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Mountainmade.com exhibit at WVHTC

by PAM MARRA

STAFF WRITER

If it was an old movie, the stars would be married by now.

In a classic techno twist, an exhibit at the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation in Fairmont is offering a glimpse of MountainMade.com, a young website featuring centuries-old craftsmanship by West Virginia artisans.

In other words, old world meets new age. And the match could be one made in heaven if the players know their parts.

"We are really excited to have this exhibit because it presents a perfect marriage of the arts and crafts industry with technology," said James L. Estep, president and CEO of WVHTC. "It's a wonderful way to combine two different worlds."

The exhibit, which runs through April 6 in the Innovation Gallery of the facility, has a sampling of works from around the state, from limited-edition prints to stained glass hangings. The web site itself features nearly 400 products.

According to Kara Gray, media and public affairs manager for MountainMade.com., the site was created as a way to give West Virginia-made wares worldwide exposure, as well as boosting the state's economy.

"Most of the artisans don't have a web presence. Their primary sources of selling their goods are traveling to craft shows or by word-of-mouth. Obviously, this limits the number of people who can see what they do.

"With the website, we're able to give them more exposure. Anybody in the world can access it -- there's no boundaries," she said. "And by expanding to the rest of the world, it can have the potential to increase economic activity in the state by using the Internet."

Catherine Miller is glad she's on board.

A glass design artist and store owner in Buckhannon, Miller's pieces have made their way into the White House and the home of Ronn Moss, a soap opera actor, but she thinks the website will give her products better exposure.

"So many people from all over the world can have access to what we create through this venue. I think it really offers a great way to showcase the products," said Miller, whose designs made it into Moss' hands when he appeared at the West Virginia Strawberry Festival in Buckhannon a few years ago. The White House connection was made when then-Gov. Cecil Underwood chose one of her vases to present to President Bill Clinton.

But Miller joins both Estep and Gray in thinking that the website offers a chance to enhance the state's image.

"This is definitely a way to promote West Virginia's talent, and I think we have some wonderful craftspeople here. People in other places will be very surprised when they see what we do," she said.

Estep agrees with the promotional aspect, but would like to think the talent here wouldn't surprise anyone.

"There are outstanding artisans here and their works rank right up there with the best. I don't think that would surprise people in other places; I think they just might not be aware of it. The website is a chance to make them aware," he said.

Gray admitted she was astounded at the amount of talent she came across in helping to get the website up.

"Some of these people have done significantly well on their own," she said. In addition to Miller, she cited Jeff Fetty of Spencer, an artistic blacksmith who has displayed works for the Globe Theatre in London, the White House, designer Yves St. Laurent and author Tom Clancy.

MountainMade.com was created by the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer Center (NTTC) at Wheeling Jesuit University, in coordination with the U.S. Small Business Administration. The web-based store is a component of E-Commerce Connection, which First District Congressman Alan B. Mollohan established to help northern West Virginia capitalize on electronic commerce opportunities.

"We have a history with the High Tech Consortium," said Gray. "Congressman Mollohan has been instrumental in getting this project established. They invited us to be part of the revolving gallery there and we didn't hesitate to say 'yes!'"

According to Gray, inclusion in the MountainMade.com program is free to all artists and craftspersons in the northern 30-county pilot area.

"Right now, more than 300 artists and craftspersons are signed up, with more to be added as inventory is acquired. The only thing they pay for is the cost of their own materials. When they're finished, a MountainMade.com truck picks up pieces for delivery to the warehouse in Thomas where the store has just opened," Gray said.

"Since this is our first year, there are so many changes and improvements taking place. But all in all, it's a very exciting time for this project," Gray said.

For more information on MountainMade.com., visit its website at www.mountainmade.com. Information on the exhibit can be obtained by calling the West Virginia High Technology Consortium at 366-2577 or log on to www.wvhtf.org.

Lifestyles editor Pam Marra can be reached at 626-1439 or pmarra@exponent-telegram.com.

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