Co-founders of The Stoney Shire Tim Sturdevant (left) and Cory Williamson in their studio, The S.O.A.P. Box, located at 317 Post St., Boonville.
(PHOTO BY DINA OLMSTEAD)
Posted Wednesday, April 12, 2023 3:00 pm
BOONVILLE — The Stoney Shire is a conceptual design for a large-scale community arts center, expected to come to full fruition over the next 15 years. Its goal is to revive the local craftsmanship and artistry that was lost to the Industrial Revolution.
Co-founders Tim Sturdevant and Cory Williamson, of Boonville, explained that while the Industrial Revolution has allowed people to access goods and commodities that were previously hard to come by, a consequence of mass production has been the disappearance of skilled craftsmen and self-sufficient communities. This has led to the production of goods that lack not only structural integrity, but the creative “human touch” that only locally-made products have. Through eventual workshops, lessons, community events and much more, Tim and Cory want to bring back that “human touch” to modern society.
Tim is originally from Floyd, but has always loved and wanted to live in Boonville. His brother, Mike Sturdevant, is the creator of Cobblestone Castle on Route 46. Tim explained that the idea for The Stoney Shire came to him while working at the castle with his brother for a year. The medieval aesthetic of the structure attracted all kinds of creative people who wished to use it as part of their own art projects. Cory recalled one group of visitors who arrived in full costume, apparently in order to make a film about witches.
Sights like this one were not uncommon at Cobblestone Castle. They demonstrated to Tim that there was a widespread need and want for artistic expression. They also demonstrated how creative people could be if given a platform to do so. Tim thought back to the actors in costume and said to himself, “I want to make a place for people like that.”
The place Tim had in mind was similar to his brother’s in that it would be somewhere for artists to create and flourish; however, unlike his brother’s project, which is intended to be an exhibition of his own work, Tim envisioned a place that would exhibit other people’s work, promote their craft, and hopefully inspire others to explore the arts as well. He went to Cory with the idea for a community arts center soon after.
Tim and Cory have been friends since third grade. Tim serves as the “builder” of the two, taking care of most of the hands-on work at The Stoney Shire, while Cory manages The Stoney Shire brand and its promotion.
Cory said that he’s been a content creator for many years, beginning in the early 2000s with the rise of Youtube. Initially, he was the cameraman for an extreme sledding channel starring Tim’s brothers, Mike and John Sturdevant. Cory explained that while he enjoyed filming, editing and publishing the videos, it was not without challenges, both internal and external. These challenges mainly consisted of harsh feedback from viewers concerning his camerawork, as well as his own self-doubt about his abilities – a feeling all too familiar among artists.
However, the biggest blow to Cory’s self-esteem would come from a former friend, who told him that his videos were “trash” and that he should stop making them. Cory recalled, “I spiraled, and for a long time I had no confidence in myself and no confidence in my work or making stuff. … It took years to build myself back up to this point where I can make videos [again]… I want to make it so that kids don’t feel that way. I want kids to understand, hey, if you feel like you can’t do this, that’s just negativity from other people telling you that… [I want] to tell people, hey, you have potential, don’t let other people tell you what your potential is.”
Tim and Cory agreed that self-doubt is a huge obstacle for artists, and that they want The Stoney Shire to be a place to mentor them through it. There are a number of other things that discourage people from pursuing artistic endeavors, as well. Particularly for young people, the task of finding resources, platforms and mentors to help them improve can make the arts an intimidating field to enter.
Cory brought up the example of his uncle, who always had a passion for metalwork, but was never able to pursue it until later in life. If he had had the resources or a mentor to help him grow, Cory reasoned, his uncle might have taken up metalwork much sooner. Tim said likewise that he’s always been talented with woodworking, but didn’t have a platform or teacher to help him develop his skills when he was young.
Tim and Cory not only want to promote, mentor, and increase the confidence of artists and craftsmen, but introduce people to arts or crafts that they might otherwise have never tried. They essentially envision something like a “BOCES for the arts,” where The Stony Shire can connect with local schools and daycare facilities to expose children to various different kinds of art at a young age. They also plan on implementing an after-school program.
