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Tom and Connie McColley moved to West Virginia on April Fool’s Day in 1973 and made Calhoun County their new home.

They came here because the land was affordable. They have stayed here because the people of the community have made them welcome.

They originally bought an old abandoned farm in the head of a hollow that was nearly inaccessible.

“It was a beautiful place. Quite isolated and quiet. At first, it was nice to be on our own farm with very few visitors,” said Tom McColley, “but when winter came it was not a place to get in and out of easily.”

They planned to farm the land and make a living in harmony with nature, but nature and the local deer population made that idea unworkable.

They later purchased more accessible land off of Oka Road where they make their home.

“When we first came to this farm, there was nothing here. I designed and built all these buildings. Our son, Jacob, was born in the first house I built,” said McColley. “We lived in that house for about five years.”

Tom and Connie learned basketry from a neighbor, Scott Bailey.

Beautiful Basket

“Scott knew about basketry and was willing to teach us what he knew. We worked it all out right on his living room floor,” said McColley.

They soon discovered, during walks on their homestead, that they were inspired with both materials and ideas. White oak splints and branches for materials; plants, roots, and nuts for naturally dyed color; and shapes and objects for inspiration led to a product that is as much sculpture as it is basket.

Some Flowers From Around the Farm

The McColleys agreed that an artist must be fearless, “When you create something, you open yourself up and lay yourself out for the world to see. You cannot be afraid to fail or you would never act. You do it for yourself. It is what you are. There is an artist within each of us. We must teach ourselves, and our children, to be fearless.”

One of their baskets, The Swan, with a top hand carved by Jude Binder, was on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution.

The Basketry School, which they founded in 1986, was a big success.

McColley said, “Connie and I ran the school for 11 years. We had people come from as far away as Japan and Saudi Arabia to learn basketry here in Calhoun County, but it was very hard work.

The Dorm

“We provided housing here on the farm since we were so far from the city. We provided three meals a day and ran two back-to-back sessions on basket making each day. What that really meant was that we worked 14 hours every day for 16 or 17 days straight.”

When asked if he missed the school, McColley said, “I did at first, but not so much now.”

Some of the students would bring flower bulbs with them and would plant them in various places around the property. They are still growing, and provide the McColleys with memories of the students each year as they bloom.

Stone Pile Overlooks Valley

Tom uses natural stones from around the state as his creative outlet, “I don’t do baskets anymore. I choose three unique stones and, with the help of gravity, place them atop one another for artistic effect. I have to say I have put them all over the farm.”

One of the things McColley participates in now is the Calhoun County Farmer’s Market, located at Upper West Fork Park, Chloe.

His garden fence is five foot tall and electrified, with a top strand that has a ground wire running beneath it to stop the deer that think they can jump through the fence.

“Before I put up the fence, they would eat everything. They even pawed the potatoes out of the ground,” said McColley.

A walk around the old studio, which is now the main dwelling, is a study in basketry, wooden bowls and other things made from vines, trees and bark.

Display Case

The main display is on a unit made by McColley that is simple, yet elegant. Small trees, with the bark removed, have been cut for the placement of glass shelves. They are like the ones he made for Poplar Forest, located in Flatwoods.

The McColley farm has one of the largest ponds in the county, about two acres. The pond was created by local contractor, David Cain.

Pond Panorama

McColley said that Cain is an “artist with a bulldozer.” Tom and his son often have races there with radio controlled sailboats.

The McColleys have taught craft-making workshops on many levels--and won many awards for their creations.

Connie is coordinator of workshops for Mountain Made of Tucker County and manager of the company’s sales shop at Stonewall Resort in Lewis County.

Tom is a financial consultant, doing most of his work through the telephone and the internet. He has clients in many surrounding states.

When asked about the future, Tom McColley said, “We are at home here and we are here to stay.”

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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