Laura Dean Bennett
Margaret Baker, of Hillsboro, made a name for herself as she added to the warp and weft of Pocahontas County’s artistic tapestry.
An accomplished writer, actor, director and fine arts teacher, Baker added another arrow to her quiver when she applied for membership in the Pocahontas County Artisans Co-op in the fall of 2019 and subsequently began showing her art work at the 4thAvenue Gallery in Marlinton.
“I somehow got the courage to show some of my mixed media “experiments” to my friends, and they encouraged me to apply to the Artisans Co-op where I have found further encouragement and camaraderie,” Baker explained.
“Though my background is in performing arts, my lifelong interest in visual art was heightened by teaching art in Pocahontas County schools.
“I was constantly trying out projects which exposed me to a lot of different mediums,” she said.
“And I became strongly drawn to mixed media involving paper.”
Baker explained that she’s dabbled in printmaking, collage, faux batik and molas (handmade textiles).
“I even went through a handmade paper phase,” she said. “I am the kind of person who might very well get more excited about the wrapping than the gift.
“In 2018, I attended a workshop at Western Carolina University called the Mixed Media Marathon.
“That’s where I discovered Gelli plate printing, a technique for creating texture and pattern which I’m using extensively.”
Baker praised the Pocahontas County Artisans Co-op for its professionalism, variety of member artists and quality of art.
“Pocahontas County is fortunate to be able to offer this kind of opportunity for seasoned and fledgling art makers to display their work,” she said.
She’s been enjoying her association both with other Pocahontas County artists and those who come to peruse our local art.
“Last summer I got to meet people who came here from all over the United States – and beyond – and hear about their discovery of Pocahontas County, and I could also watch them discover the great artwork on display in the 4th Avenue Gallery,” Baker said, smiling.
Last year, during an artists’ studio tour sponsored by the Artisans Co-op, Baker also found herself really immersed in the interaction between she and her fellow artists and the visitors who came to meet artists and see them at work in their home environments.
Baker grew up in Smithfield, North Carolina, and describes herself as “very shy in school. But I guess I got over that.”
She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Education from North Carolina State University, where she was first exposed to drama.
After teaching English for a year, she moved to Chapel Hill to take theater classes and the die was cast – she’d committed herself to a career in drama.
Baker graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with her Master’s in Fine Arts in Acting/Directing and began a career as a writer and actor.
Her first professional acting job was in the play, “Tecumseh,” a popular outdoor drama staged annually at the Sugarloaf Mountain Theater in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Baker continued her dramatic career, specializing in one-woman shows, comic characters and cabaret-style productions which took her from Ohio to Tennessee and ultimately to Philadelphia.
In the early 90s, she was considering a move to Asheville, North Carolina.
“I’m not really a big city girl at heart, so after six years in Philadelphia, I was looking to move to the mountains,” she recalled.
Her friend, poet Neal Krakover, had bought an old farmhouse in Pocahontas County and very much wanted her to visit and see it.
“‘Before you move, let me show you my place in West Virginia, he said.’ That’s how I first came here. I came to visit Neal in Pocahontas County.
“I thought West Virginia was great, but no way could I drive those roads every day,” she said, smiling at the memory.
But, like so many who find their way here, she liked it so much, she ended up sticking around for a while.
“I got a summer acting job at the Lime Kiln Theater in Lexington, and we decided to camp at his place for a while. And I say camp, because it was very rustic, like no indoor plumbing rustic,” she laughed.
“By the end of the summer, I was sold on West Virginia and sold on Neal.
‘We married in 1993.”
Their 1909 farmhouse, situated near the Yew Mountain Center in Lobelia, now offers all the comforts of modern life in a home in the country. The couple put in a lot of work into the beautiful old house.
“We added insulation, a roof, porches, paint, new wiring, double pane windows, and, of course, a bathroom, and made it quite cozy,” Baker said, proudly.
She and her husband quickly dove into the culture of their adopted home.
Krakover, who refers to his work as “all terrain poetry,” is the author of “Poems and Worse.”
Many readers will recall the “poetry slams” he’s hosted in Lewisburg and Marlinton over the years while Baker immersed herself in the Pocahontas County drama scene.
She taught art at Marlinton Middle School and Marlinton Elementary after taking classes through Concord University to get a certification in Art Education.
And, for 18 years, Baker administered a program funded by grants from Pocahontas County Dramas, Fairs and Festivals, Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation and the Board of Education, called Drama of the Month – which helped Pocahontas County students write and perform their own plays.
These grants also included directing the Pocahontas County Drama Workshop productions at the Opera House.
And the plays produced through the workshop have been very well-received.
Last year, Baker was busy directing rehearsals with the all-local cast of “Never Too Late,” a comedy which was set to have been performed in May, when Covid-19 shut down the production.
But that just gave her more time to concentrate on making art.
She and her husband share one dog, one cat, countless deer, two grown children and five grandchildren, which Baker says they are keenly looking forward to seeing again as soon as the threat of the pandemic is over.
“I love living in such a beautiful place, enjoying the fresh air and a healthy lifestyle,” Baker, who makes a point of walking every day, said.
“The best thing about living in Pocahontas County is that you don’t have to belong to a health club to exercise.
“There’s no traffic and there’s such a sense of calm and peacefulness,” she added.
There’s a wall of Baker’s mixed media creations at the 4th Avenue Gallery, featuring colorful paper mosaics, some of which seem to leap to the eye in 3-D fashion.
Below the pictures is a rack of cards which Baker has made from her original work.
The gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The gallery may be contacted at 304-799-2550.