Twenty years after it was first proposed by then Gov. Gaston Caperton, nearly 4,000 artists have had their wares represented by Tamarack.
Back then state arts and crafts were popular with travelers, but only sold at service plazas on the West Virginia Turnpike.
While attending the opening of the Princeton plaza, Caperton not only enjoyed the festivities – including live music and folks making apple butter over an open fire – but also had an idea for additional exposure and better marketing of artisan creations.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a place with that kind of atmosphere every day of the year?” he said according to media reports from the event.
That was the beginning.
Today the state’s well-known artisan retail center at Beckley – named for a tree found in West Virginia – draws half a million visitors annually through its doors.
Located just off Interstate 64, the building’s red, peaked roof – based on a Texas star quilt pattern – is a familiar local icon.
But Tamarack also has a bigger claim to fame.
When it opened on June 20, 1996 – not surprisingly, West Virginia Day – Tamarack was the nation’s first showcase for handcrafts, fine arts and regional cuisine.
It now also features working studios for resident artists, an art gallery, theater, food court and conference center. Fried green tomatoes are the signature dish at the food court, aptly named “A Taste of Southern West Virginia.”
Patrons can purchase everything from hand blown glass items and baskets to toys and books. Wood items are popular, including handcrafted furniture as well as quilts, paintings and other glassware such as Home Laughlin China Company’s Fiesta line of dinnerware.
Artists go through a competitive, three-step process before their wares are offered for sale here.
More and more people are discovering what it has to offer, according to creative coordinator Norma Acord.
Watching as a professional photographer carefully arranged some lighting on a wooden rocking chair, Accord couldn’t hide a proud smile.
“It’s an especially exciting time since we just celebrated our 20th anniversary. And since it was super special we had a huge gala and invited people who’d been involved since the very beginning of Tamarack. It was a chance for everyone to catch up and see how far we’ve come,” she said.
“In the beginning this was envisioned as a showcase for West Virginia crafts, and it has been such a good thing for our state as well as our artists. We’re able to give exposure to people who work out of their homes – often in rural areas, including being in the mountains or up a hollow – that would never have happened otherwise.”