HUNTINGTON - Carter Taylor Seaton has lived all over the country and has been down a thousand winding roads. All of them, it seems, have led her to some different adventure in the arts.
The 77-year-old Huntington native, who was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016 by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, has - among her many arts endeavors - founded an Appalachian women's crafting co-op, helped guide two incarnations of the Dogwood Arts and Crafts Festival, served on a multitude of arts boards and grant panels, become an award-winning sculptor, and emerged recently as a regionally and nationally recognized author.
It is for her lifelong commitment to furthering the arts in the city, and her zest for continuing to create a more artful world through her works, that Taylor Seaton has been chosen as the recipient for The Herald-Dispatch Award for the Arts in 2017.
Created in 2001, this award recognizes contributions to the arts or accomplishments in the field of arts in the Tri-State. Past winners include Chuck Ripper, Victoria Bragin, Ella Hay, Paul Balshaw, Janice Chandler Gold, Don Van Horn, Nancy Carter, Michael Cornfeld, Harriet Wells Tucker, Janet Bromley and Patricia Green.
Taylor Seaton is fresh back from Marshfield, Missouri, where she was one of six VIP guests who were presented with the Ella Dickey Literacy Award at the 2018 Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival for their contributions through the written words.
That festival, which celebrates American history, presented Taylor Seaton with that award for her most recent work, the critically acclaimed 2017 WVU Press biography, "The Rebel in the Red Jeep." The book followed the personal and professional experiences of Ken Hechler, the West Virginia politician and activist who died in 2016 at the age of 102.
Taylor Seaton said it has been very gratifying in this past year since the book came out to be able to talk with folks across the country about Hechler and to bring to light and remind people of what a politician can be - a statesman, a public servant and a gentleman.
"I have had a lot of people say to me that, in light of the current political strife, not just the Trump character, but the political divisiveness in general, that we need more people like Ken," Taylor Seaton said. "He was exemplary in reaching across the aisle and two of his very best friends were Republicans, so he had great ties across the aisle. He used to set up a regular breakfast with the West Virginia delegation, regardless of their party. I think that is what people were longing for when they have been reading the book, that, 'Gosh, I wish we had someone in Congress with that same mindset.'
"He was what I would consider not a politician but a true public servant. His tagline, which a lot of people made fun of, 'Your Servant in Congress,' was the way he felt and the way he operated."
If Hechler was a servant in the halls of Congress, Taylor Seaton has certainly been a servant to creating opportunities for others in the arts.
At an age when many folks are retired to the beach, Taylor Seaton, barely middle age by Hechler standards, definitely exudes a marathoner's stamina for creating and advocating for the arts in a range of capacities.
In recent years, in addition to writing such seminal nonfiction books such as "The Rebel in the Red Jeep" and the 2014 award-winning "Hippie Homesteaders: Arts, Crafts, Music and Living on the Land in West Virginia," Taylor Seaton, at Huntington Mayor Steve Williams' request, came back on board to help revive the Dogwood Arts and Crafts Festival at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena and has been an integral part of the Mayor's Council for the Arts.
Whatever the project, Taylor Seaton said she hopes other people become inspired to dive into their own arts journey to follow their passion. That has been the case for some who have read "Hippie Homesteaders," the book that showcased how the back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s drew in new generations that shaped an array of arts in the Mountain State.
Taylor Seaton said she had received an email from a woman who told her that "Homesteaders" started a movement in Hampshire County, West Virginia, where people who want to pass on their traditions and crafts started a center called The River House.
"They have raised enough money to renovate this building right on the Cacapon River and they have activities there all the time - music, readings, crafts, writing classes and all sorts of things - and they said it all started because of 'Hippie Homesteaders.' I was flabbergasted," she said.
While Taylor Seaton thoroughly enjoys seeing folks inspired by both of her most recent works, she is onto the next project, a modern-day novel she is writing about a poor widow with an 8-year-old child struggling on a small farm in the West Virginia mountains ravaged by mountaintop removal and fracking. When she finds out she is an heiress to a massive estate near Charlottesville, Virginia, the book's main character must decide between trying to stay and fight and struggle for her home or move onto a life of luxury.
Taylor Seaton said like Hechler, who at 89 was walking partway across the American Southwest with Doris "Granny D" Haddock to raise awareness of campaign finance reform, she never sees herself retiring.
"Ken didn't quit," Taylor Seaton said. "I think that has always been my mindset, too - you don't retire. I have never seen myself as a person who would retire. I may change what I am doing and I may not do it in a formal setting in an office someplace, but I get up every day expecting to accomplish something, and Ken was like that.
"In 1994, he was protesting mountaintop removal and was proud of the fact that he got arrested for it. We have all got our things that we are passionate about, and mine is trying to be creative in some fashion. I applauded Ken for doing what he did. That is the way that people ought to live their lives."
Taylor Seaton hasn't always been an artist or writer, but has always been involved in the arts.
