Real Appalachia

Caitlin Tan

In March, West Virginia saw 90,000 unemployment claims. In a typical month the state averages 5,000. According to the U.S. Labor Department, one of the industries hit the hardest nationwide is arts and entertainment — a sector that depends heavily on social events, something that is nearly impossible during the coronavirus pandemic.

We recently spoke with West Virginian artists to see how they are coping, and we wanted to check in with the Tamarack Foundation For The Arts, which directly supports nearly 2,000 artists in the state. They have recently promoted their interactive newsletter to help West Virginian artists still feel a sense of community.

Susan Brown and Jenny Bardwell

Kerri Namolik lives in Shepherdstown, W.Va. with her husband and two daughters. She is an assistant professor for Blue Ridge Community and Technical College and is working from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

But like many parents, she has also found herself homeschooling her two girls – Scarlett and Lilah – and using baking as a way to implement some math.


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For the past two years, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia team has been working on a folkways project that focuses on artisans and craftsmen within Appalachia.

For many of these people, their art or craft is their primary income, and a lot of them depend on social events, like concerts, farmers markets and craft fairs. In this new world of coronavirus and social distancing, that is proving difficult.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For the past few months, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia Folkways Project has cultivated a connection between two groups of people thousands of miles away — high schools in Lincoln County, West Virginia and in Merthyr Tydfill, Wales.


Storyteller Uses Song To Inspire Children To Learn About Nature

Mar 13, 2020
Credit Saro Lynch-Thomason

These days, kids are spending less time exploring the outdoors and more time in front of screens.

A 2019 report by the independent non-profit Common Sense Media found that on average, 8-to-12 year-olds in the United States spend approximately five hours on entertainment screen media every day. But numerous studies show that time outside is great for kids, helping them reduce stress and stay healthy. 


Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Old-time music is a large part of West Virginia’s heritage – it is the folk music of the state. And although it has now gained the popularity of people from all over the world, hundreds of years ago it was isolated within Appalachian communities. However, as it gains traction, some people think the uniqueness is lost. 

In a special report exploring folkways traditions, as part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, Caitlin Tan explores the master-apprentice relationship in the old-time music community.


A Little Daytona In Ona

Feb 21, 2020
Lexi Browning / for WVPB

Ona, West Virginia is a town with two stop lights, but it’s also a place where legends are made. 

Greg Sigler has been racing at Ona Speedway for nearly two decades. But today, he’s coaching his 15-year-old son, Cole, from the sidelines, using a headset that lets them talk back and forth. Cole, who drives a white 2006 Cobalt sporting the number 99, has just embarked on his own racing career. It’s his first time behind the wheel of a car.  


Mason Adams / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On any given Friday night, a parade of customized cars and trucks cruise from north to south and back again on Williamson Road in Roanoke, Virginia. 

Modified with neon lights, spinning rims and streamlined spoilers, these vehicles do not necessarily scream “folk tradition”—but they are just the modern version of a long-running Appalachian tradition. 

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In rural Preston County, West Virginia, potter Mel Sword’s house is located at the end of a gravel road, near a road called "Wildflower Way" and a creek that feeds into the Cheat River. His home nestles rolling fields of green grass, and behind that are mounds of dirt, clay that to Sword is half the reason he bought this property about ten years ago.

Caitlin Tan / WVPB

Deep within the mountains of central West Virginia, is a tiny village called Helvetia. It was originally founded by Swiss settlers in the mid-1800s, as they felt the steep mountains, thick forests, winding river, all resembled their homeland.


Hands holding Oxheart tomato
Rachel Greene

In Appalachia, organizations like seed libraries and community gardens are helping to save traditional heirloom vegetables from being lost. Sometimes, the seeds are found in unexpected places like when Travis Birdsell visited the barn of an Ashe County farmer in 2017.


There, he found tomato seeds smeared on the side of an old grocery store sack.

 

“All the words said were 'Big Red,'” Birdsell said.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia’s Mountaineer Heritage Hunting season began Jan 9, two weeks after most hunting seasons have closed. It is the second year since its conception, and most notably, it is limited to primitive weapons - like flintlock muzzle loader rifles. 


The 66th Mountaineer, Timmy Eads, in the 2019 WVU Homecoming parade.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia University’s mascot, the Mountaineer, is a big deal in the state. In fact, fans are called ‘Mountaineer Nation.’ West Virginians have long identified with the mascot as it symbolizes independence, strength and curiosity -- a true frontiersman attitude. 


Wetzel County Workshop Keeps Folk Toys Alive

Dec 20, 2019
Zack Harold / For Inside Appalachia

  When I was a kid, the thing that intrigued me most about Santa wasn’t the beard, or the flying reindeer, or the repeated breaking and entering. No — I was fascinated by his workshop. I loved to imagine the elves working tirelessly to make toys that would end up under Christmas trees around the world.

But you know, I never once imagined the elves making the season’s hottest toys. 

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Flea markets are a common feature across rural landscapes, especially in Appalachia. If you have never been, there is typically something for everyone, and one West Virginian artist is turning the unique finds into art. 

“Sometimes it’s the imagery. A portion of my work has an industrial aspect to it, and I don’t mean just the materials, but the imagery,” Robert Villamagna said.


The Hale Family sing at the WV Mountain State Gospel Convention in June 2019.  Photo by Zack Harold
Zack Harold / For Inside Appalachia


There’s a place in southern West Virginia that many consider holy ground. For nearly 70 years, gospel music fans have gathered on this mountaintop just south of Summersville Lake for weekend concerts featuring singers from all over West Virginia and its surrounding states.

This is the annual West Virginia Mountain State Southern Gospel Convention

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia folklore includes many alien and monster-like characters, such as Mothman, Big Foot and the Yeti. One such monster has made a big resurgence in the past few years, becoming a part of the state’s pop culture.


Courtesy of Lacy Hale

Scavenger. Trash animal. Chicken killer. Hero. People here in Appalachia have lots of feelings when it comes oppossums — or "possums" as some people call them. A town in Harlan County, Kentucky found this out first-hand when they decided to feature a possum on a mural in their downtown.

It was a clear, sunny day in May and Lacy Hale was putting the finishing touches on a mural destined for a brick wall in downtown Harlan, Kentucky.


Love And Tradition Passed Down Through A Guitar

Sep 27, 2019
John Nakashima/ WVPB

Mill Point is a blink-and-you'll miss it wide spot off the twisty mountain roads of Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  It's also the home of Bill Hefner, a luthier who isn't just making guitars, he's passing his tradition of meticulous craftmanship down to the next generation.


How Fly Fishing Saved a Veteran's Life

Aug 30, 2019
Mason Adams / WVPB

Army veteran Kyle Chanitz spent two and a half years deployed in Afghanistan, where he saw intense fighting and suffered concussions that led to seizures. When he returned to the U.S., he started taking college classes, but then dropped out to follow the jam band Phish around the country.

He spent 18 months on the road, got into drugs and spiraled out of control. 

Caitlin Tan

Greasy pepperoni rolls, pungent ramps, sweet apple butter, shaggy Big Foot, scruffy Mothman – these are all symbols that represent West Virginia. Local treasures that began from traditions and legends from long ago that are getting a modern flare, thanks to a graphic design artist in Morgantown.

Liz Pavlovic’s business “Liz Pavlovic Design and Illustrations” recreates West Virginia’s mementos with an endearing modern, cartoonish flare.