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The St. Marys Oracle of St Marys, West Virginia

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Craftsman at Home

The picture you see is not a mansion in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It is a very large doll house ("Barbie" scale) designed and built by the late Orville Binegar of Eureka, WV. It is part of the Jim Creek estate to be auctioned sometime in July.

Of more interest to me than it's auction value is the history and what it represents in Pleasants County. I have made reference in the past to the old "Acres of Diamonds" story where the Arab farmer became so intrigued with the wealth to be had mining diamonds that he sold his farm and roamed the African continent searching for this wealth until he was broke, depressed and finally committed suicide.

If that wasn't bad enough, the man to whom he sold his farm was watering a camel and found a diamond the size of an egg. More digging revealed acres of diamonds and what became the largest diamond mine in the world.

The moral of this, as I would interpret it, is not to refrain from searching the world for those things that you value, but don't forget to check your own back yard in the process.

The Amish are noted for their craftsmanship and most of them indeed do good work. Many of our auction buyers when we were in Western New York were from the large Amish community there, and we ended up selling our farm to an Amish family when we returned to St. Marys in the mid 1970's.

In spite of the very good craftsmanship I encountered there I don't feel that it exceeded the skill and artistry of Orville or those like him in our own county. One example that comes to mind is Wesley Riggs who made 18th century styled Windsor chairs and other furniture starting with the tree and ending up with gallery class furniture.

I often laugh and think of Wes each time I watch "The Patriot" (I watch movies more than once) and wonder if he ever became so frustrated with his task that he threw a chair clear across his shop like Mel Gibson and "broke up" a bunch of stuff.

Probably not.

Wesley and his equally talented wife Roseanne did many interstate shows, were featured in trade magazines and ended up with an example of their work at the White House in Washington.

I assume it is still there, although I haven't Been in the White House since John Chips was guarding presidents in 1965 and gave me a private tour at 10:30 p.m. following drinks and dinner at a German restaurant. I don't think that could be done today.

Time to stop rambling and get back on the subject.

How about Dick Powell? He buys and sells vintage instruments on the international market via the internet as well as direct contact.

He has repaired, restored and appraised instruments here in St. Marys for years, but I am not sure everyone is aware that Dick has made string instruments from "scratch" (if that is an appropriate description).

I have seen and played one of those instruments, and in my opinion the looks and tone compare quite favorably with whatever "Martin" or "Gibson" has to offer.

I haven't talked with Dan Pitts in some time but he is one of few I know who can use a "hot knife" and shellac sticks to repair damaged furniture to the point that one would never know it had been damaged.

Next, lam looking forward to the opening of "Whippoorwill" in downtown St. Marys. Kay and Mike Powers are artists and craftsman in their own right, and from what I understand, they will also be featuring the work of other local talent including Liz Bleakley.

I only knew of Liz as a banker until I saw a table she restored for Cindy Stuart. Quite professional indeed. Not being aware of everything they will ultimately offer for sale but having watched the renovation of the building in progress I can say, without reservation, that the store itself will probably rival the gift shop at the Plaza Hotel in New York.

The few artists and craftsman I mentioned above, other than Orville, are from immediate recall and I am sure I have forgotten someone. I am equally sure that there are those with whom I have had little or no contact and look forward to meeting.

Many artisans here and elsewhere have made good money with their talent including the Amish. Others have not. Still others like Bach the composer or many artists of note will not be recognized until they are long gone. One thing I have found that all good artists and craftsman have in common locally or worldwide is that they do not consciously seek recognition. They would create and restore if they never made a cent or received a word of praise. Like the person who climbs the mountain "because it is there", they create because that is what they do.

Since I retired from the health care field and got off the road last December (if you can call 12 hours a day in the auction business "retiring") I have three major goals.

First, to sit on my porch with my coffee and watch the traffic go by on Route 2. That is planning and organization time.

Second is to do some fishing if I can remember how to find the Ohio River or Middle Island Creek.

Third is to reacquaint myself with the people, and definitely the artists and craftsman, in Pleasants County as it is today rather than was in 1959 when I left in search of the acres of diamonds. By the way. I didn't find them.

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Original Publication Date: June 3, 2015

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