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Arbovale couple’s home doubles as art studio

Arbovale artists Cree Lahti and Kevin Stitzinger held an open house Sunday to share their artwork with the community. Above, Cree speaks to a friend about her jewelry as Kevin discusses his stoneware with Bob Sheets, of Green Bank. S. Stewart photo
Arbovale artists Cree Lahti and Kevin Stitzinger held an open house Sunday to share their artwork with the community. Above, Cree speaks to a friend about her jewelry as Kevin discusses his stoneware with Bob Sheets, of Green Bank. S. Stewart photo

Married couples are often drawn together by hobbies they have in common. For Cree Lahti and Kevin Stitzinger, of Arbovale, creating art is that commonality.

Cree is the librarian at Linwood Community Library and Kevin recently made the leap to full-time artwork.

Cree’s medium is pottery, following in the footsteps of her parents.

“My father is a potter, so I grew up in a pottery studio,” she said. “I’ve been playing with clay my whole life, but I’ve been doing the jewelry for probably about ten years. I helped [my dad] carry around big heavy boxes of pots my whole life, and I wanted something that fit into a shoebox and the jewelry does that. I like how it’s small and how you can be really detailed with it.”

Cree makes pendants and earrings out of clay with an element of nature. She collects flowers and leaves to press into the clay to make an imprint.

“I roll out a slab and then I press the leaf or flower into the clay and it leaves the imprint,” she said. “Then after it’s fired, I hand paint it and put a clear coat of glaze over it and fire it again. It’s nature’s imprint, truly. I love nature, obviously living in Pocahontas County, and many of the plants in the jewelry are found right here in the county. I like incorporating that element.”

While nature has a certain color palette, Cree goes a step further and adds colors she enjoys working with.

“I use some creative liberties with the color,” she said. “I love the bright colors. This style is new with the bright colors in the background. I just started doing that and it has become pretty popular. It’s a really neat process.”

Kevin is also inspired by nature, albeit a harder element of nature – rocks. His creations are made by carving into slabs of stone or large rocks, resulting in beautiful two dimensional and three dimensional pieces.

“I have a background in geology,” Kevin said. “I studied geology. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Geology and a Master’s in Physical Geography. That’s where I find inspiration, in the way rock changes over time and being able to take a rock, look at it from the outside, visualize what I understand or believe to be inside of it and then start working with it.”

Using his knowledge of all types of rocks, Kevin is able to bring out the sculpture inside.

“Taking a rock, a stone which is solid, hard, and making it look like something that flows – it’s that juxtaposition that I think is really cool and a lot of fun,” he said. “Every rock has a weathering rind on it and then on the inside usually, it’s a much different color. The type of rock I work with a lot is limestone, but I’ll play with anything.”

Play is the last thing you think of when you see the tools of the trade. As Kevin explains his process, he pulls out tools that have been used by sculptors for centuries.

“With limestone you can get into a very traditional treatment – Renaissance type – where you go with the chisels, start with the point chisels to lop out big hunks, then your flat chisels, start smoothing out, giving it shape,” he said. “Then you’re into rasps and files, and rifflers to finalize the shape. You get it as smooth as you possibly can and then there’s seven hours of hand sanding. Starting at a forty-five grit – which, I don’t have any fingerprints left – all the way down to 800.”

There are more modern tools that Kevin could use with his stoneware, but he prefers to stick with the older tools and good old elbow grease.

“I tried the power sanding tools, but you lose a feel for the rock and you can take off too much too fast,” he said.

Just like Cree followed in her parent’s footsteps, the couple’s son, Mateus, a fifth grade student at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School, is starting to create with clay.

“There’s a show in Charleston that children can display work at and he made about a dozen different masks,” Cree said. “He’s been working with my dad. He’s been really excited about that, so clay goes to the third generation.”

Cree’s jewelry is available at the WV Living shop at Snowshoe Mountain Resort and Tamarack.

Kevin is a member of the Pocahontas County Artisan Co-op and his stoneware is available at the 4th Avenue Gallery, in Marlinton.

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