Laura Dean Bennett
Millions of visitors have enjoyed touring the well-appointed gallery space at Tamarack, which represents the work of more than 1,500 artists and artisans from all 55 counties in West Virginia.
The David L. Dickirson Art Gallery regularly features more than 500 juried artists, whose creative talents range from drawings and sculptures, oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings to quilts, rugs, hand-made musical instruments, tableware, furnishings and much more.
Overseeing the gallery and the artists whose work is on display there is Pocahontas County’s own Amanda Lester.
Lester was just promoted to Gallery Director and Artisan Manager in July, which means that she is now the curator of Tamarack’s artistic space and responsible for finding new artists.
She’s also on the Artisan Advisory Board, the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts and on the board of the Mountain State Crafts Fair – the oldest crafts fair in West Virginia.
Lester grew up on Beaver Creek near Watoga State Park, where, during the summers, she worked in housekeeping – cleaning the facilities at the campground and cleaning cabins.
“It turns out that those jobs were probably what got me my lucky break – my first job at Tamarack,” Lester said with a smile.
Another lucky break was that Lester had the good fortune to meet up with teachers and principals in the Pocahontas County school system. She credits them with molding her character and directing her career path.
Her art teacher was Diana Nelson, to whom Lester believes she owes a debt of gratitude.
“She was so encouraging to me,” Lester said. “I’m so thankful to have had her for a teacher.”
What is her advice to young people who dream of pursuing a career in art?
“Practice makes perfect,” she said.
“Don’t get discouraged and give up – even during a dry spell or an artistic lull.
“As one of my college professors told me: ‘Work makes work.’
“If a piece you’re working on doesn’t turn out, you can still learn from a dud and, who knows, it could help take you toward your signature style,” she added.
Lester graduated from Pocahontas County High School in 2010 and went on to graduate with honors from Concord University in Athens, with a degree in Fine Art in 2015.
Lester’s first job at Tamarack was in housekeeping, and while she may have begun her career there by mopping floors, she quickly proved her talent as an artist, a curator and a professional manager.
“I started working in housekeeping at Tamarack while I was still in college,” Lester explained.
“Although I loved working there, it was difficult to continue to work and go to school, so, one day in 2014, I had to put in my notice.
“But, as luck would have it, that same day, the gallery assistant position became available.
“They offered it to me and as it would mean just working on weekends, I could still go to school during the week.
“Of course, I was thrilled to be able to take it.”
Shortly thereafter, Lester became a juried artist at Tamarack.
“My media are slip-cast ceramic sculptures and watercolor illustrations,” she said.
“But I don’t have anything of my own on display at Tamarack right now.
“I’ve been so busy with my work as gallery director and artisan manager, I haven’t had time to work on very much besides what I have ready to hang in an exhibit in Fayetteville.
“The exhibition will be at a restaurant called ‘The Grove,’ and it will showcase a few of my illustrations and sculptures and the work of a few other artists.”
The exhibit at “The Grove” will began August 8 and will run until the end of August.
“One of the best things about my job is how much I really enjoy working with West Virginia artists. There are so many super-talented West Virginians,” she exclaimed.
“A lot of people don’t realize the artistic talent that we have in this state.
“And, of course, it’s particularly exciting finding artists from Pocahontas County for Tamarack.
Lester gets back to visit family and friends frequently throughout the year.
“Oh, I come home all the time,” Lester said.
Although her mother, Teresa Kennedy, recently moved to McDowell County to care for her ailing father (Lester’s grandfather), her aunt, Kathy Smith, still lives on Beaver Creek, and Lester’s fiancé, Nathanial Lash, is from Buckeye. So the couple comes home regularly to check in with their families.
She and Nathanial are childhood sweethearts. They met in Middle School, and they will be getting married in Princeton in October at The Barn on Unity Farm.
“One of our friends from PCHS, Zack Graham, is doing the service,” Lester said. “And we are so honored that he will be playing such an important role in the service.
“I’m so proud to be from Pocahontas County.”
“My favorite thing about it is how peaceful and serene it is. It’s just unique – there aren’t many places like it.
“When I’m away too long, I get homesick for it.
“It’s still my home.
“It always will be.”