If only the path to career success and happiness – trumpet fanfare included – was a straight line. Imagine knowing, with a peaceful certainty, when you launched, you would land exactly where you’re supposed to.
Unfortunately, it often takes going ’round the bend before finding where you are meant to be. True in most career paths, but particularly in those more malleable than traditional ones, those that require a certain creativity to finesse.
Jessica Jones grew up in Winchester, Va., with parents who design and build houses. Art and creativity, she says, was always around. After a freshman year at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, she transferred to Virginia Tech and knew that she needed to declare studies in something intrinsically interesting in order to stay motivated and engaged. As a result, she kept coming back to art.
“I realized within my first year here [at Virginia Tech], if I stood a chance of walking across that stage to receive a diploma, I had to do art. Art was something I loved and was reasonably good at. I knew that I could handle that coursework.” Jones graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a minor in art history in 2005.
In undergraduate school, Jones met her husband, Mark, and while he finished a doctorate degree, she went to work at Blacksburg’s beloved art supply store, Mish Mish. When Mark matched with an internship in northern New Jersey, Jones worked at DaVinci Artist Supply in New York City, followed by an administrative position at the School of Visual Arts.
The two eventually returned to Blacksburg, and Jones went right back to work at her sweet spot, Mish Mish. She took a few years off to be a stay-at-home mom to son Oliver and daughter Lucy, currently 12 and 8, respectively. When she was ready to return to work, she became the manager of New River Fiber Company in Christiansburg.
Next was a bit of serendipitous timing. Mish Mish announced retirement in the summer of 2019, and after receiving precious advice and an ultimate blessing from the owners, Jones purchased the yarn shop and immediately started planning for expansion.
New River Art & Fiber opened its iconic small-town corner entrance in January of 2020. The shop sells an abundance of yarn, thread and fibers and all associated tools, but with the addition of “art” in the name and paper products, painting, drawing and printmaking supplies, sculpture products, office supplies and nitty-gritty tools for cutting, pasting and measuring. You can find seasonal and everyday gifts, and a children’s craft supply section complete with art and project kits for all ages. Customers are a good mix of regulars, new visitors, local artists and students.
“The two ways that small retail is able to stand out is community engagement and service,” Jones offers, “being able to knowledgeably answer questions when customers come in the door and give them outlets to not only be a part of, but also sustain, a creative community.”
To further serve and elevate the local community, the shop is part of an unofficial local referral program. For example, if a customer comes in with a problem the store does not solve – like framing, model supplies, custom stich projects or tailoring – they refer within the community.
Jones adds: “Yes, we’re a retail store, but we also like to be a nexus of information for all things related to the products we sell and how you use them. And if we don’t have it, where in the community can you get it. It helps us lift up other small businesses and drives traffic offline and into local brick and mortar.”
Their website offers as a mission statement of sorts, emphasizing the importance of both form and function when operating in a creative space. Jones rounds out the statement by adding: “I like to think of art existing in both worlds, the marriage of form and function. It was a way for me to tie together the fine arts and the fiber craft. This was our origin. It is language that is very familiar to architecture and engineering students.”
Jones has a relationship with both the architecture and art departments at Virginia Tech, and the store provides incoming freshman students with fully assembled “art supply kits” that include whatever is required to get their collegiate career off with one less thing to navigate.
After working for years at Mish Mish and passing through the world of art supplies in New York City, Jones discovered a love rooted in the materials themselves. “I found it fascinating to learn about what all is out there to use for being creative. You may be solving a problem, but you’re also enabling creativity and sparking inspiration. It is extremely enjoyable to introduce someone to a new medium they’ve never used before, to watch their eyes light up.”
Perhaps that is where we should find peace instead, not in the straight line, but in the imperfect path forward. Sometimes it just takes the right compass, the right well-informed art advocate, to get you started in the right direction. The rest is up to you to create.
Text by Nancy S. Moseley
Photos by Tom and Christy Wallace
Nancy S. Moseley is a freelance writer from Blacksburg and a wannabe maker. She is decidedly an inside-the-lines type artist, and finds the peace of a crooked creative path definitely surpasses her understanding.