Good News Llamas

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Finding yourself lost on the back roads of a foreign state can be a relatable experience for many of us, but on a rare day, you’ll find a gem hidden in the nooks.

On the hunt for local artists, I followed my nose over the bridge to Chesapeake, Ohio and after a short detour, found my way to Good News Llamas farm.

Signaled by a large pink ribbon tied around the mailbox and hidden above a steep driveway sits the hillside farm, where llamas, spinning, weaving and dyeing are the arts in practice.

At the top of this hill, I was greeted by Tom and Judith Ross, who proceeded to show me their barn and introduce me to their animals.

“We have 22 llamas and 2 alpacas and been in llamas since 1994,” Tom Ross said.

Many of the farm’s furry faces, including 2 grand-champion llamas, gave me wide-eyed stares and curious sniffs after entering.

“You know I’ll tell you how docile these are,” Tom Ross said. “We take them inside nursing homes.”

Although Tom Ross said that the animals do spit as a defense mechanism, they usually take up a relaxed and interested demeanor.

After meeting the livestock, we headed into the home to speak with Judith Ross about her uses for their hair fibers.

She showed me a large collection of her traditional pieces, including framed fiber-based works, knitted scarves and other clothing that varied in composition. Some were made from fleece, while the majority came from their own llama and alpaca fibers.

“The Marshall Arts Department came here once and bought llama fiber to use in their senior project.” ”

— Judith Ross

While Judith and I examined several tufts of kelly-green fiber, we spoke about the art community in Huntington and Marshall University, specifically about their interactions with the institutions.

“The Marshall Arts Department came here once and bought llama fiber to use in their senior project,” Judith Ross said.

The Arts Department achieved a rare opportunity for their students that year. Llama fiber is a highly desirable medium from a non-native animal, a factor that drives up the price of the material where it isn’t available locally.

A variety of spinning wheels where scattered about the house. Judith Ross said that the largest of her wheels was something quite special.

“The one back from the living room is 1700’s,” Judith Ross said. “I bought this from Billy Bannerman. She was my hero and my spinning teacher.”

Bannerman, a prominent Appalachian weaver, is credited in developing the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair and the West Virginia Artists and Craftsman Guild. Bannerman lived in Cabell County during her later years.

Judith Ross also teaches courses on spinning and weaving on the farm with an offshoot of Good News Llamas called Back Porch Fibers.

The transformation, which materials undergo for arts, can be truly realized by visiting a place like Good News Llamas.

We can view, almost in real time, the raw and rare transition from hair on an animal, to fiber in a pile, to strings in a ball and finally to a scarf on a body.

Ryan Fischer can be contacted at [email protected].

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