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Black Belt Treasures to expose outsiders to Alabama crafts

CAMDEN (AP)— It takes John Sheffey at least four weeks to create one of his extraordinarily lifelike owls or ducks, carved meticulously out of Tupelo Gum grown in West Alabama swamps.

Sheffey creates his carvings in his wood shop in the tiny Dallas County community of Minter, in the heart of Alabama's poorest region, known as the Black Belt. It's a community so small that there's a post office in a trailer, but nothing else, no store or traffic light. He says he is so attached to his creations that selling one makes him feel like he's parting with a pet.

Sheffey's carvings, along with pottery, paintings, quilts, porcelain dolls and other creations from more than 150 artisans in 17 mostly west and Southwest Alabama counties, will be on display Friday, when a new enterprise called Black Belt Treasures opens in a large building that was once a car dealership in Camden.

A joint private and government venture, Black Belt Treasures will give artisans in the Black Belt a venue for selling their creations, which previously could only be found by determined collectors at craft shows or maybe in front yards on rural back roads.

Remodeled showroom

The goods will be sold from a spacious showroom in the front of the remodeled building about a block off Camden's courthouse square and also via the Internet to customers around the world. Officials behind the venture say it's a way to show there's more to Alabama's Black Belt than poverty. The mostly rural region is named for the seam of rich black soil that runs through the area, but in recent years it has become known for its mostly black residents, many living below the poverty line.

"There's always been a world of talent in the Black Belt that no one wanted to see. We want to make it a little easier to see it," said Max Joiner, a county commissioner in Marengo County.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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