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New book shares adventures of WV's ‘Hippie Homesteaders'

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Hippies filled a void in West Virginia.

That's an underlying message that became apparent to CarterTaylor Seaton as she was compiling information for her new book. "Hippie Homesteaders: Arts,Crafts, Music and Living on the Land in West Virginia" isscheduled to be published this spring by West Virginia University Press.

The Huntingtonauthor/potter "went up and down hollows" for two years interviewing more than 40 artists, musicians and performers who migrated to the hillsof Appalachia as part of the back-to-the-land movement of the 60s and 70s. Their impact is stillbeing felt today in familiar places such as the Mountain Stage radio program and Tamarack: The Best of WestVirginia.

As the war in Vietnamwas raging and American cities were experiencing turmoil, many young people were leaving their urban homes behind in an attempt to finda safe place to live on their own terms.

West Virginiabecame a haven for thousands of the homesteaders who wanted to avoid the warand live off the land.

Some were artisans when they arrived while others adopted acraft that provided them with income necessary to survive. Seaton spoke with a couple that madebaskets that are coveted by national galleries, a draft dodger who became a premier furnituremaker, a Boston-born VISTA worker who started a quilting cooperative and a potter who lived on acommune, among others.

"It became perfectly obvious that there was a pattern," saidSeaton, a Huntington resident. "Almost without fail, older couples here had helped these people. Theywere college graduates, but many didn't have a clue how to farm. They came here with "Mother EarthNews" and a book about how to live off the land."

Seaton uncovered accounts such as the young coupleattempting to slaughter a hog in their kitchen through the step-by-step instructions of a text.

"The locals told them to put away your books and we'll teachyou how to farm because you're going to starve to death," she said.

Seaton found it ironic that a generation of young West Virginians fled for big city life at the same time the "hippies" were migrating here.

"These kids were running away from exactly what theAppalachian young people were running toward," Seaton said. "I found it interesting that in many cases, theolder people provided help after their children had been part of the flight to the big cities. Therewas no one for them to hand their skills down to.

"They willingly ‘adopted' and gave these new kids what theywould have given to their own kids who didn't want to farm and live off the land. They said, ‘I'vehad enough of this hard life; I'm going to the big city.'"

Some homesteaders left when the "going got rough," but asignificant number remain to this day. Seaton says they have succeeded because of a "stick-to-it" attitudeand a helping hand from their "old-timer" neighbors.

"Several became literally the best craftsmen in the state," shesaid. "They were very successful, consummate artists who rose to the height of their craft.

"Some were without electricity or running water and theironly heat was a wood stove. They invested 40-some years of their lives on the land, stuck it out,overcame whatever hardships and made a success.

 "I've always thought that their stories needed to betrumpeted. I think they need to be applauded and that's what I did."