Zack Harold

writer/editor

In Search of the Stone Man

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of WV Living magazine.

Russ Jones navigates the woods with an ease that only comes through vast experience. His running shoes do not lose their footing on this steep, unmarked trail in Kanawha State Forest. As a certified Master Naturalist, he readily spots animal tracks and identifies birdsong, and he can name just about any plant he finds while also ticking off the bugs that like to munch on it. He’s seen just about everything there is to see in the woods. But this morning, Jones is in pursuit of something he’s never seen.

Russ Jones is looking for Bigfoot.

He doesn’t really expect to come nose-to-nose with Sasquatch in broad daylight in a popular state park. It’s more accurate to say he’s looking for evidence of Bigfoot. Jones is a local investigator for the Bigfoot Field Research Organization, a 20-year-old group made famous by Animal Planet’s Finding Bigfoot. The group has received several reports of encounters in Kanawha State Forest, so Jones is looking for places to stash his top-of-the-line field cameras to catch photos of the fabled beast.

The trail levels off, giving us a brief respite from the steep climb. Then Jones notices something a few yards in front of him. Something that shouldn’t be there.

For the Record

Russ Jones has never seen a Bigfoot, but he has on five occasions found what he believes are Bigfoot tracks. “I don’t mean a smudge in the ground. I mean a clear track, with toes,” he says. The first time, he was a boy in southern Ohio and knew nothing about Bigfoot. He was walking in the woods with his uncle shortly after a snowstorm. They came to a cave and found a print in the snow that looked like it had been made by a human’s bare foot. “We thought maybe some druggie found that cave to get out of a storm.” Years later, after Bigfoot research became his passion, Jones saw it differently.

He also thinks he has heard a Bigfoot a few times. Recently, Jones was hiking with his wife, Cheryl, near Thurmond in the New River Gorge. He heard four “wood knocks” from across the river. Bigfoot researchers believe the creatures bang pieces of wood together to communicate. There were no Bigfoot to be seen, however, when Jones reached the location of the noises an hour and a half later.

Most of his Bigfoot experiences have come vicariously. Following up on reports of encounters in West Virginia or Ohio on the BFRO website, Jones has talked to policemen, teachers, nurses, and prominent politicians. “If someone said, ‘What’s the most shocking thing about Bigfoot?’ I’d say it’s the witnesses. They’re so ordinary,” he says.

Scrolling through recent reports in his Dunbar chiropractic office during a lunch break, Jones finds one witness who reports working on a deer stand deep in the woods when he noticed something odd—banging noises rang through the air long after his hammer stopped. Later that day the man heard something large moving through the trees, although he was certain no other humans were anywhere near, and he smelled a musty, body odor-like stench.

Jones decides this account is credible, as much for what the witness wrote as how he wrote it. “This guy knows how to spell. His grammar’s really good. He knows where to use commas. I think it’s important to evaluate the context of a report.” Jones’ standards for credibility have risen over time. And for good reason. “When you make a remarkable claim, remarkable evidence is required,” he says.

Burden of Proof

The woods are quiet as Jones approaches a faded blue object near a sapling, now just a few feet away. It’s a Dora the Explorer sippy cup. He picks it up, sniffs the contents, and throws the cup back on the ground. Farther up the hill Jones finds something else: a gleaming white golf ball sitting on a bed of dark, decomposing leaves. To me, the discovery feels significant—what are these things doing here, on a steep hillside in the middle of the woods with no marked trail anywhere close? When you’re looking for Bigfoot evidence, everything seems like it could be Bigfoot evidence. This is a common amateur mistake, Jones says. “I think having an experience is an exciting thing at first but after a while, when you’re sure something exists, you’ve run out of interest in experiences.”

Jones admits the cup and ball are odd finds, but the hard evidence he’s looking for eludes him. He attributes this to the animal’s primate intelligence and its high wariness of humans. Unbelievers say evidence just doesn’t exist, but Jones believes most of them simply have not reviewed the evidence. That’s why he took it upon himself to plead Bigfoot’s case.

Earlier this year Jones released his book, Tracking the Stone Man. The title is taken from the Cherokee name for the mysterious, hairy creature the tribespeople sometimes encountered in the woods. The book is part memoir. It’s also a field guide, detailing common beliefs about Bigfoot and its behaviors, with tips on running an expedition. He discusses DNA tests on alleged Bigfoot hair and scat samples and includes several witness reports, the best of the best. “I put the ones in the book I know are true.”

Jones poured two years of his life into the book, yet he knows it isn’t enough. Only one thing will ultimately prove Bigfoot exists: a dead Bigfoot. “Eventually I think that’s going to happen. A coal truck is going to go around a curve and hit it,” he says. “Then the university people are going to come out of the universities and act like they know stuff.”

If they are someday proven correct, Jones and his fellow believers will be in good company. Up until the late 1920s, many Westerners believed the giant panda was just a myth—until Teddy Roosevelt, Jr. and his brother Kermit went on an expedition to China and shot one.

But let’s admit, even if Jones will not, there is a very real chance he has spent a significant portion of his life and a large amount of money pursuing a falsehood. What will Jones have lost?

Less than you might think. Real or not, this obsession has colored Jones’ life with a rare sense of adventure. “People have this idea that we’ve explored and found all there is to find. I just don’t think that we have. Maybe it’s romantic at heart to believe there’s something left for man to discover. But I think there’s a chance.”

And when you look at it like that—who doesn’t want him to be right?

How Gillian Welch Created an Americana Touchstone in ‘Revival’

This is an excerpt of a story that first appeared online at Rolling Stone Country on November 10, 2016. Read the rest of the story here.

Early afternoons were pretty quiet at the Lyric Springs Country Inn. The previous night’s guests usually left in the morning, headed for home or into Nashville about 20 miles away. The next guests would not arrive until evening.

This gave the innkeeper – a tall, waifish 24-year-old redhead from Los Angeles – all day to make the beds, dust the oil lamps and horsehair chairs, and tend to Jubal, her boss’s 200-pound English Mastiff. That’s one reason she liked this job. With only Jubal to keep her company, the innkeeper could spend all day composing songs aloud as she mopped the floors and pruned the peony bushes.

One morning, on her 40-minute commute from Nashville, the innkeeper was listening to a cassette tape of the Stanley Brothers. She decided to write a song the Stanleys might enjoy singing in their high lonesome voices. She reached over, switched off the cassette deck, and began to sing.

