Artisan Market showcases unique art and hand crafted items

Suzette Lowe
Shari Leavitt welcomes everyone to Ripley's West Virginia Artisan Market.

Ripley could soon be a destination for those who appreciate fine craftsmanship. With the launch of the WV Artisan Market, that is exactly the intention of owner Shari Leavitt.

The venue, located on West Main Street, houses the work of 61 artisans from West Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina. The grand opening will be at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1.

“As of right now, we are at full capacity,” Leavitt said. “I don’t know how we could fit anyone else.”

Leavitt, who has been a fixture on the craft circuit for quite some time with Leavitt Farm’s homemade food products, has always wanted to own her own store. She had a taste for what it might take to run a business when she founded the Wild and Wonderful Arts & Crafts Festival in 2016.

“I knew it’d be a lot of hard work and networking,” she said. “The fair came about when people approached me after the Mountain State Art and Craft Festival moved its date from July to September. With a lot of help, we managed to offer an opportunity for crafters to showcase their work.”

After that venture ended, Leavitt found her heart still drawn to working with craftspeople, artists, and other cottage industries.

“I began to do craft shows again and I heard what people were saying,” she said. “I also realized that doing shows kept me away from my family way too much. A seed started growing in my mind.”

Not willing to venture into a new endeavor without some research, Leavitt conducted a pop-up sale of her products at the Morris Building, owned by local realtor Missy Morris.

“We tried it a couple of times to see if people would stop by and purchase,” Leavitt said. “And they did. So that gave me encouragement.”

The next step was to reach out to crafters. Using her contacts from various craft shows and from the festival, along with social media posts, Leavitt said she soon had over 50 artisans interested. She worked out the details with Morris to remodel the garage area of her building and the WV Artisan Market was born.

This chance couldn’t come too soon for many of the artists.

Parkersburg’s Christina Songo, whose wire-wrap jewelry markets under Swirly Gigs & Such, said to have such a beautiful, safe place to showcase her work is invaluable.

“A crafter’s work needs to be accessible,” she said. “To be in this centrally located area is going to be a wonderful opportunity.”

The work it took to get the setting the way Leavitt wanted has been a family and friends' effort.

“I can’t give enough praise to my husband, Rick, for all his hard work and support,” said Leavitt. “And my daughter, Kallie, has been my right-hand girl. She has worked on the displays, especially hanging the artwork. The beautiful floor design was due in great part to Marci Triana who has that artist’s eye.”

One advantage that many vendors see with Leavitt is her understanding of the craft world.

Carol Coffman, of Carol’s Custom Creations in Morgantown, said she respects Leavitt as a business person. To Coffman, knowing how to promote the venture is extremely important.

“Shari is good at marketing from what I have seen in her other endeavors,” she said. “And it means a lot to me that she’s kept in close touch as things have progressed.”

For Leavitt, the WV Artisan Market is more than a business, it’s a passion.

“I’ve not always been in the creative end of things,” she said. “When my husband and I moved here, we lived in the country and I didn’t know anyone. Rick saw I needed something and even though I didn’t know anything about canning, he encouraged me to try my hand at salsas. I self-taught and Leavitt Farms was created. That led me to craft shows with Connie Fisher and I loved it.”

To be able to provide a comfortable, welcoming place for people to buy unique gifts is Leavitt’s ultimate goal. She said being able to give local crafters a storefront for their creations is very satisfying.

For those local artists, the opportunity to get a foot in the door of an artisan market is one not to be missed.

Colleen Freshour of Sandyville is excited to market her woodburning items, Splinters & Co.

“My high school art teacher, Debbie Sisson, encouraged me to work on my talent,” she said. “Now to have a place to actually sell my work is wonderful.”

Sisson, a locally renowned artist, will be joining her student at the artisan market.

“Both my prints and my original art will be available,” she said. “I think this is such a positive thing for our county. Shari is such a bright light and so helpful. Not many people could put this all together as well as she has.”

Leavitt, who plans to add a coffee shop, said that she truly feels God led her to this venture.

“I couldn’t have made it this far without it being the right move,” she said. “I feel blessed to be able to do this for Ripley and Jackson County, and for the many talented artists.”

The WV Artisan Market, located at 119 West Main Street will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Due to COVID-19, masks are strongly encouraged and social distancing will be observed. For information, call the market at 304-531-2009.

The Mad Glazier from Huntington offers sculptured glass.