Tom and Connie McColley moved to West Virginia on
April Fool’s Day in 1973 and made Calhoun County their new home.
They came here because the land was affordable.
They have stayed here because the people of the community have made them
They originally bought an old abandoned farm in the
head of a hollow that was nearly inaccessible.
“It was a beautiful place. Quite isolated and
quiet. At first, it was nice to be on our own farm with very few
visitors,” said Tom McColley, “but when winter came it was not a place
to get in and out of easily.”
They planned to farm the land and make a living in
harmony with nature, but nature and the local deer population made that
They later purchased more accessible land off of
Oka Road where they make their home.
“When we first came to this farm, there was nothing
here. I designed and built all these buildings. Our son, Jacob, was born
in the first house I built,” said McColley. “We lived in that house for
about five years.”
Tom and Connie learned basketry from a neighbor,
“Scott knew about basketry and was willing to teach
us what he knew. We worked it all out right on his living room floor,”
They soon discovered, during walks on their
homestead, that they were inspired with both materials and ideas. White
oak splints and branches for materials; plants, roots, and nuts for
naturally dyed color; and shapes and objects for inspiration led to a
product that is as much sculpture as it is basket.
The McColleys agreed that an artist must be
fearless, “When you create something, you open yourself up and lay
yourself out for the world to see. You cannot be afraid to fail or you
would never act. You do it for yourself. It is what you are. There is an
artist within each of us. We must teach ourselves, and our children, to
One of their baskets, The Swan, with a top hand
carved by Jude Binder, was on exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution.
The Basketry School, which they founded in 1986,
was a big success.
McColley said, “Connie and I ran the school for 11
years. We had people come from as far away as Japan and Saudi Arabia to
learn basketry here in Calhoun County, but it was very hard work.
“We provided housing here on the farm since we were
so far from the city. We provided three meals a day and ran two
back-to-back sessions on basket making each day. What that really meant
was that we worked 14 hours every day for 16 or 17 days straight.”
When asked if he missed the school, McColley said,
“I did at first, but not so much now.”
Some of the students would bring flower bulbs with
them and would plant them in various places around the property. They
are still growing, and provide the McColleys with memories of the
students each year as they bloom.
Tom uses natural stones from around the state as
his creative outlet, “I don’t do baskets anymore. I choose three unique
stones and, with the help of gravity, place them atop one another for
artistic effect. I have to say I have put them all over the farm.”
One of the things McColley participates in now is
the Calhoun County Farmer’s Market, located at Upper West Fork Park,
His garden fence is five foot tall and electrified,
with a top strand that has a ground wire running beneath it to stop the
deer that think they can jump through the fence.
“Before I put up the fence, they would eat
everything. They even pawed the potatoes out of the ground,” said
A walk around the old studio, which is now the main
dwelling, is a study in basketry, wooden bowls and other things made
from vines, trees and bark.
The main display is on a unit made by McColley that
is simple, yet elegant. Small trees, with the bark removed, have been
cut for the placement of glass shelves. They are like the ones he made
for Poplar Forest, located in Flatwoods.
The McColley farm has one of the largest ponds in
the county, about two acres. The pond was created by local contractor,
McColley said that Cain is an “artist with a
bulldozer.” Tom and his son often have races there with radio controlled
The McColleys have taught craft-making workshops on
many levels--and won many awards for their creations.
Connie is coordinator of workshops for Mountain
Made of Tucker County and manager of the company’s sales shop at
Stonewall Resort in Lewis County.
Tom is a financial consultant, doing most of his
work through the telephone and the internet. He has clients in many
When asked about the future, Tom McColley said, “We
are at home here and we are here to stay.”