“I am an orphan, on God’s highway / But I’ll share my troubles if you go my way.”

The innkeeper continued to work on the song throughout the day, her voice ringing off the wood-paneled walls of Lyric Springs’ barroom and the porcelain of its toilets.

“I have had friendships pure and golden / But the ties of kinship, I have not known them.”

The song was finished by the time she got back in her car and headed home. What started as an idea a few hours earlier now had four verses and two choruses.

“I have no mother, no father / No sister, no brother / I am an orphan girl.”

When she got home, the innkeeper grabbed a guitar and her duet partner, an equally skinny guitar picker she’d met while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. She played him the new song, but he didn’t say anything. “I thought, ‘Oh well, he doesn’t like it.’ But he says he didn’t say anything because he thought it was perfect, so what was there to say?” she recalls.

It wouldn’t be long before many people shared the guitar picker’s opinion. This song, “Orphan Girl,” would open lots of doors. It would launch a career that would make the innkeeper one of the most beloved figures in a new music genre called “Americana.” And it would take her away from scrubbing other people’s’ toilets forever.

High Hopes for a New Cash Crop

This story originally appeared in the August/September ’16 issue of Morgantown Magazine.

Susanna Wheeler prefers not to divulge the location of her summer garden. She’ll admit it is planted on WVU property, but that is as much information as she’s comfortable giving out. “We don’t want people to try to come up here and see what’s going on,” says the agronomy graduate student.

That’s because her crop, planted in neat rows on a quarter-acre plot, is instantly recognizable from certain dorm room posters, reggae albums, and Willie Nelson T-shirts. If you’ve ever stumbled into a shop that sells “for tobacco use only” items, you’ll instantly recognize its green, serrated leaves. Susanna Wheeler is growing Cannabis sativa.

Wheeler’s secrecy has nothing to do with getting in trouble with the law. She’s not worried about that. She just doesn’t want to attract any snooping onlookers who might interrupt her very important work—a research project that could potentially change West Virginia’s agriculture industry forever.

While her cannabis plants look identical to marijuana, they contain only trace levels of THC, the psychoactive chemical responsible for the plant’s popularity as a recreational drug. That’s why Wheeler and others who work with the crop usually refer to it as “hemp.” It’s the hard-working, buttoned-down member of the cannabis family, with a long history of industrial use. The ships that brought European settlers to the New World were all outfitted with strong hemp ropes, and hemp was one of the first crops grown in the English colonies. But it fell out of use over the last century as it was outlawed alongside its psychedelic cousins.

There is hope for a comeback, however. Laws are slowly changing, and farmers around the country are beginning to take an interest in hemp again. West Virginia is beginning its own experiment with hemp this year. If the plant is able to thrive in West Virginia’s soil and growers can find willing markets, proponents believe hemp could be the next big industry our state so desperately needs—to the tune of millions of dollars and dozens of market applications.

ROOM TO GROW

It wasn’t too long ago that growing hemp, for any reason, was downright illegal. Despite hemp’s lack of THC, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) still considers any varietal of cannabis a Schedule 1 drug. It’s on the same list as heroin, LSD, mescaline, and MDMA, also popularly known as Ecstasy. But when Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill, lawmakers included a provision allowing state agriculture departments and colleges and universities to grow hemp for research purposes, as long as state law allowed for hemp farming.

West Virginia’s neighboring state of Kentucky, which was the nation’s largest grower of hemp before it was outlawed, has made a large investment in hemp research. After beginning with just about 30 acres of hemp in 2014, this year the Kentucky Department of Agriculture approved more than 160 individual growers, not including university projects, to produce almost 4,500 acres of hemp.

Although Kentucky’s program is still focused entirely on research—that’s all federal law allows, after all—several processors have sprung up in the state to purchase growers’ crops. There are companies that process the fiber for textile production, clean the seeds for food use, and extract and refine oil from the seeds. There’s even a distillery in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, that makes hemp grain moonshine.

Hemp farming has technically been legal in West Virginia since the 1990s. The law as it was written allowed growers to raise hemp as long as they obtained permits from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and the DEA. No hemp was ever legally grown since neither agency was issuing hemp permits back then, but the state wanted to be ready in case that day eventually arrived.

After Congress revised the Farm Bill, state lawmakers in 2015 removed the requirements for a DEA permit from West Virginia Code and created an application process for the hemp program. Eric Ewing, director of the agriculture department’s Plant Industries Division, says he got many phone calls when that application process began on June 1, 2015. But only a few growers actually decided to take the plunge.

Seven West Virginia growers, including Wheeler, now have full licenses to grow hemp. Morgan Leach, executive director of the West Virginia Hemp Farmers Cooperative, estimates those growers have a combined 10 acres of hemp in the ground. Each operation will receive regular visits by Ewing and his staff as they test THC levels in the plants, because state law requires levels to be below 0.3 percent. “Most of them are starting small, which makes sense,” Ewing says. “Anything new like this, you’ve got to start somewhere. We’re in our infancy.”

ROOTS OF AN INDUSTRY

Marty Biafora, director of operations for Morgantown-based iHemp, says his company is growing about 5 acres of hemp this year and soon will begin growing plants indoors at a 1,000-square-foot hydroponic facility. When it comes time this fall to harvest those plants, Biafora says there isn’t much use for them. Hemp can’t be transported across state lines—more about that below— and there’s nowhere to process hemp in West Virginia right now.

But Biafora isn’t concerned. He fully expects it will be years before the hemp industry turns a profit. “Our goal is to just get seed in the ground, get it up, go through the process of harvesting whatever amount we have, so we can know what to expect next year,” he says. “This is just an exploratory process to get the industry up and rolling.”

So what might the hemp industry look like once it’s all grown up? Leach imagines a day when the abandoned warehouses dotting the

Ohio River Valley are filled with hemp or hemp products waiting to be loaded onto river barges, trains, and trucks and shipped to the rest of the world.

“There is not another crop on the planet that has the utility of hemp,” Leach says. Its fiber can be used to make paper, textiles, rope, insulation, plastics, concrete substitutes, and fiberboard that’s stronger and lighter than wood. Leach is president of Agri Carb Electric, a company that he hopes will make hyper-efficient batteries from hemp fiber.

But the uses don’t end there. Hemp seeds are packed with proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals that proponents claim boost immunity, prevent varicose veins, and lower cholesterol, among other purported health benefits. Hemp seeds also can be pressed to extract oils, which can be turned into biofuels, paint, detergent, and a legion of other products.

