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Hippie Homesteaders

Arts, Crafts, Music and Living on the Land in West Virginia

Carter Taylor Seaton

Publication Year: 2014

It’s the 1960s. The Vietnam War is raging and protests are erupting across the United States. In many quarters, young people are dropping out of society, leaving their urban homes behind in an attempt to find a safe place to live on their own terms, to grow their own food, and to avoid a war they passionately decry. During this time, West Virginia becomes a haven for thousands of these homesteaders—or back-to-the-landers, as they are termed by some. Others call them hippies.

When the going got rough, many left. But a significant number remain to this day. Some were artisans when they arrived, while others adopted a craft that provided them with the cash necessary to survive. Hippie Homesteaders tells the story of this movement from the viewpoint of forty artisans and musicians who came to the state, lived on the land, and created successful careers with their craft. There’s the couple that made baskets coveted by the Smithsonian Institution’s Renwick Gallery. There’s the draft-dodger that fled to Canada and then became a premier furniture maker. There’s the Boston-born VISTA worker who started a quilting cooperative. And, there’s the immigrant Chinese potter who lived on a commune.

Along with these stories, Hippie Homesteaders examines the serendipitous timing of this influx and the community and economic support these crafters received from residents and state agencies in West Virginia. Without these young transplants, it’s possible there would be no Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia, the first statewide collection of fine arts and handcrafts in the nation, and no Mountain Stage, the weekly live musical program broadcast worldwide on National Public Radio since 1983. Forget what you know about West Virginia.

Hippie Homesteaders isn’t about coal or hillbillies or moonshine or poverty. It is the story of why West Virginia was—and still is—a kind of heaven to so many.

Published by: West Virginia University Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright Page

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pp. i-v


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pp. vi-viii

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pp. ix-xii

I am a daughter of the hills—born and bred, as we say in West Virginia. Yet until 1970, I did not realize I was an Appalachian as well. I’d grown up in the city but ridden horseback through the woods behind my grandparents’ home. I walked blacktop streets to school, then escaped on weekends to the outskirts of my neighborhood to play in caves. The tug of those hills...

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pp. xiii-xiv

First and foremost, I could not have written this book without the exceptional cooperation and willingness of the artisans and other members of the artisan community to share their stories. They trusted me with them and I am honored by that trust. Although there were other back-to-the-landers who told me of similar adventures of the period, they were not...

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Traditional Handcrafts in Appalachia

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pp. 1-9

When the back-to-the-landers came to West Virginia in the 1960s and 1970s, their arrival couldn’t have been more serendipitous, but that is only obvious in hindsight. They came seeking a place to live simply, to be free from the trappings of urban materialism, and to be allowed to mind their own business. No doubt, when they learned basketry, blacksmithing, ...

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The Serendipitous Timing of West Virginia’s Arts Outreach Program

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pp. 10-23

Unraveling the tapestry of efforts that culminated in West Virginia’s strong reputation for supporting its arts is tricky business. Pull one agency thread, and you’ll find it tied to others. Although Don Page and the West Virginia Department of Commerce (WVDOC) seem to have been the very earliest proponents of handcrafts as an economic engine,...

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Pacifists, Protesters, and Draft Dodgers

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pp. 24-53

From the perspective of distance, 1968 can be seen as a seminal year in the United States. Much like other years in our country’s cultural DNA— 1941, 1945, 1963, and 2001—it evokes the question, “Where were you?” As in, “Where were you when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor? When FDR died? When they shot President Kennedy? On 9/11?” For those whose...

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Hell No! We Won’t Go Either!

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pp. 54-99

Although they were prepared to do so, not all young men of draft age resisted as vigorously as Chasnoff, Rodd, or Williams. Many others, including Ric MacDowell, chose alternative service—the Peace Corps, Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA), or Appalachian Volunteers— rather than fight a war in which they didn’t believe. VISTA was created by...

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A Safe Place to Live

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pp. 100-153

“From PRI, Public Radio International, welcome to another performance of Mountain Stage, live performance radio from the Mountain State of West Virginia, with your host, Larry Groce.” Each week, after this short opening announcement to an enthusiastic live audience, Larry launches into song: “There’s a spring in the mountain and it flows down to the town . . .” He’s joined by the sweet voice of Julie Adams: “There’s ...

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Living the Good Life

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pp. 154-190

While the seeds of the back-to-the-land movement may have blossomed in the antiwar unrest afoot in the late 1960s, civil disobedience and the desire to avoid what was perceived as an untenable war were not its only nourishment. To understand the deep roots of the largest urban-to-rural migration in our history you must think back at least three ...

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Finding Utopia in Floe and Chloe

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pp. 191-216

According to Back From the Land author Eleanor Agnew, America’s strain of Puritanism also may have fueled the back-to-the-landers’ desire for shedding themselves of material goods. She says that because self-denial and moderation are imbued with virtue, by renouncing possessions and technologies, they announced their superior level of integrity....

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Communes and Intentional Communities

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pp. 217-243

“Once upon a time, a tribe of people went off into the woods, and nobody ever heard of them again.” These words, from the 1972 commune journal of West Virginia filmmaker, dancer, wood sculptor, maskmaker, and teacher, Jude Binder, could describe many communes from the 1960s through today. And in the instances where the commune did not survive, her quote is certainly prescient....

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Passing It Down

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pp. 244-252

Although most of the back-to-the-land migration happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s, its impact was still evident in the 1980s. Stories of the work parties, the social gatherings, and the community spirit became lore and were passed down to folks half a generation younger. These young adults were not old enough to fight in the Vietnam War or to participate...


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pp. 253-256


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pp. 257-260


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pp. 261-278

About the Author

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p. 279-279

E-ISBN-13: 9781938228926
E-ISBN-10: 1938228928
Print-ISBN-13: 9781938228902
Print-ISBN-10: 1938228901

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 47
Publication Year: 2014