Thriving arts and crafts in [very] rural places

Yesterday my wife and I drove two hours north to the very small town of Clearwater, Nebraska. One of the seven or so yarn stores in the state happens to be in this community of 300+. We had a great discussion with MareLee, the proprietor of the business, about creativity, community and the unHurried prairie life.

Prairie Threads (website down at the time of this writing) opened about two years ago. When she told the town council she planned to open a fiber arts store they thought she was crazy but supported her anyway. Clearwater, like so many other tiny towns, is on the verge of dying.

Hannah & Maisie & threads

Her good friends back in Washington State, where she had recently moved from, thought she was nuts as well, certifiable. Why would someone move from a lush, populated, coastal state to the landlocked Great Plains, to the edge of a grass covered desert, to a sleepy little town?

All of those Washington friends have since visited her in the Nebraska Sandhills, and none of them are questioning her sanity any longer. Upon visiting, her friends realized how productive she was artistically after getting away from the frenetic city-dweller mentality. They realized you can sit and have a real conversation without the pressure of somewhere to go, someone to see, something to do. They saw how she is now a real part of the community she lives in — crazy or not — in a way she never experienced living in the big city.

We talked about Kathleen Norris’ book Dakota and how living on the prairie encourages a slower pace of life, a contemplative life that encourages creativity. We all agreed that, as artists, we become crabby if we don’t have the time to work out an idea that is simmering in our head, and that focused time — something that can look an awful lot like doing nothing to a casual observer — is a necessity in creative work.

I drew a lot of parallels to the Scissortail art center idea during the conversation. MareLee pointed out that the yarn store venture was a lot of work and required years of persistence preceding success. Teaching is a key aspect of her business (she has 40 years of experience to draw from across all fiber arts: knitting, spinning, dyeing, weaving, etc). She was able to purchase a home and place of business for a song (her son, living and working in Washington D.C., pointed out that what she paid was barely a down payment on a place in the city).

If you’re ever in north-central Nebraska, make it a point to stop into this prairie gem. While you’re up there, have a meal at Green Gables in Orchard, Nebraska, a barn converted into a restaurant.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

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