In 2015, the U.S. retail market sold more than $570 million in products made from hemp fiber, hemp seeds, and hemp oil, the Hemp Industries Association estimates. That includes $280 million in hemp food, food supplements, and body care products, up more than 10 percent over 2014 sales figures.

Leach believes sales will continue to grow as the industry develops—28 states now have laws allowing hemp research—and he’s confident hemp could be the big diversifier West Virginia’s fossil fuel-focused economy needs. He’s been in contact with a company that makes mats for mechanics, for which it imports 500 tons of hemp each year from Bangladesh. There’s also a food producer that uses 400 tons of hemp seed per year.

Capturing even a fraction of the international hemp market could be an unprecedented boon for the state’s agriculture sector. Most of West Virginia’s farmers do their work on evenings and weekends while relying on day jobs to pay the bills. According to 2007 Census statistics, four out of five West Virginia farms make less than $10,000 a year.

Leach says he doesn’t know how large the Department of Agriculture will allow the pilot program to get, but the West Virginia Hemp Farmers Cooperative already has about 40 people interested in growing hemp on their properties next year. “It’s a wide-open space, if you can navigate the legal hurdles to get it done,” he says. “As long as the sun shines, we’re in business.”

But, as Ewing at the agriculture department pointed out, the modern hemp industry is still only a seedling. It’s unclear what the fully grown business would look like—how deep its roots would go, how wide its leaves would reach. We don’t even know for sure how well the plant will grow in the state.

This is where Susanna Wheeler comes in.

FARMING IN THE DARK

If a West Virginia farmer needs advice for growing tomatoes, watermelons, wheat, asparagus, alfalfa, or any other common agricultural product, experts at the WVU Extension Service can provide most of the information she needs. Extension agents have access to data on the best times to plant crops, the best times to fertilize them, proper soil acidities, the optimal spacing of plants in fields, and many other variables. But, for the most part, hemp growers in West Virginia are flying blind.

Wheeler came back to WVU last fall. The Charleston native earned her undergraduate degree in agriculture in 2012, then moved to Nicholas County, where she spent some time growing vegetables for farmers’ markets, growing sorghum for molasses, and tapping maple trees for syrup. When she returned to Morgantown to work on her master’s degree, she planned to spend her first summer researching cover crops, varieties of plants grown during agricultural downtimes to protect and enrich the soil.

But then her roommate mentioned the agriculture department’s hemp program. “I started reading about the legislation that was passed and decided I’d like to do a small experiment on the side,” she says.

The more she learned about hemp, however, the more she realized a small experiment wouldn’t be enough. “We know almost nothing about how it will grow in the state. We don’t know what varieties to recommend, we don’t know what fertilizer to recommend,” says Louis McDonald, WVU professor of plant and soil sciences and Wheeler’s adviser. Most of the U.S.-based hemp research Wheeler has uncovered dates back to the 1940s. “It’s not really relevant to our modern agricultural practices,” she says.

Wheeler discovered some basic information from a French textbook, along with a few journal articles and research papers. She got some advice from growers in Kentucky whose own hemp

experiments began a few years back. But there’s nowhere for West Virginia farmers to get state-specific information about hemp. “There’s so much research that needs to be done. I immediately became overwhelmed,” she says. She pitched the idea to McDonald, who agreed to give it a shot.

After completing the application process with the state agriculture department—which included state and federal background checks—Wheeler obtained an importer permit from the DEA before tracking down overseas companies to provide her hemp seeds. “They’re not plentiful. It’s not like, let’s go to Southern States and get some varieties or do a quick Google search.” She eventually found a broker based in Kentucky who had relationships with Italian and Polish hemp seed vendors. The seeds mostly arrived without incident, although U.S. Customs in New York held up one order for three weeks.

Wheeler finally planted the first of her seeds in late May, in that undisclosed half-acre plot on WVU property. She planted five varieties of hemp to see how well they would grow in West Virginia’s soil and climate conditions under different fertility levels, which she controls by adding compost to the plants.

She also began a second, smaller research project in late June to test hemp’s abilities as a “hyperaccumulator.” Other researchers’ findings suggest the plant might be able to extract harmful elements like cadmium, lead, and zinc from the ground. Wheeler has a few dozen plants growing in pots of contaminated soil at a WVU greenhouse. If the results prove promising, hemp eventually could be used to remediate former industrial sites.

GROWING PAINS

For all the excitement surrounding hemp, there are still a lot of hurdles to clear before the plant can become a full-fledged cash crop. Lawmakers earlier this year passed an amendment to the agriculture department’s rules to exclude private growers from the hemp program.

“That’s what our attorneys advised us,” says State Senator Bob Williams, a Democrat from Taylor County, who made the amendment. He says West Virginia Code only allows the Department of Agriculture and state colleges and universities to grow hemp, so issuing permits to private growers is beyond the department’s authority. “We were trying to make the rule conform with the code.”

The changes disquieted hemp growers, many of whom had already invested money into the project, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the bill but Williams still believes the Department of Agriculture is operating the project outside the bounds of state law. “I’m not a lawyer, that’s just my opinion. But I think the law is clear as to what is allowed,” he says.

The agriculture department reads the law a little differently.

Chris Ferro, the department’s chief of staff, says the Farm Bill clearly allows for cultivation and marketing of hemp. “While there’s no definition of marketing (in the law), a dictionary definition of marketing means to sell,” he says. “Our interpretation was, if Congress wanted us to research and market, that’s what we intended to do.”

Federal laws and regulations provide their own challenges to hemp growers and officials. When Eric Ewing had to take hemp seeds from his office in Charleston to a grower in the Eastern Panhandle, he couldn’t drive his normal route through Virginia and Maryland. “I had to go all back roads, staying in-state, because if I’d crossed state lines I would have been transporting controlled substances across state lines.” That’s a felony.

Ewing also made sure to bring lots of identification and paperwork on the off chance he’d be stopped by a curious police officer along the way. “We were very careful not to speed. Not that we aren’t always, but we were extra careful,” he says.

And even once the hemp is fully grown, growers cannot transport their crop across state lines—it must first be processed into textiles, paper, seed oil, or other products. But as of right now, there aren’t any producers in West Virginia ready to turn raw hemp into end-use products. One grower does have plans to buy a seed oil press, but his operation is not up and running yet. “It’s going to lose its novelty unless you can sell it,” Louis McDonald says.

