- Meet Our Artisans
Meet Our Artisans
The Alleghany Highlands offers an extraordinary quality of life for its residents and an exceptional range of opportunities for visitors. The Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism strives to enhance both by fostering a healthy business environment and promoting economic growth.
The Chamber is the unifying voice for businesses in Clifton Forge, Covington, Selma, Iron Gate, Low Moor and other parts of Alleghany County, as well as neighboring communities that do business in the Alleghany Highlands.
The Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Toursim offices and public information centers are located in the Mallow Mall, Exit 16 off I-64.
Brenda Bartocci was raised in the Midwest, but moved here for her husband’s job at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College. They have lived in the Alleghany Highlands for over 25 years and have raised four sons in the mountains of Virginia."It is our home, and we love it." Bartocci says she has been "quilting as a hobby for 30 years and have watched the quilting industry change immensely. Quilting styles have something for everyone from Traditional to Modern. It consumes my spare time and my spare bedroom. I am often working on a project and planning the next in my head." We see something unique from her on this Artisan site, "I started making bowls from batik fabric and clothesline as another aspect of my love of sewing and quilting. The local True Value Hardware store probably wonders how a gal can be in need of so much clothesline every year. I also make all sizes of quilts and concurrently have several projects in various stages of completion. So blessed to spend time doing what I love."
For Cathi Quinn, it all started with a doodle, but what a doodle! Quinn began to develop her signature colorful abstract designs early in life. She says "drawing goes back to my childhood when I could not express myself in words. I drew and colored on any type of blank paper." About thirty years ago, another difficult time in her life, Quinn remembered the comfort of those drawings and returned to "the process, except using quality paper."
Her process: "I get in a quiet place and mediatate, the one line goes into another." She has exchanged the crayons of childhood for pastel pencils and quality paper. Her designs have matured through practice and consultation with art professionals, but Quinn is quick to include that "it was important for me to have fun doing it" which happened "when I stopped comparing myself to other artists."
Cathi Quinn is one of those lucky people who, in their retirement, are still enjoing their childhood. She has lived in the Alleghany Highlands her entire life.
Chuck was a commercial photographer in San Francisco when he was sidetracked by a career in computers. But it all came together with the advent of digital photography and a move to the Alleghany Highlands in 1989. He has owned and operated Kid Pix Photography in Clifton Forge since 1995, and opened Fire and Light Gallery in 2010. He teaches photography at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College and Blue Ridge Community College and at the Clifton Forge School of the Arts. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Photography at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, CA, and a Master’s Degree in Digital Photography from The School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Cyndy prefers a one-fire technique in which the pot is formed and glazed , then fired. Sometimes pots can be completed in 10 days, many however take several weeks. Leather-hard pieces get another coat of slip for added form and texture. Wood fired pieces can take several months to completion. Each piece is unique. Most of Cyndy's pieces are fired in an electric kiln, but she occasionally uses a wood-fired kiln. The appearance of the pots and glazes differ by the firing method.
"My glazes are sprayed on in as many as seven layers using gravity-fed automotive spray guns. The glaze colors selected are influenced by many of the panoramic views found in Alleghany County. Tones of reds, greens, and blues reflect the regions surrounding my studio including the wilderness making up Rich Hole and Rough Mountain and the Cowpasture River dividing these two mountainous ranges. "
Cyndy, a high school teacher, lives in Clifton Forge with her husband Rob, a native of Alleghany County. She has studied pottery or attended workshops with Jim Hanger in Staunton, VA; Lee Taylor, Lexington, VA; Steven Hill, Tennesee; and Josh Manning from Floyd County, VA.
George Ayars began working in stained glass in 1974 and has been teaching it for over 35 years. In 2009 he moved to the Covington, VA area. He teaches a variety of art glass classes at the Clifton Forge School of the Arts, including traditional foil and lead came construction, fusing, lampshades, beadwork and glass mosaics. He has also taught classes on many practical applications of glass work, including design, marketing, repair and installation. As a guest instructor he has travelled across the US, and written for various glass art publications. He enjoyed his own full-time studio in Burlington, NC for 6 years, before returning to his home state of Michigan to manage a major art glass supplier and oversee its educational programs.
George and his wife, Robin – also an accomplished glass artist – own an alpaca farm on Potts Creek. Most of George’s work uses his own original designs, often taking inspiration from the tremendous natural beauty of the Alleghany Highlands. George says “Life on the farm continues to deepen my appreciation of nature, a life in harmony with land and livestock, the timeless rhythms of nature and its changing seasons.”
Glen has been a metalworker and blacksmith for the better part of 40 years. Some of his larger projects can be seen in the Alleghany Highlands: the sign for the C&O Railway Heritage Center; the fence and decorative gate around Virginia Landscaping & Supply; the ornate door handles at Jack Mason’s Tavern; and the entry sign for the CSX Railroad office. His smaller works may be less noticeable but they also reflect his artistry and craftsmanship.
Jackson River Enterprises is a non-profit that has provided day activities and work for over 50 years for the people of the Alleghany Highlands who are challenged by disabilities. JRE has helped to increase the work skills, social skills and independence of people with intellectual delays, mental illnesses, emotional issues, physical disabilities, autism and traumatic brain injuries. JRE currently employs about 40 people with disabilities, people who would otherwise struggle to find employment.
Jackson River Baskets are handmade right here on site. From cutting the base, to the final weaving of the rope, every basket is artfully crafted by individuals participating in JRE's job training and employment programs.
