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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Come Buy Our Pots

When I was young, one of the vacation excursions that seemed to be in the plans of all European-American adults was to travel out west. There they would stay in flea-infested hotels with broken air conditioning, take a picture of a cactus, pretend to enjoy the frijoles, and sweat profusely in the hot sun. And they would make the obligatory journey to Window Rock, Arizona to buy a genuine Navajo rug from an honest-to-God Navajo princess.

As a young and relatively stupid youth, the thought never crossed my mind that it might have been a good idea for one of the thousands of visitors who stopped by the dingy, dilapidated shack the princess was working out of to offer her valuable advice: Move to Phoenix. Get a decent job cleaning rooms at the Holiday Inn. They have a healthcare plan. And you can get away from this hellhole.

Fast-forward to 2005. No, wait. Step back in time to Southwest Virginia.

Here we are developing plans to lure elderly European-Americans with disposable income to come here to buy our pots. Beads. For all I know, genuine Navajo rugs.
Southwest Virginia sets sights on arts
Towns hope to draw artists to the area and in turn boost tourism
BY REX BOWMAN, Richmond Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

FLOYD -- Already making big strides in promoting eco-tourism and music-based tourism, communities in Southwest Virginia are now turning their sights on "heritage tourism," looking to find ways to bolster Appalachian craftspeople and their products.

Specifically, officials hope to emulate the success of North Carolina's HandMade in America, a coalition of artists, craftspeople and civic leaders that in the past decade has turned the making of hand-crafted products into a booming sector of the economy and lured tourists into the western part of the Tar Heel State.

In Virginia this month, a group called the Southwest Virginia Artisans Network formed to help craftspeople learn business and marketing skills and to showcase their works. The group, funded by $195,000 from the General Assembly, plans to pattern its approach after Virginia's Crooked Road -- a year-old 250-mile trail linking and promoting musical landmarks and venues from Clintwood to Floyd and Ferrum. The road immediately boosted tourism in Southwest Virginia, according to local tourism officials. (
A lesson I learned in graduate school (and from the woman selling rugs in Window Rock) is that when you have nothing else going for you, try selling crap to tourists.
This week in Floyd County, already known for its vibrant arts and crafts community [as well as average annual income per wage earner of $17,023, average home values $45000 below the state average, and with 11.7% of the population living below the poverty line], local officials played host to HandMade in America's Craft Advisory Council, which brought craftspeople from Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia together at the Chateau Morrisette winery.
But did they spend any money in Floyd while they were there? Probably not. How could they? There aren't any real businesses there anymore. Unless you include the pottery shops run by the dope-smoking artsy craftsy ménage that have migrated there to sell their worthless trash to those seven unsuspecting tourists that pass through the area each day.
Participants discussed ways of encouraging the crafts as a tourism attraction and economic engine.
They also discussed ways of making genuine Navajo rugs out of the polyester / acrylic blended ones imported from Singapore that you can buy over at the Wal-Mart.

Look. If you enjoy sipping the latest fruit of the vine and listening to transplants from Buffalo strumming their mandolins, more power to you. Floyd County should be your vacation destination.

But for all the folks in Southwest Virginia who are seeking gainful employment, and a better future for their children, selling beads on the side of the road isn't going to work. They need employers who will pay a decent wage for a day's work. They need healthcare benefits for their family. And a dental plan, if I'm making a wishlist. Here's the problem:
The numerous Appalachian residents [sure they are] who sculpt, paint, turn pottery and make baskets, brooms, fiddles, quilts, leatherworks and sundry other products constitute an "invisible factory," helping to replace disappearing manufacturing and textile jobs, according to proponents of the crafts movement.
Making "baskets, brooms, fiddles, quilts, leatherworks and sundry other products" is going to replace manufacturing jobs.

We're doomed. For those who have stuck it out this long, call U-haul first thing Monday morning. I hear they're hiring up in Duluth.

For those of you who plan on sticking it out, do what I'm doing. I've gotten myself a wig from the Wal-Mart, bought some mocassins and this fashionable leather dress (that accentuates my fake bust) from a hippy over in Floyd County, and I'm learning to weave genuine Navajo rugs.

You can call me Princess Havpityonme, genuine Navajo native, from now on. I'm riding the wave to success, baby.