Morgan Leach at the hemp farmers’ co-op says these issues likely will not go away until Congress completely legalizes hemp. And until that happens, the hemp industry likely will not get the one thing it needs most to thrive: money.

For the time being, Wheeler is doing all her research alone, for no pay. McDonald says the agronomic study of hemp is so new it’s difficult to get funding for research. “Because it’s such a rigmarole to get seed, nobody’s willing to give you money until you can show you’re able to get seed. My hope is we can do this little project now, get the seed, collect data, secure our plots, do the research … (and) next year it will give us leverage,” he says. “Lots of university people are interested, but they don’t have money to do additional research. It’s always the problem: Where’s the money going to come from?”

McDonald says if the industry ever takes off in West Virginia, we’ll have Wheeler to thank. “She has done an enormous amount of work,” he says. “She’s the one who’s worked with these seed companies, worked with the Department of Agriculture, tried to get these additional growers to participate. It would not be here without her.”

Despite worries about money and legality, Wheeler is plowing ahead. Her projects will likely run through October, when she will harvest seed from the hemp plants. If she’s able to get enough funding, she’d like to test soil samples to see how hemp changes soil’s chemical makeup.

She knows these experiments will only answer a handful of the questions that remain about hemp. But it’s a start. “There’s a lot of speculation,” Wheeler says. “There are prolific pro- and anti-hemp beliefs. But right now, they’re just that. Beliefs.”

Making the Stage

This story originally appeared in the summer 2016 issue of WV Living magazine.

Jerry Run 14 small resArrive late to a show at the Jerry Run Summer Theater and you can hear the music as soon as you open the car door. Low frequencies seep from the uninsulated walls, drawing you along the worn grass path toward the green front doors. Inside, after you’ve paid the $5 entrance fee and a few bucks more for a hot dog and bottle of pop, the theater will be dark except for the stage lights and the fading sunlight that wriggles through the louvered, glassless windows.

Slip into the rows of thickly padded auditorium seats and you’ll likely go unnoticed. The crowds at Jerry Run are known for their attentiveness to the entertainment. But look around. See the scores of smiling faces. Neighbors will be tapping their feet and bobbing their heads to the music, alongside folks from farther away who’ve come to see this little theater in rural Webster County. And in the corner of the balcony, show after show, you’ll find Dusty Anderson—the soundman, master of ceremonies, handyman, and janitor, and the guy who designed and built the theater from the ground up.

Anderson is a lifelong music fan, having learned the basics at the knee of his organ-playing grandfather. In high school, he played electric bass in a rock band. But when he graduated and started working as a carpenter, his interests shifted—instead of playing music, he dreamed of building a place where he could host performances by other artists.

He was inspired by a benefit concert he and wife Renee organized to help save the local elementary school from consolidation. The school’s gymnasium wasn’t the most acoustically appealing space, but the response was overwhelming. “People really enjoyed themselves. It brought pleasure to their lives,” says Renee.

Dusty started researching theater construction, trying to find books about acoustical design at the local library. “I believe in a blueprint,” he says. The information proved lacking. Good acoustics, the authors seemed to suggest, are as much a matter of luck as anything else. This did not intimidate Dusty, however. He began making models of his theater, planning how it all would fit together.

A tract of land eventually came up for sale across the road from the Andersons’ home. They bought the property and Dusty began clearing trees. He designed and built tall arching trusses that make up the building’s rib cage, hoisting them upright with some assistance from helpful neighbors. “People were thinking, ‘What’s he doing out there?’” he says with a laugh.

He included skylights down the middle of the roof to provide ventilation and a little light, and built louvered windows for the same purpose. He built a tidy concession stand in one corner of the foyer and left the opposite side open for a seating area.

Dusty bought a speaker system from a friend who upgraded to a more high-tech setup. “They go back to the ’80s but they sound good,” he says. The theater seats also came second-hand, from a lecture hall at West Virginia Wesleyan College. The school had planned to send them to the landfill, but Dusty spent a whole weekend hauling them back to his theater. Each seat still has a fold-up desk bolted to the right-hand side—which makes for a handy place to rest your hotdog and pop while enjoying a show.

After years of planning and years of construction, the theater opened its doors in 2003. Now in its 14th season, Jerry Run hosts about 25 shows each year, beginning in late spring and running until early fall. Despite its out-of-the-way location, the theater has attracted scores of musical acts from across the state and around the country, as evidenced by the wall of framed pictures hanging in the foyer. Most are bluegrass bands—that’s what most local bands play, and that’s what audiences like to hear—but there have been rock, country, and folk groups, too. As word of the quaint little venue has spread, so has its roster.

In October 2014, Jerry Run Summer Theater got its biggest act to date:
internationally renowned songwriter Sam Beam, who goes by the stage name Iron & Wine. Beam’s manager Howard Greynolds saw an article about Jerry Run in a Chicago newspaper. Greynolds has family in Clarksburg, so he decided to stop by on his next visit to the Mountain State. He asked Dusty if Jerry Run would host one of his acts someday—to which Dusty agreed, although he didn’t expect anything would come from it. “We thought, we’ll never hear from this guy again,” Renee says.

More than a year later, however, Greynolds called the Andersons and asked if they would put on a special concert by Iron & Wine. Beam had been inspired by Dusty’s story and wanted to feature the theater in a short concert film to promote his new collection of early songs, Archive Series Volume No. 1.

Beam’s people trucked in loads of fancy cameras and lighting rigs, along with generators to power everything. The show attracted fans from Charleston and Morgantown and Pittsburgh, along with Jerry Run’s usual band of regulars. “People were just so thrilled. The crowd was hanging on every word,” Renee says.

The concert film—called “Dreamers and Makers are my Favorite People,” now easily found on YouTube—has gained Jerry Run national recognition, but it hasn’t changed the venue’s handmade charm. When the Andersons opened the theater in late April for this year’s first show, Renee was still at the concession stand, slinging hot dogs, pepperoni rolls, and popcorn with her longtime helper Barb Kopanko. Renee’s sister Linda Pugh was still behind the cash box collecting admission. “Glad to see you open again,” a woman said as she handed over her five-dollar bill.

At seven o’clock sharp the night’s entertainment, a Buffalo, New York-based folk rock group, walked onstage with Dusty in hot pursuit. He strode up to the mic, hands tugging at the lapels of his unbuttoned denim shirt. “Please welcome—Savannah and the Kings!”

