’s the same concept, and it’s just in us, farmers and craftsmen alike.”
Before they came together as a group, each of the members of Grayson Artisans was working in relative solitude. Although many of them prefer to produce their art or craft in quiet, they all eventually found that there are some valuable things from being in a group.
“Listening to everyone’s ideas and taking the best one, or the one that benefits the entire group,” said Mendes.
“Getting to know the other artists and having a feeling of camaraderie. We support each other in our creative endeavors.”
“There’s always someone there to ‘Pump You Up!’” Clark interrupted with a laugh.
“A group gives strength as we work toward a common goal,” Mendes continued. “Together we can accomplish what would be difficult for one person.”
Rouse agreed. “To use a metaphor from nature, it’s cross-pollination…We are all creative personalities working in different mediums, and we each get a little “pollen” from the others. We’re new and improved, every time we meet!”
David Hoffman, who with his wife Sherry owns and operates Hoffman Pottery, has a more business-like view: “Obviously, we all agree that.. [working together] helps us leverage our efforts in getting the word out [that the artisans have work for sale]. …The benefits of joining together outweigh any possible negative results of competing against one another.
“We are aware that each of us occupies his own niche and even in the case of two people working in the same media, we are not direct competitors. We can generate enthusiasm and recognition in the community as a group that we can’t as individuals.”
The hope of bringing something good to their chosen home is another common bond among Grayson Artisans.
Their goals include contributing to a sense of community, making a return on the years-ago investments by the Twin County Arts Council and Etoile Berry at the Rooftop of Virginia Crafts Shop in Galax, and offering formal and informal classes and helping arts programs in area schools.
The artisans are proud of their various products and of the role they are just now realizing they have played in bringing the area to it current level of art production and appreciation.
Individually, their work is on display in galleries and corporate venues across the United States.
(“A friend sent us a Hoffman vase as a gift last year, that they’d purchased in a shop in California. They had no idea the Hoffmans are our neighbors.”)
It is being used in educational programs regionally and beyond. (A Rouse song has recently been translated into Maori and is being used in school programs in New Zealand.)
Most of the Grayson Artisans are or will be contributing, in multiple ways, to the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts.
But perhaps the most direct change the artisans can both see and have helped create in the local arts and crafts scene was described humorously by Terry Clark: “When I moved here in the late ‘70’s, most of the arts and crafts industry was the mom and pop type.
“You know, Granny made sock moneys in the kitchen by the wood stove, worked long hours and received little for her efforts. She was a skilled craftsman, but she didn’t think of herself as such.
“Nowadays, producers are, by and large, serious artisans who know how to market and produce efficiently. They’re usually well-educated and have chosen this way of life over a more conventional lifestyle.
“What they produce is more sophisticated, and can take its place on the world art stage without explanation. Our work is no longer distinguished as that quaint little thing from the cabin in the holler. It’s work that is informed by its heritage and setting, and it’s good.”
Grayson County Artisans
5th Annual Studio Tour
Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday noon-6 p.m.
• Woodworker Terry Clark
• Paper artists and creators of botanical lampshades Mike and Jane Floyd
• Potters Sherry and David Hoffman
• Calligrapher Kate Irwin
• Artist Kathye Mendes
• Musician/songwriter Joyce Rouse
Guest Artists — Kathleen Hill, Richard Weigand, Ellie Kirby, Janet Braithwaite, Gerald Anderson and Spencer Strickland
Call 773-3546 or visit www.graysonartisans.com
Brochures with maps of the studios’ locations are available at the 1908 Courthouse in Independence.
• Editor’s note: The writer of this article is the spouse of artisan Terry Clark, who is among the featured artisans.