back-to-the-land history, west virginia

Exerpt from: How native West Virginians took in hippies, and passed on their art 


Around the same time, Seaton said, the second issue of a magazine called Mother Earth News carried an article about a man who said he paid $29 an acre for land in Lincoln County.

“Well that’s all it took,” she said. “It’s beautiful, it’s remote and it’s cheap. What else could you want?”

Seaton said the young pioneers rejuvenated West Virginia’s crafts, which had survived extinctions that killed other states’ traditions. The Industrial Revolution’s manufactured goods destroyed crafts in most of the country, she said.

“But in West Virginia, and in Appalachia, the guy with the wagon couldn’t get up those hollers,” Seaton said. She said that preservation of crafts was good for West Virginia but made residents appear backward. In the early 1900s, settlement schools sprung up to teach crafts in a way that would appeal to the outer world. But the Great Depression killed these schools.

Later the back-to-the-landers arrived and took up the artistic heritage. Since they were from outside West Virginia, they were more willing to innovate their art and travel outside the state to sell. Seaton added that the government of West Virginia, more than governments in other states, supported crafts as a way to draw tourists.

Seaton said the “hippie homesteaders” helped establish and continue to be an overwhelming part of Tamarack, a state craft show, and the public radio music program “Mountain Stage.” She suggested their story is the reverse of the usual tale of a native West Virginia leaving to find notoriety.

“These people came here; they were willing to live the West Virginia lifestyle, and a hardscrabble one at that, and they still became successful,” she said.


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