Dusty was off the stage almost before the applause began. His tall, lanky frame quickly carried him to the darkened balcony, where he took his place behind the mixing board. Next week he’ll sweep up the popcorn off the floor and wipe up any coffee rings left on the folding desks. If a breaker knocks out the lights again, he’ll be the one hunting down the problem. But while the band is onstage, Dusty can just sit back, enjoy the songs, and appreciate a music scene he built with his own two hands.

Renaissance man saved Daily Mail from bankruptcy in 1914

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Friday, April 4, 2014 to mark teh newspaper’s 100th birthday.

One hundred years ago this Sunday, a former Alaskan governor purchased a small bankrupt newspaper in Charleston, W.Va.

The publication, known at the time as The News-Mail, had spent decades in and out of financial difficulties.

But Gov. Walter E. Clark was a man of unique experience, having spent years as a Washington correspondent for some of the country’s biggest newspapers.

He also had spent time as a gold prospector, so he knew buried treasure when he saw it.

Clark changed the paper’s name and spent the rest of his life helping it thrive and grow into the newspaper you read today.

This Sunday marks the Charleston Daily Mail‘s 100th birthday, and this is the story of the man who started it all.

Walter Eli Clark was born Jan. 7, 1869, in Ashford, Conn., the son of a farmer. He attended the local public schools before heading to the Connecticut State Normal School, where he graduated in 1887.

He spent the next year working as a schoolteacher in Waterville, Conn., before, at age 19, becoming principal of the Manchester, Conn., grade schools.

Clark quickly left the education world behind, however, returning to school at Williston Seminary and then Wesleyan University, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1895.

After graduation, Clark got into the newspaper business.

He became a reporter at the Hartford Post in Hartford, Conn. but left that position for a job in the nation’s capital, working as a telegraph editor at the Washington Times.

He then became Washington correspondent for the New York Commercial Advertiser and, in 1897, the New York Sun.

In 1900, he took a yearlong leave of absence from the newspaper to travel to Alaska and prospect for gold. He didn’t find his fortune, but contributed articles to several papers during his time in the Final Frontier.

He returned to Washington in 1901 and, over the next few years, worked for the Sun, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Toronto Globe.

Governor Clark

In 1909, Clark again left the newspaper business for Alaska…but this time at the request of President William Howard Taft.

Clark never sought political office but had developed a reputation as a man “unusually well-informed on Alaskan affairs,” according to a front page New York Times story on May 19, 1909.

Taft and Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger asked Clark to become the first territorial governor of Alaska.

Local newspapers criticized Clark as a “carpetbagger” but Taft believed putting an outsider in charge would help resolve political squabbles that were hampering efforts to establish a territorial government in the district.

Indeed, it was Clark who oversaw the establishment of Alaska’s first legislature. But after four years he grew tired of the job and in early 1913 submitted a letter of resignation to President Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson asked Clark to stay in Alaska until the legislature completed its session. Clark relented and stayed until May 21.

Although some might have expected Clark would return to Washington once back in the continental United States, he chose instead to relocate to Charleston.

And although he never again held (or even sought) political office, friends and colleagues would affectionately call him “Governor” for the rest of his life.

The Charleston Daily Mail

Upon arriving in West Virginia, Clark received several offers from state Republicans to run for office. But he wasn’t interested.

His only ambition, he said, was to “publish a good newspaper.”

It was a crowded business.

Publications popped up and disappeared all the time in Charleston, almost as quickly as their daily editions. One writer called the Kanawha Valley “the graveyard of newspapers.”

In the late 1800s, there were nine newspapers being published in the area. One of those was The Evening Mail, founded in 1893 by F.R. Swann.

That paper lasted only until 1894, when it was sold to John B. Floyd and John W. Jarrett.

Floyd and Jarrett changed The Evening Mail into a morning publication—renaming it The Charleston Mail—because they figured morning trains offered faster service through the state. That would improve the newspaper’s coverage and allow for a wider distribution.

The plan didn’t work, however.

Financial troubles forced The Charleston Mail out of business after only a few years. The newspaper was purchased by another company and consolidated with other publications to form the Star-Tribune.

It would not reemerge until 1899, this time with Charleston Gazette owner Moses Donally at the helm.

He changed the name back to The Charleston Mail but allowed it to remain a morning newspaper, since the Gazette was an evening paper at the time.

Donally sold the Gazette in 1900, however, and in 1901 switched the Charleston Mail to an evening paper so the two could compete head-to-head.

He also brought in five prominent Republicans to serve as editors while he handled the business side of the operation.

It was a disastrous decision.

The politicos found it difficult to agree on anything. The newspaper would pick a candidate to endorse, then switch sides and back another candidate in the very next day’s edition.

Readers found it difficult to trust a publication that couldn’t even agree with its own editorials.

Donally eventually fired the editors, but financial difficulties forced him to sell the newspaper in 1910.

It was merged with another local paper, The News, to become The News-Mail. This newspaper, too, was doomed and wound up on the auction block in April 1914.

And that’s where Gov. Clark found it.

He purchased the News-Mail, returned its name to The Charleston Mail and installed himself as editor and publisher. He would hold the position for more than 30 years.

Things started small—Clark and managing editor Grady Damron were the paper’s entire editorial staff for a time—but the business began to grow almost immediately.

Clark added a Sunday edition on April 4, 1920, and changed the name of the newspaper to the Charleston Daily Mail. The publication soon outgrew its headquarters at 1002 Virginia St. East. It moved into a brand new building across the street in April 1927, where it remains today.

A newspaper for the whole people

Clark came to the Charleston Daily Mail with a wealth of experience, having worked in Washington as a political journalist for several different newspapers.

His experience as a territorial governor also gave him a unique insight into politics on both the state and national level.

But in spite of his background—or maybe because of it—Clark came to the Daily Mail with somewhat of an aversion to politics.

He styled himself an “independent Republican.

One of the first editorials he wrote for The Charleston Mail declared the publication would be “a Republican newspaper—mighty positively so—but not a factional opponent.

“It will be a political or personal organ of no individual, not even the owner,” he wrote.

Instead, Clark assured readers his newspaper “will serve no interests except the interests of the whole people.”

Clark’s commitment to fairness also extended to his staff.

Columnist Adrian Gwin recalled a time when, as a young reporter, Clark summoned him to his office.

“To my knock on his door he said come,’ and then sit down sir,’ offering a chair beside him. He handed me a three-paragraph story clipped from a previous edition, asking if I wrote it,” Gwin remembered in a 1996 column.

