Helen Winnemore - 1938
Helen Winnemore was a Quaker with an interest in handcrafted items. In the 1930’s, she became aware of a vocational re-education program run by the American Friends Service Committee. Through this affiliation, she would discover the craftsmen of Arthurdale, West Virginia who were among displaced miners and industrial workers retrained as a part of the New Deal. It was in Arthurdale that Helen would order much of the craft work for her first store called “The Afternoon Shop”, which was located in her home in the Grandview area of Columbus, Ohio. Helen filled empty cabinets and drawers with hand-woven textiles, ceramics and glass and invited guests to “go through all the drawers”, which would grow to be a much treasured ritual. Helen was a bit shy and began offering coffee or tea as she felt it put everyone more at ease. This hospitality continues today.
Helen continued to seek out new work and artists began finding her. It was in this way that the scope of the work represented in the store expanded. As a student of fine arts at The Ohio State University, Helen encouraged the work of noted artist and architect Ralph Fanning and ceramicist Paul Bogatay. She also figured prominently in the encouraging the work of internationally recognized wood turner Bob Stocksdale, whom she met when he was in a camp for Conscientious Objectors during World War II. She was also an early supporter of the work of Don Drumm, the noted sculptor and designer craftsman of Akron, Ohio.
In 1951, Helen moved to her first official storefront at the corner of East Broad Street and Parsons Avenue. Quickly she began hearing that folks missed the drawers from her home, and so they set about building new ones. The store remained there until the fall of 1966, when interstate highway construction precipitated a move to its current home in Historic German Village. At that time, the neighborhood was in the beginning of a restoration movement which would eventually lead to its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
Helen Winnemore Craft still calls Historic German Village home—and yes, guests are still invited to “go through all the drawers” which were built by shop manager, Jack Barrow and his father.
Helen Winnemore remained an active part of the shop as long as her health permitted. She died in 1996 at the age of 95. The shop continued during this time under the guidance of her long-time manager Jack Barrow, who had worked with Helen since 1960. In 1997, Mr. Barrow was ready to retire and quietly sought a buyer for the shop. During this time, a woman came into the store to buy a gift for her daughter, whom she’d brought to the shop from the time her daughter was a small child. A shop employee casually passed along the information that the shop was for sale. A few hours later over lunch, the mother gave the gift to her daughter and mentioned that Helen Winnemore’s was for sale. This planted the seed that led to the sale of the shop to the third owner, Sarah Kellenberger Harpham. Ms. Harpham works to maintain a familiar, welcoming environment in the shop, while continuing to introduce new work from talented American artisans. Helen Winnemore Craft is considered the oldest store of its kind in the United States.