Made in Slovakia

Article excerpt

A cornhusk doll stood poised, ready to chop off a chicken head.

Blythe Kersula thought the doll would make the perfect Christmas gift for her mother, Dawn.

The doll, imported from Slovakia, is one of thousands of items for sale at Slovak Folk Crafts in Grove City. The 7,000-square-foot store has been open since 2000 and attracts hundreds of visitors a week.

"This is just the coolest little shop," Dawn Kersula says. "It brings so many things together."

The Kersulas live in Vermont and were attending an annual church conference in Grove City. They try to visit the store each year.

The family is of Slovak and Polish heritage, but Kersula says they don't know much about the cultures and are trying to learn more. Visiting the store helps them get a better sense of their roots, she says.

She took a break from shopping by watching a 17-foot-long animated wooden display. In Slovakia, three men spent two-and-a- half years carving the elements from basswood. The 82 moving figures are set in motion with the aid of six windshield-wiper motors. The display portrays different aspects of life in Slovakia, including lumberjacks chopping firewood, a little boy on a rocking horse and a woman churning butter. Many castles are depicted, and in the center of the display is one scene that didn't take place in Slovakia -- a nativity scene.

The artwork arrived in six shipments, says Dave Dayton, who owns the store with his wife, Anne.

In 2000, Dave and Anne Dayton lived in Slovakia for a semester while she taught about American culture at the University of Presov, taking time from off from her work as an English professor at Slippery Rock University. Although they are not of Slovak ancestry, they fell in love with the country and its people, she says, and the couple wanted to find a way to help them.

They noted the beautiful handcrafted goods made throughout the country and sensed opportunity.

Realizing the crafts aren't available in the United States, they decided to open a store upon their return home. Their mission is to create jobs for Slovaks, invest profits in Slovakia for religious, educational and cultural projects, and to educate Americans about the region, Anne Dayton says.

"You never know who you're influencing," she says. "Our purpose is to help the people who make these things."

It isn't easy to determine the effect the store is having in Slovakia, but the Daytons have bought work from more than 200 artists to resell -- or about $520,000 worth of inventory, Dave Dayton says. …