Tim and Cory also talked about how expensive it is to be an artist. A painter, for example, must buy paints, brushes, easels, palettes, canvas, and countless other supplies to produce their work, on top of the cost of any art courses and/or individual lessons they might receive. Music lessons can range anywhere from $100-$300 per session, which discourages many from even trying to pick up an instrument for fear that they won’t want to continue with it and will have wasted hundreds of dollars.
“We want artists to know that they can make money within our community with their talents and that they have a good, structured platform that’s promoting them,” Tim said. “We want more people to engage with their inner talents, to understand their gifts and be able to excel, and to feel a drive to move forward with what they want to do.”
To encourage people to try something new, Tim and Cory want to provide their first few lessons for free. Then, if they want to continue with what they are learning, students can meet with their instructor to sign up for a group class or schedule more private lessons for a fee.
Tim and Cory also anticipate having a marketplace for local artists and craftsmen to sell their products. Tim explained, “It’s an all-year-round, outdoor marketplace for crafters… A lot of The Stoney Shire will be rented to smaller businesses and artists that are already established.”
A map of The Stoney Shire plan can be found at stoneyshire.com. It includes not only a marketplace and workshops, but a Christmas tree farm, a pumpkin patch, a horse ranch, a drive-in movie theater, campgrounds, a women’s center, a daycare and several entertainment venues. The design reflects Tim and Cory’s desire to both promote the arts and foster community engagement.
At the moment, The Stoney Shire project is funded mainly through eBay sales of antiques. Antiques are also available for purchase on The Stoney Shire website. Eventually, Tim and Cory would like to have live auctions on their website selling both antiques and work by local artists and craftsmen.
The auction feature would be similar to eBay in format, allowing people to post photos of their products. Unlike eBay however, which takes 40 percent commission or more for each sale (not including the cost of shipping), The Stoney Shire will take only 10 percent commission. The auction feature on their website is currently under maintenance.
Antiques are another way Tim and Cory plan to introduce young people to art and craftsmanship. This is because antiques demonstrate that skill and creativity can go into the production of everyday goods. Showing young people how things were crafted in the past lets them know that even simple household items, like cutlery, tapestries or light fixtures, can be beautiful and durable as well as useful.
Cory mentioned that the creativity of antiques is probably why so many artists seek them out to use in their projects. The durability of antiques has also led to many people buying them for use in their everyday lives, Cory explained. Common examples include antique furniture, lamps and dishware.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of people are now turning more to what was made in the past considerably to what’s made in the future,” he said.
Tim added, “We’re moving into a nostalgic era I believe, where people really value items that their grandfather or grandmother once possessed.”
Tim and Cory also explained that while artistry and craftsmanship may seem lost to a different time, it is not totally gone and can be revived in modern society. “That’s why we do what we’re doing,” Cory said. “To kind of offer people, hey, look at this really beautiful thing we used to do, and that’s kind of the whole basis of the platform.”
The self-sufficient communities of the past which thrived on local artists and tradesmen existed just within the last century, meaning that massive corporations like the ones we see today are realistically very new to human society.
For this reason, Tim and Cory believe that communities are more than capable of providing for themselves, it’s just a matter of having the space, resources, and most importantly, people to help make it happen. Over the next 15 years, Tim and Cory will have created a platform to help achieve this through art, craftsmanship and community.
The Stoney Shire office is currently located at 317 Post St., Boonville. It is from this house, built in 1900, that they plan to operate their studio, The S.O.A.P. Box (Shire’s Observation of Advanced Perceptions), which will interview local artists and craftsmen about how they got started and where they are now. Tim and Cory have been renting the home for a few years now. They hope to purchase the building in the near future and implement a plan to renovate and rent out each room for workshops, the first order of business being a painting studio.
All money made through eBay sales goes directly into The Stoney Shire design. Those wishing to support The Stoney Shire may do so through eBay or by clicking the donation button at stoneyshire.com, in the top right-hand corner of the screen. To learn more about The Stoney Shire, please visit their website or Facebook page. They can also be reached at 315-240-4589 or [email protected].