It was short article about an unruly drunk who had been arrested. The story listed the man’s address, which Gwin had copied from an official report at the police station.

The drunk had lied to police, however, and gave them someone else’s address.

“Mr. Gwin… The family at the address has notified us that they will sue the newspaper and the writer of the article for a million dollars.

“I just want you to know, Mr. Gwin, that the newspaper will stand behind you 100 percent, regardless of what happens.

No lawsuit was ever filed, but Gwin said the experience was a perfect example of Clark’s character.

“He was courteous, crafty, industrious, gentlemanly, hard shelled, soft-hearted, aspiring, considerate and willing to give more than he demanded, he wrote.

Former lifestyles editor Julie Kemp began working in the Daily Mail newsroom about a year before Clark’s death.

Although he was 80 at the time, Kemp remembers Clark was very hands-on with his staff.

“He was just quite a presence in the newsroom,” Kemp said. “He didn’t sit in his little office. He roamed around.”

One day he hand-delivered a copy of one of Kemp’s stories, clipped from the newspaper.

“He had written on it ’good yarn.’”

Even as he became head honcho of a successful newspaper, Clark’s love of writing never waned.

He regularly wrote for the newspaper, mostly in his front-page editorial “At This Hour.” But he still occasionally turned in news stories, too.

“Just to keep in touch with the news,” he would say.

A lasting legacy

Clark remained an active presence in the newsroom even as his health began to fail. He had suffered recurring heart attacks but, by early 1950, appeared to be in comparatively good health.

But about 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4, he suffered another heart attack.

He was admitted to the hospital, where he died at 1:27 p.m.

Clark requested no elaborate obituary, commanding the staff to only write “a few words at the top of the editorial column, and that is all.”

Editorial writer Jack Maurice respectfully disobeyed his final wishes, however.

Maurice remembered his boss and friend as a man of keen wit, “a student’s understanding of history,” and a “deep and abiding concern for what he felt right and proper.”

“If one word can suffice to characterize him it is integrity’ – both personal in his life and publicly in his conduct of a newspaper, Maurice wrote in the Sunday newspaper.

Clark’s funeral was held the following Monday at the Kanawha Presbyterian Church, right next door to the Daily Mail building.

Maurice and nine other Daily Mail employees served as pallbearers.

Clark’s widow took over operation of the paper when he died, appointing her brother Fred Staunton as publisher.

Her son Lyell eventually took ownership of the newspaper and continued operating the publication until 1987, when the family sold The Daily Mail to Thomson Newspapers.

Without, or with, offence to friends or foes

When Clark began the difficult task of revamping the Charleston Daily Mail, he sought a motto to convey his guiding ideals for the newspaper.

He found what he was looking for in the eighth canto of Lord Byron’s epic poem “Don Juan.”

“Without, or with, offence to friends or foes,” the poet wrote. “I sketch your world exactly as it goes.

The slogan began appearing in each edition of the newspaper, but Clark also had the line emblazoned on a plaque to hang in the newsroom.

The Daily Mail has seen many changes over the last century, but that plaque still hangs in the newsroom, right behind the copy desk.

It serves as a daily reminder of our forebears, as well as the principles we still espouse.

Thanks, governor.

He’s bringing a new flavor to town

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday, February 19, 2014.

In the last few weeks, chef Paco Aceves has auditioned for a new job, landed that job, packed up his wife and children and all their earthly possessions, moved everything across the country, only to take the helm in his new kitchen and cook dinner for hundreds of hungry guests on Valentine’s Day weekend.

And he did it all with a bad back.

Aceves — known as “Chef Paco” to his fans — is the new executive chef at the Berry Hills Country Club, but he’s not new to the Charleston dining scene. He first came to West Virginia back in 2007. Although he was fresh out of culinary school, he quickly gained a following at the Bridge Road Bistro, where chef Robert Wong took Aceves under his wing.

He later went to work at the Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, W.Va., before moving his family to Albuquerque, N.M., where he and wife Brandi opened a gourmet barbecue restaurant, “Paco’s Smoked International Cuisine,” in 2012. The couple closed that restaurant after almost two years when their business partner backed out, and began to consider relocating to West Virginia to be closer to Brandi’s

Aceves wanted to get back to cooking, too, but realized he was tired of working in restaurants or hotel. He had previously worked as a sous chef at the Houston Country Club in Houston, Texas, and wanted to find another job in a private club.

He called up his friend Paul Smith, executive chef at Charleston’s Buzz Food Service, to talk about his plans. As serendipity would have it, Berry Hills general manager J. Eric Stacy had called Smith earlier that day and mentioned the club was looking for a new executive chef.

Smith connected Stacy with Aceves, who set up an audition for the chef with some of Berry Hills’ members.

“The response was `get him up here.’ There was only one contingency. He has to let us buy him a smoker,” Stacy said.

The building that housed Paco’s Smoked International Cuisine had once been a barbecue joint, and came with a giant wood-fired smoker. Aceves put the smoker to good use, cooking both meats and vegetables for a variety of Mediterranean-inspired entrees and side dishes. Although his operation at Berry Hills will likely be significantly smaller, he plans to bring many of the dishes from his

He’s not reinventing the wheel, however. Some member favorites at Berry Hills, like the club’s 14-ounce rib-eye, crab cakes and certain salads and sandwiches, will remain on the menu.

“Everybody has their favorites. You can’t change everything,” he said. “They’re already telling me what they want and I’m a good listener.”

Aceves said private clubs allow chefs a stronger bond with their patrons. And since the restaurant isn’t the club’s primary source of income, he also is able to spend a little more money on ingredients without having to pass the cost along to customers.

He’s currently looking at ways to bring grass-fed beef and locally-raised produce on the menus. Aceves said he’s worked in restaurants that attempted a “farm to table” approach to its ingredients, but the endeavor always proved too costly to make good business sense.

At Berry Hills, he has a little more freedom.

“I can have better quality ingredients and a fresh approach,” he said. “I’m allowed to not make as much money.”

Word is spreading that Chef Paco is back in town. He said some former Berry Hills members are coming back, and fans from his Bridge Road Bistro days are considering joining the club.

He made his debut in Berry Hills’ kitchen over Valentine’s Day weekend and said he was impressed with how well the staff worked together. Aceves couldn’t do a lot of the heavy lifting, having wrenched his back while moving his family from New Mexico to West Virginia.

“Basically I just came in and orchestrated things. It was a lot of fun,” he said.