When Judith Sivonda made a trip to the Blue Ridge three years ago to visit the only soapstone quarry currently operating in the US, she knew she had the “Green option” she had been looking for in her quest for soapstone. Most soapstone purchased in the US and Canada is actually quarried in Brazil and exported to Ontario before being transported to the eastern US. But this dark gray stone was uniquely Virginia and became a new favorite when it was added to her supply of alabasters from Colorado and Utah, Indiana limestone and varied marble.
Judith is an instructor at the Clifton Forge School of the Arts and maintains a classroom/studio in the historic Wholesale Grocers building owned by the school. She says she started casting and carving in plaster more than 45 years ago. She studied stone carving as an undergraduate at Hartford Art School, (Connecticut). She retired from the New Haven public schools, where she was an art teacher, in 2009. She and husband, Stephen, attracted by the natural beauty of the mountains and streams, moved south to the Alleghany Highlands.
Karen Brown's baskets, ornaments, and other useful handmade items are created from pliable materials. "I use anything that is pliable (vines, wire, ribbon, yarn, bark) along with Basketry reed from the bamboo plant, a renewable resource. I begin by designing the object to be made. The materials are chosen and measured, soaked, and woven to create the desired product. The item is given time to dry before applying stain made with Alleghany black walnuts. When the item is dry a thin coat of linseed oil is applied for protection."
Jewelry design is a bringing together of precious metals and stone from earth's past with natural materials from the present. I usually begin with a rock I have dug or have purchased. At this stage the material is referred to as "rough". The rough is clamped in a rock saw called a slab saw that is lubricated with cutting oil. Slabs are cut from the rough. Next an outline of a trim saw to remove excess material. The stone is then further trimmed and polished on a water-cooled grinding machine or carved by various carving tools to produce a cabochon.
When working with gold, I begin with commercially produced nuggets called casting grain. These are melted in a crucible and the molten metal is poured into a mold to form an ingot. The ingot is then worked into the required shape and thickness by use of a rolling mill and draw plate. Using the sheet and wire thus produced, I fabricate a setting manipulating it and soldering as necessary. Because of the high cost of gold, the challenge is to produce a setting using the least amount of metal while providing sufficient strength as well as an aesthetic appearance. After the major forming work has been completed, the entire setting is polished to remove tool marks. The stones are then 'set' using the prongs I have fashioned to hold them.
Since silver is much less expensive than gold, I can maintain an inventory of various shapes and sizes of manufactured sheet, wire, bezel, tubing, etc. with which to work. There is less concern about the amount of metal used, thus cabochons are frequently minted on a silver sheet (bottom) and held in place by a bezel (side) soldered to the sheet. Reticulation is a process of heating metal (in this case, sterling silver) to the point where it begins to draw itself into ridges and valleys and takes on a wrinkled texture. The trick is to stop heating before the wrinkles become a puddle.
Faceted stones are usually cut from higher grade and harder material than are cabochons and are usually translucent to transparent. Setting them requires the use of prongs (rather than bezels) to permit more light to reach the stone. Faceting is a specialized form of shaping stones requiring a precise control of the cutting angle. It is a time consuming endeavor and an art form in itself. For my designs I use commerically faceted stones for all sizes less than 6mm.
Larger and unusually shaped rough becomes a personal challenge worth the time. Frequently I will use natural materials such as pearls, shell, coral, wood, bone or antler as well as beads fashioned from stone or glass. Regardless of the materials used, the goal is to create a functional and pleasing piece of wearable art - the kind where the clothes are the accessory, not the other way around.
Growing up I had plenty of curiosity, loved making all sorts of stuff and decorated whatever I could find. Eventually I discovered the near total absorption of painting. Some days even planning a painting helps makes sense of things; it can focus and ease the impact of outside events, express what I can’t quite verbalize. I relish experimenting with different techniques and materials, but try to remember that less can sometimes mean more. Often I channel the flow of images into a series. If I keep several pieces going at once they can inform and impact each other.
Light and skies fascinate me as much as when I found shapes looking up at clouds and trees. There is something almost magical about the act of capturing what draws me to a landscape, whether it is what we often see or a small unexpected spot. I’m attracted to the simple and complex and when I’ m on the road, I find my painters eye using the windshield as a “frame.”
At other times abstraction provides a way to explore composition with color and shape, value, texture, and line. I’m excited by the challenge of diagonals and arranging shapes, the interaction between hard and soft edges and the range of found and created texture. What happens when I make this line, choose that color? Working non-objectively can mirror something deep or playful. Some pieces are an outgrowth of the representational world, sometimes they are more internally driven.
“The Great What If?" is seductive but there is a need for some objectivity and control to balance that exuberance. I relish the on-going dance between what should happen and what actually does. Do I alter what I see? What if I stay with the flow of materials through my head to my heart and hand? Balancing creative time with the other parts of work and life can be a challenge, but those brushes feed me somewhere down deep. There’s always another side of the paper, canvas to gesso, and the drawer of collage bits when I need to cut and paste. Not much has changed-I still want to do it all.
Troy Cottrell was born in the Alleghany Highlands, but his school years were spent in Baltimore. Where was home? At age sixteen, upon graduation from high school, he packed his van and came home to the Highlands. Here he put his hands on wood in the construction trade and hasn’t put it down since. Like his father and step-father, Troy is a self-taught wood worker. His pieces are made from locally harvested trees of oak, sassafras, walnut, cherry, hickory, ash and others that he finds. Troy and his wife are an example of the kind-hearted people you will find if you come for a visit. They have made a home here for their children; biological children, adopted children, and more than twenty foster children.