CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They sewed quilts, working tirelessly to help their families stay warm and comfortable.
They fired pottery, baking and glazing the pots, bowls, oil lamps and vases that would pass, parent to child, through households.
They carved what they needed -- chairs, tables, bookshelves, workbenches -- and molded glass for what they wanted -- a chance for their work to be recognized by the rest of the world.
West Virginians have a rich history of art and craft making as part of the state's culture; that's why, 50 years ago, the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair was created as a way for local artisans to showcase their talents and their Appalachian heritage.
"One of the greatest precipitators was that it was our centennial year," said Donald Page, an 82-year-old furniture maker, woodturner and artisan who has been involved with the fair since its creation. "Throughout the state, there was this feeling; this idea to present who we were, where we come from and where we were going."
The fair, which was originally planned as a one-time event to celebrate the state's centennial, is celebrating its 50th anniversary thing year. More than 170 artisans and craftsmakers will participate in the fair, held Thursday through Saturday at Cedar Lakes Conference Center in Ripley.
Page, who began making crafts for extra money since he was a boy living in a coal camp in Southern West Virginia, said the art and craft movement in West Virginia is something that grew out of necessity and remains vibrant today.
"As a young boy, we weren't poor until we were told we were poor," Page said. "I've always made things to make extra money -- little stools, tables, corner shelves, things for the girls, toys for the boys. I've been doing it since I was 9 years old, as a way to have extra income growing up in a coal community."
The first fair had 54 artisans; at its peak, the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair had more than 300 artisans and 75,000 visitors over a five-day period. Started by the Department of Commerce and other government agencies as a way to promote the state's artists and craftsmen, the event has evolved over the years to include educational opportunities for youth, according to Bob Wines, vice president of marketing and promotion for the fair.