 

Famed cronut finally debuts in city

This story originally appeared in the Charleston Daily Mail on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.

The cronut has landed.

More than six months after the flaky, deep-fried confection took New York City by storm, Charleston residents can now get a little piece of the action.

Sarah’s Bakery on Bridge Road debuted its version of the half-croissant, half-doughnut last Friday, and has already created a stir among the city’s sweet teeth.

On Friday, the bakery sold all four-dozen of its cronuts within an hour. Owner Sarah Plumley fried up another four-dozen cronuts the next day and sold out within 45 minutes.

“I literally had a line of people come in,” she said.

Some customers called to reserve a cronut, but Plumley said she is not taking pre-orders. If she did, there might not be any left for walk-in customers.

“They’ll sell out before I cook them,” she said.

Plumley had never made a cronut before receiving her deep fryer last week, but researched recipes online, reading articles on blogs and watching YouTube videos.

“Apparently, they are a huge hit in the Philippines,” she said.

Although cronuts are a relatively simple treat – it’s just croissant dough shaped into a ring and deep-fried – Plumley said preparing them is a very labor-intensive process.

“You’ve got to make the dough, let it rise, fry them, let them cool and then fill them,” she said.

Sarah’s Bakery has a small kitchen and a small deep fryer to match, which limits Plumley’s ability to churn out large batches of the flaky pastries.

Just making the dough is a long process. Croissant dough is known for its flaky layers, but to achieve that effect, Plumley must subject the dough to round after round of folding and rolling. That’s why Sarah’s sells its cronuts for $4.25 apiece.

Customers are more than happy to pay the price for Plumley’s hard work, however.

“I’ve had a lot of people coming and saying ‘Finally cronuts come to Charleston,’ ” she said.

Except the bakery cannot call them “cronuts.” That name is trademarked by Dominique Ansel, who invented the pastry in his New York bakery.

“I’m just calling them ‘croissant doughnut,’ ” Plumley said.

The bakery currently is offering two standard flavors, brown sugar bacon chocolate and vanilla cream, but Plumley hopes to experiment with more flavors in the coming weeks. She plans to make strawberry cronuts for Valentine’s Day.

The bakery will continue selling the pastries on a first-come, first-served basis for the time being. She recommends customers show up around noon to get one.

A Taste of Tradition

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of West Virginia Focus magazine.

Imagine your great-great-great-grandpa rambling down some cobblestone street, out on the town with his buddies. They bust through swinging doors into a dark saloon, step past the tables and brass spittoons, and belly up to the bar. What do they order? Whiskey or bourbon or rum, maybe, but beer—probably not. More than likely, the barkeep serves up big mugs of hard apple cider.

“It was the quintessential American beverage,” says Josh Bennet, co-owner of Hawk Knob Hard Cider and Mead, located just outside Lewisburg. “There was more cider drunk in the 1700s and  1800s, per capita, than all soda pop now.” This is difficult for us to imagine, in a time when hard cider commands about as much respect among serious drinkers as a strawberry daiquiri. But that’s why Bennet and his friend Will Lewis started Hawk Knob last year. They wanted to create a product—available soon in stores and restaurants around the state—that would remind Americans of this forgotten chapter of our palliative past.

Cider began to fall out of fashion in the 1800s but it was Prohibition that really struck the industry to its core. When the 21st Amendment made it illegal to produce or sell alcohol in the United States, apple  growers suddenly had lots of fruit and no one to sell it to. All the apple pies in the world couldn’t replace the demand lost when cideries closed. Many of the nation’s orchards were razed as farmers were forced to find other, more profitable crops.

Prohibition was lifted 13 years later but the cider business has never fully recovered—until recently. Sales of cider increased by more than 75 percent between November 2013 and November 2014, raking in $366.4 million according to a January report by FiveThirtyEight, the website run by statistics guru Nate Silver. The vast majority of those sales went to large cideries like Angry Orchard, Woodchuck, Johnny Cider, and Strongbow. But the guys at Hawk Knob are quick to point out their products are very different from—much more in line with tradition than—those grocery store brands.

“What we do and what Angry Orchard does is not the same thing,” Bennet says. He says big commercial cideries use newer apple varieties like Fuji, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith for their products or, in some cases, pre-made concentrate. Hawk Knob uses heirloom apple breeds like Yarlington Mill and Kingston Black, varieties traditionally used for cider production.

For their first commercial pressing last year, Bennet and Lewis purchased their apples from Morgan Orchard in Monroe County—they’re committed to having an entirely West Virginia-grown product. They plan to grow some of their own apples, too. Last year, Lewis grafted 175 apple trees at Bennet’s farm in Pocahontas County, although it will be several years before those trees are fully productive.

Bennet and Lewis also hope to convince local farmers to plant apple trees on their farms. “This region of Appalachia is a perfect apple-growing region. We want to create a network of farmers that work with us. There’s plenty of opportunity,” Bennet says. “We can guarantee we’ll be there every year to get them.” He says West Virginia should seize this opportunity to boost its agricultural output. With enough commitment from farmers and cider makers, the state could become a leader in the growing hard cider movement.

Great-great-great-grandpa would be proud.

A Cut Above

This story originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue of WV Focus.

The butcher block in Ralph Richmond’s shop is warped from years of use. The block was already old when Ralph inherited it from the original owner 38 years ago, and years of blood and knife cuts have left the surface looking like a three dimensional map of a West Virginia landscape. Ralph’s store, appropriately called The Butcher Block, is a lot like that maple slab. It shows its age, but that doesn’t detract from what it offers: reliability, with a solid dash of character.

Ralph grew up in Pluto, in Raleigh County, but moved to Washington, D.C., in the early 1970s with his wife, Janet, looking for work. They both applied for jobs at the CIA. She landed a job as a secretary, but Ralph was turned down for a job as a courier because he failed the required physical due to high blood pressure. Instead, he went to work at a Giant supermarket, where he eventually ended up in the store’s butcher shop.

The Richmonds lived in Washington for five years, but like many ex-pats, they began looking for a way to move back home to West Virginia. They found a small brick grocery store, Henry’s Market, along U.S. Route 19 in Beaver. The owner was well into his seventies and looking to retire. Ralph now had several years of experience in grocery stores and figured he could run the store, so the couple purchased the business and renamed it The Butcher Block.

