Tamarack is an incredible idea executed flawlessly. In their own words, Tamarack's vision is to be "recognized globally as a dynamic catalyst and premiere showcase for all aspects of advancing West Virginia arts, crafts and food products and those who produce or perform them". I don't know what I expected when I walked into Tamarack, but it certainly wasn't what I ended up finding there. People had described it to me as a high end arts and crafts market, but it is so much more than that. Tamarack bills itself as "The Best of West Virginia", and after visiting two days in a row, I can say that slogan much better describes what I experienced there.
Sitting right off Interstate 64 in south-central West Virginia and just outside the town of Beckley, Tamarack may be one of the best ideas I've come across in a long time. It opened its doors in 1996 and has never looked back. Tamarack showcases West Virginia's best artists and craftspeople, but is also a restaurant, a conference center, a community gathering place and a work of art in its own right. As soon as you walk through the door, your senses are enveloped by West Virginia. The music playing comes from West Virginia; the art which surrounds you was made in West Virginia; you smell candles and delicious food. It feels open, warm and incredibly welcoming.
As I wandered around, I was really impressed by the art I found there. From wood carvings, quilts and blown glass to paintings and photographs to craft beer and jams, it seemed at every turn there was something else to wonder at. Tamarack is no flea market, these are high quality works of art, and they are amazing. The selection process to be featured at Tamarack is lengthy. It involves an application and submission, a jury process and an in-person presentation. The jurors are selected from among the artists already featured, so it truly is a jury of your peers. If you are selected though, you will be able to present your work to visitors, and to date over 10 million people have walked through the doors of Tamarack. Currently, the Tamarack community includes 2800 artists from all 55 counties in the state.
The food court at Tamarack is a work of art in its own right. The food there is simple, reasonably priced West Virginia fare. They serve dishes like rainbow trout, chicken pot pie, meatloaf, fried green tomatoes and hot fruit cobbler. They serve breakfast too, including an all-you-care-to-eat option for under ten bucks. The food court is open during business hours, so currently from 7am-8pm. This was my second must-have meal in West Virginia.
In addition to the art on display (all of which is for sale), they also have an entire food section filled with jams, jellies, pickled vegetables, sauces, beer, wine and more - all produced in the Mountain State. In case you're wondering, I've become really fond of Devil Anse IPA from Greenbrier Valley Brewing Company. It's a great beer.
Near the food court, they had an entire room of books, all either by West Virginia authors or about West Virginia. As an avid reader, it was awesome to be able to just browse the book selection. I miss specialty book stores. I also enjoyed seeing some of the books by West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman, who I had the pleasure to meet and hear speak up in Shepherdstown. I like his children's book Rocks in my Pockets which he wrote with Bonnie Collins. They also sell plenty of great West Virginia music.
Tamarack has five artists in residence who give demonstrations and allow you inside the process. They host classes on anything from glass blowing to beer brewing and have offerings for both children and adults. There is also a theater and performing arts stage and they regularly host shows and speakers.
I liked Tamarack so much I spent the night there. They allow overnight RV parking in their expansive lower lot. I ate dinner and breakfast there, and probably spent about three hours browsing around. It's not a big place, but there are wonderful things in every nook and cranny. I was surprised at how many things I saw in the morning which I had missed the night before. This really is a place that makes you feel good.
Tamarack is an incredible place. It is a showcase for the best West Virginia has to offer, which is a lot. They employ about 150 people directly, and provide an incredible venue for artists whose work may otherwise never see the light of day. They bring together so many wonderful arts and crafts from across the state and put them all in one place. It is easily accessible from the highway, you really can't miss it. If you're ever in the neighborhood, you should definitely stop by. Plan on being there for a while, and come hungry.
The only question that remains is why isn't your state doing this?