The 1958 Marshall Lab School graduate raised her four children, and while doing so was executive director of a groundbreaking rural co-op, the Appalachian Craftsmen Inc.
That was an economic development project for rural West Virginia women who made and sold quilts, toys and other items.
Not a crafter herself, Taylor Seaton, who then went back to Marshall to get her degree in 1982, became an event coordinator specializing in fundraising in Huntington.
After marrying then-Huntington Civic Center director Richard Cobb, Taylor Seaton and Cobb worked in a number of cities (Columbus, Georgia, where they lived twice, as well as Gatlinburg and Atlanta). There she helped organize and plan events from medieval fairs to helping with the grand reopening of the Gatlinburg Convention Center after a $24 million renovation.
After they moved back to Huntington in 1995, she began doing sculpture after taking a pottery class by well-known ceramics artist Bill Meadows at the Huntington Museum of Art.
"I think generally artists are two-dimensional or three-dimensional artists. I don't know if that is true or not, but with me it was. I could always draw, but when I would try and paint something I always felt like if I could get my hands in the canvas, I could get it to work," Taylor Seaton said.
As a sculptor, she has been chosen for the West Virginia Juried Exhibition three times and has often been featured in the Tamarack gallery shows. She won Best of Show in 2011 at the Cynthia Bickey Gallery in Beckley.
Perhaps her best known sculpture locally is a sculpture of Young Thundering Herd member Nate Ruffin that sits at Marshall University Foundation Hall.
"I still love sculpture and still enjoy doing it, but somehow the writing has taken over," Taylor Seaton said. "And it is really difficult to do both. I just can't focus on both things at the same time. And I am more involved with the writing scene with Writers Can Read."
Taylor Seaton, who spent 18 years as the marketing director for Goodwill, dove into the wild world of writing after taking The Life Writing Class with John Patrick Grace. Grace's Mid Atlantic Highlands Press published her first book, "Father's Troubles," that became a 2003 finalist for the Foreword Magazine's Book of the Year in the historical fiction category. Since then she has written three more books.
Taylor Seaton said as a writer it has been a joy to see the rise of a range of good writers emerging out of the Mountain State and the Tri-State region, all fostered by regular readings, book signings, and writing clubs and groups such as the West Virginia Writers, a group of which she has long been a member and currently serves as its vice president.
"I think the literary scene in West Virginia is just remarkable right now," Taylor Seaton said. "I think there is something in the water because it is alive and well."
She said crowds at Writers Can Read range from 25 to 40 people or more seeking an opportunity to get feedback or share new works.
"Writing is a lonely existence if you don't have a writing group that you are part of," she said. "The West Virginia Writers Conference is another way that that happens. When we go up there to Cedar Lakes, it is like summer camp for creative adults. We are all willing to encourage other people."
As far as advocating for the arts, Taylor Seaton serves as a trustee at the Huntington Museum of Art, where she is chairperson of the Museum's Education Committee. She serves on the board of directors for the Society of Yeager Scholars and is a key member of the Mayor's Council for the Arts, which just this past year set a new policy for the city to encourage public art.
"That is one of the things that I am committed to work toward, is trying to get more people to recognize that doing some kind of public art is good for the community, it is good for the people, it is good for the way the city looks and it adds a vibrancy to the city that we can use - that is a big thing for me," Taylor Seaton said. "I hate to always compare us to Charleston, but Charleston has done a yeoman's job at that, with having an arts czar, or whatever Jeff Pierson's title is, has made a difference. I know that we don't have some of the same resources that Charleston has, but there has to be some ways to encourage that and be less restrictive about what we will and won't allow. The public art policy was very inclusive. There are a million places to put art; the problem is we have no funding to help give a stipend to an artist to do them. We keep hoping somebody will step up to the plate and do pieces of public art."
Margaret Mary Layne, who heads up the Mayor's Council for the Arts, said Taylor Seaton is a "wellspring of inspiration" for her lifetime of creating and fostering art.
"Carter is one of those unique individuals who has an extremely creative mind that allows her to create in more than one discipline. She brings that same creativity to the world of business and blends it with solid left brain linear thinking," Layne said.
"Over the years she has done so much for artists - from helping them sell their art beyond West Virginia's borders through Appalachian Craftsmen to serving as a volunteer on the Mayor's Council on the Arts. She knows how to get things done and is always willing to lend a helping hand."
Taylor Seaton said it has been interesting to look back and see how the creative arts have always been a thread of goodness that has run through the many phases and stages of her life.
"My mother and father both were artistic, and Mother took it up late in life and so did my dad, but I never really thought about being creative until I worked for Appalachian Craftsmen," Taylor Seaton said. "While I wasn't making quilts, I was designing things. I was sewing at the house, doing needle point and making pillows. When we moved, I really got into producing arts and crafts events, so it has always been on the creative side or on the nurturing side of other artists.
"Finding what you really enjoy doing is really a thrill - when you settle on your thing, so to speak, even when it is late in life."