When Ralph first took over, the store was a full-service grocery store—the shelves were stocked with canned goods and groceries of all kinds, as well as animal feed, health and beauty products, and just about anything a family would need for daily life. But in the 38 years that have elapsed, drug stores, convenience stores, and big box stores have cropped up in the surrounding community, and shoppers no longer looked to small stores like The Butcher Block for their staples.

But Ralph knew his strengths and played to them. When people stopped buying their groceries at his store, he pivoted the business to focus on something chain stores could not offer: top-quality meat and intensely personalized service. While many grocery stores now stock their meat departments with precut, prepackaged meat, every single cut in The Butcher Block’s foggy glass case passes through Richmond’s hands. He’s the one who sharpens the knives to trim the fat off the pork chops. He’s the one who runs the meat grinder that turns beef shoulder into ground chuck. He wields the razor-sharp saw transforms a rib roast into prime rib.

If a customer doesn’t like what he’s got in the case, well, that’s fine too. Ralph is happy to do a custom order. Want your steak two inches thick? No problem. He usually keeps the meat-to-fat ratio in his ground chuck pretty lean, but one elderly customer preferred his ground with lots and lots of fat mixed in. “He liked it white,” Ralph says. Of course, the old fellow hasn’t been in the shop for a while. “I’d say his arteries clogged up.”

Ralph doesn’t advertise, outside of the occasional ad in the local high school football program. He doesn’t need to. “The best advertisement is word of mouth,” he says. His commitment to customer service has earned The Butcher Block a solid base of regulars. “People will come here and they won’t go anywhere else,” Janet says.

After returning from Washington, Janet spent 33 years as an elementary school teacher for Summers County Schools. When she retired recently she began working with Ralph in the store. They are The Butcher Block’s only employees, so when the couple have to go to doctors’ appointments or take vacations—as they do a few times each year—they just close the whole shop down. It might stay closed for a few hours or a whole week. But they don’t have to worry about losing customers. They always come running back.

Janet tells of one family who were so discontented with the quality of the supermarket meat they purchased during one of the Richmonds’ vacations, they just gave up on dinner and offered the leftovers to the family pet. “They said the dog wouldn’t hardly eat it.”

Word of mouth, indeed.

Casts of Character

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of WV Living magazine.

 

The Native American hunter, all bulging muscle and sinew, lies close to his horse’s neck as the beast reaches full gallop. He clutches a flint-tipped spear in his right hand. With his left he holds a buffalo hide, draping the skin over himself and his pony.

We are witnessing a “buffalo jump,” where a disguised horseman drives a herd of bison into the path of a hunting party. In milliseconds the hide will fall away and the stunned herd will be doomed. But the climax never occurs. The whole scene is frozen in time.

This is the work of sculptor Burl Jones. He takes characters and scenes from the adventure magazines he read as a kid growing up near Charleston and—with clay, bronze, and an eye for detail—hits the pause button.

Like so many young West Virginia boys and girls, Jones spent his childhood was outdoors. He remembers thrilling over the rabbits and squirrels his father brought home after hunting trips and began accompanying his father on those trips as soon as he was old enough to hold a gun. He fantasized about the American West—the Rocky Mountains and the badlands of Montana that he read about in Jack O’Connor’s stories for Outdoor Life magazine.

Jones finally got a chance to see those landscapes himself when, after finishing dental school at West Virginia University in 1966, he went to Montana for two years to work on an Indian reservation. It was during this time in Big Sky Country that he first encountered the bronze work of renowned artist Robert Scriver, who had a gallery on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. He began seeking out other bronze artists after that, but only as an admirer. Jones had an artistic bent—he’d carved a few gunstocks, and he’d tried painting for a while until his colorblindness made the exercise too frustrating—but did not consider himself an artist. “I was intrigued by it (but) it never registered in my mind that it was something I’d do,” he says.

He returned to West Virginia in 1968 and set up a dental practice in Sissonville. His artistic impulses continued to goad him, but it wasn’t until 1980 that Jones finally tried his hand at sculpture, making little figurines from dental wax. He learned by observing other artists and asking questions, but it was largely an effort of trial and error. “Mostly error,” he says.

He tried to cast his miniature sculptures in copper and bronze, the way he was taught to make dental prostheses in dentistry school, but was not satisfied with the results. “I didn’t know enough about the casting process. I discovered if I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to enlist the aid of a professional foundry,” he says.

After a lot of shopping around, Jones finally found a foundry he liked and began having his sculptures turned into bronzes. He had no intentions to sell the pieces—sculpture was nothing more than a creative outlet at the time—but his work started attracting attention from friends and, eventually, from art galleries in Montana.

In 1982, Jones sold his dentistry practice in West Virginia and moved with his wife to Livingstone, Montana where he spent half his time tackling cavities and root canals and the other half sculpting birds, bears, horses, fish, Native American warriors, and coonskin-capped mountaineers. He eventually opened his own art gallery and, in 1992, decided to quit dentistry and give his full attention to art.

No matter what he’s making, each of Jones’s sculptures begins with in-depth research. Jones is a stickler for detail. “I’ve got shelves full of books that show profiles and dimensions on hawks and eagles. They have a certain number of feathers. They have a proportion of wing to tail to body.” For living human subjects, he’s been known to make exhaustive photographic records and even measure the person’s facial features.

Small pieces can take up to a month to sculpt, plus two or three months at the foundry. For portraiture projects, he prefers to have at least a year. To date, Jones has created more than 225 limited edition sculptures. His work is a mainstay at Tamarack, West Virginia’s art and craft showcase in Beckley, and prized by collectors who share the artist’s affinity for the outdoors. His reputation for intensely detailed work has led to larger projects including a monument outside WVU’s Alumni Center, a statue of a coal miner on the state Capitol grounds, and the bust outside Marshall University’s Joan C. Edwards Stadium commemorating players killed in the 1970 plane crash.

Jones plans to do three or four sculptures this year. Now 74, he says he doesn’t get as much time to sculpt as he’d like. He splits his time between a home in Huntley, Montana, a “medium-sized” ranch in the northeastern part of the state, and a residence back home in Kanawha County. Between his grandkids’ ballgames, marketing his work, tending to his ranch, hunting, and fishing, there’s not as much time to spend in his art studio. But sculpture remains Jones’ favorite pastime. “I could work at it every day and be happy doing it,” he says.

He’s currently finishing work on a small eagle, its wings canted and tail feathers spread as the bird turns in midair. In life, this moment would be over in a split second. But soon the sculpture will go to the foundry and the eagle—along with a small piece of its creator—will be frozen in time, forever.