By C.V. Moore
An old wooden milepost sign at the crossroads of Keller Avenue and Court Street in Fayetteville has for years pointed travelers to nearby destinations like Fayette Station and Beckley.
But as the world grows smaller and visitors come to Fayette County from further afield to experience world-class outdoor recreation, a local arts group is replacing the sign with one that suggests new directions for the town’s future.
The arrows on the new sign will now point to Moab, Yosemite, and Zambezi — three world-class destinations for mountain biking, rock climbing and whitewater, respectively.
Fayetteville should consider itself the peer of such places, says the sculptor who dreamed up the idea.
"I hope my sculpture will convey to the people who live there and the visitors in the area — you have arrived at a world-class destination. You live in a world-class destination,” says Jeff Fetty, a highly regarded metalworker who was commissioned by the Fayetteville Arts Coalition to create the new piece.
On Dec. 7, Fetty will come to Fayetteville for the official unveiling of the sculpture. That evening, beginning at 6 p.m., the Fayetteville Arts Coalition (FAC) will host “New Directions,” a combined meet-and-greet, holiday celebration and art show.
“It is our pleasure to host this amazing event. This sculpture is a gift to our community, so this is a celebration for everyone,” says FAC director Shea Wells.
The group recently oversaw the creation of a mural painting on the side of a building in downtown Fayetteville by artist Rob Cleland. The group’s goal is to install one new sculpture and one new mural in the town each year.
“We decided to have the sculpture become a sign to new places,” says Wells. She polled community members about some of their favorite destinations for the outdoor sports Fayette County is known for and came up with the three listed above.
“I’m just really impressed with the Fayetteville Arts Coalition. They are some great people that are making great things happen for not only their community, but for West Virginia,” says Fetty, a Roane County native who was honored as one of the world’s seven premier metal designers by the 2012 International Metal Design Annual. His patrons include former President Bill Clinton, author Tom Clancy and musician Jon Bon Jovi.
Historically, blacksmiths served their communities by forging the tools necessary to sustain a settler’s way of life, whether it be horse shoes, nails or medical instruments.
In modern times, the tools have changed. Now, communities in the New River Gorge region are looking for ways to make visitors feel welcome and support a growing tourism industry.
Fetty is using those same blacksmithing techniques to serve West Virginia communities in a different but still vital way — through the creation of beautiful, thoughtful works of public art.
“Of course, art is a very important part of any community, just as tools are a very important part of any community,” he says. “I love the crossover in both, that I’m using the same techniques to make tools and make art.”
Fetty uses a coal forge and tools he creates himself to heat, bend and hammer steel into lovely forms, treating the metal as if it were a piece of clay.
For any given project, the artist might first need to spend time forging his own hammers, chisels or jigs to create a particular shape or texture. It’s the uniqueness of every project, and the necessity of building his own tools, that Fetty says delights him most about his craft.
The wooden “dummy” sign, as it was known, was an important landmark in town, and Fetty knew that locals would only consider taking it down if he could create something even better. He used his signature style, rooted in organic forms like vines and leaves, with a dash of whimsy thrown in, to emphasize the town’s widening reputation as a travel destination.
“I hope we’ve upgraded it from a regional sign to an international sign. I just took that idea and ran with it,” he says.
“Fayetteville is a magical gem of Appalachia and a star in the crown of West Virginia. I’m very proud to have a small piece of my work to represent me in your county.”
The sculptor lives on a ridgetop above Spencer, where he is from originally. He is in the process of growing the Chestnut Ridge Artist Colony to tap the potential for other artists to likewise call his home state home.
The “New Directions” event on Dec. 7 is also FAC’s holiday celebration, which will feature the work of 15 local artists, food catered by the Secret Sandwich Society, local beer from Bridge Brew Works, and music by Ken Kruger.
Wells says the art pieces on display — which include paintings, jewelry, ceramics, photography, glass etchings, and wood carvings — “are sure to be perfect gifts.”
A Christmas tree will be decorated with hand-made ornaments for sale.
The Fayetteville Arts Coalition Fine Arts Cooperative, located at 103 Keller Ave., will be open Friday through Sunday during December.
The FAC also offers art classes for all ages, including a children’s art class, a collage workshop and a jewelry-making workshop. For more information on classes, call 304-541-9276.
“Our goal as a nonprofit is to bring more art to our area, as well as to help artists in their mission to become full-time artists and help them get exposure as well as teach classes,” says Wells. “We hope that our efforts in the past year will help bring Fayetteville closer to becoming a certified arts community.”
To apply to be a member of the FAC, contact Fayettevilleartscoalition@hotmail.com for an application.
“We hope that everyone interested in the arts as well as supporting our local community comes out to support our efforts on Dec. 7,” says Wells. “It will also be a great opportunity to meet world-renowned sculptor Jeff Fetty and get a closer look at his creations.”
For more information on the FAC, visit www.fayettevilleartscoalition.org.
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