FRONT ROYAL – One afternoon Katy Riley, a Front Royal artist, was sitting in front of her computer browsing an artisan and crafter Facebook group with over 20,000 members when she was struck with an idea. Why not take a successful global idea and bring it to the local level. And that’s exactly what she did. The outcome was bigger than she ever imagined.
“The artist community, no matter where you live is typically small but well received amongst other artisans,” Riley said. “Over the years I’ve begun to notice how many artists are here in the Valley but mostly right here in Front Royal. The problem is many of us are hidden amongst the shadows.”
Riley decided to change that. In May she created a Facebook group specifically for local artisans residing in Front Royal. The group was named “Front Royal Area Artist and Crafter Network,” characterizing who makes up the group, artists and crafters. It grew from two members to over 100 it just a mere 48 hours. Something Riley said she still can’t believe happened.
“I knew our community needed something like this, but I had no idea it would be so well received so fast,” she said. “I was pleasantly surprised and have to admit I still am.”
Teresa Henry, Riley’s neighbor, local artist and Blue Ridge Arts Council board of directors member, said it just takes one person to hone in on an idea and make it a success. And that’s exactly what Riley did.
“Fortunately for us, Katy took that leap of faith and created it,” Henry said. “Which was perfect because she’s like a sponge. When she sees or hears something she just takes it all it. She banks it. Her knowledge is just extensive. It really is amazing.”
The sole idea behind the group the women said was to allow artisans and crafters a place to network, chat and share ideas. But in time, an added benefit has emerged.
“We’re seeing artists, not only network and share ideas, but they’re coming together in a way I didn’t think was possible,” Riley said. “They’re helping each other out. They’re teaching each other tricks, they’re working together to make their products better, and some of them are even learning new trades.”
Both women said that’s what they hoped to achieve. A place for local artisans to grow and prosper with other artisans.
Out of the members, Riley said there’s quite a diversity that includes 22 crochets and knitters, 22 acrylic, oil or watercolor painters, 17 mixed media, 11 photographers and nine lotion or soap makers.
There’s a little bit of everything, Riley said, which was the entire point.
“A really great example is the story of local women who reached out because she needed medical masks, with funny sayings made,” Riley said. “Immediately the group came together, to fill this request. I had the fabric, someone else had the elastic. And we made it work. It’s become so much more than just a networking group. These people are becoming our friends and in some cases, like family.”
Henry said she would like to see the group in the future come together and create a co-op, something the town of Front Royal hasn’t seen in many years since the closing of Dahlias in the late 2000s.
“The idea of bringing all the artists and crafters together under one roof is a big dream I have,” she said. “Thankfully we have Brookyln’s Marketplace– a place where local artists are able to show their work but on a smaller scale– because for many of us, without it, we’d never be able to show our work.”
Riley said she supports Henry’s dream wholeheartedly. But she knows there’s a cost.
“We’re such a great team,” she said. “I’m the business side, and Teresa is the creative side. We just work really well together. It’s funny how a conversation on my front steps about painting has turned into this lasting friendship.”
Before summer’s end, Riley said she’s determined to get the group together and talk about their future. With the holidays fast approaching, many of the artisans and crafters will be involved with craft and vendor shows; something Riley said they strive to keep the community up-to-date on.
“Some days when I sit in front of the computer I still can’t believe how successful this venture has been,” she said. “More so than anything, I’m excited to see where we as Front Royal artisans go and what we achieve.”
To learn more about the group or join, find it on Facebook: Front Royal Area Artist & Crafter Network.