Mary Helton was a Rich Valley craftsperson who cut white oak trees down with an axe and dragged them back to her front yard where she split them into splints for her basket-making. In this picture, her pet hen watches her work as she sits on her front porch.
Charter member Harvey James loved to tinker with wood and corn cobs, creating whimsy diddles, "Jumping Jacks," corn cob pipes, and other traditional toys and walking sticks. Retired from working in a hardware store, he took the young co-op organizers under his wing and helped them build display furniture for the craft store in his shop on Fruit Hill in Abingdon.
We are a non-profit crafts co-operative with members who live within a 50 mile radius of Abingdon, an historic town in the Appalachian Mountains of far southwest Virginia. Our artisans follow both contemporary and traditional styles.
Holston Mountain Artisans began as the Holston Mountain Arts and Crafts Cooperative in the spring of 1971. The leaders were Rees Shearer, sponsored by a small group of Methodist churches in Washington County, Virginia, and Eric Reese, who worked for the Progressive Community Club, which later became People Inc. Their goal was to findtalented local craftspeople and help them sell their wares for a reasonable rate, while educating the public on the value of handwork. At this time hand-sewn bed quilts were going for just $35.00 and white-oak split baskets for $10.00.
About 20 craftspeople, eager to make some extra income and have their handwork appreciated, joined the cooperative for their first venture: exhibiting for one week at the annual Virginia Highlands Festival in Abingdon, Virginia. It was here that they were discovered by Barter Theatre’s director, Robert Porterfield, who offered them the use of his Main Street property, the Cave House. The co-op members were thrilled and set to work renovating the beautiful old building, which had been vacant for many years, to use as a shop and place to hold craft demonstrations.
From this point on the cooperative grew to its current membership of over 160. In 2010, the business moved to its present location in the old Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 214 Park Street in Abingdon, where it continues to present the finest in traditional and contemporary crafts and art.