We had the great opportunity to visit the small, mountain community of Big Ugly, West Virginia. Named for the Big Ugly Creek that runs through the narrow valley in which the community is established, Big Ugly is located in a beautiful and remote part of the country. The nearest grocery store, library and movie theater are at least 40 minutes away by car, but the local non-profit, Step By Step has managed to remodel the old elementary school into a community center. The community center acts as the hub for all of the numerous community related activities that Step By Step administers.
We partnered with Step By Step and led a Friday after-school workshop with local kindergarten through high school students. A broommaking workshop let the kids try their hand at making mini-brooms, as Chelsea Blakely, sophomore Berea College student, demonstrated traditional Appalachian broomcraft then coached the students in winding and wrapping the brooms. Martha Savage, senior at Berea College, demonstrated pottery on the wheel then led a ceramic whistle making workshop. Many of the kids had never seen either of the crafts and were captivated by the demonstrations and excited about the workshops. They asked questions about art, the materials, and the techniques used to create the crafts. Both demonstrators not only spoke about their craft, but also got the opportunity to share their Berea College story with the high school seniors that were in attendance.
On Saturday, Chelsea and Martha were joined by Stella Miller, senior weaver, and Jen Schwika, junior wood turner. The demonstrators set up in the community center to demonstrate during the annual community Thanksgiving meal. The interacted with many members of the community, met the director of Step By Step and shared the story of Berea College’s crafting tradition. Again, many of the community had never had the opportunity to view any of the crafts being demonstrated and were very curious about the crafts and Berea College.
Big Ugly Community was a fantastic learning experience, both for the community and the Berea College student demonstrators involved. We were given an invitation to return next year, one that we are happy to accept!