‘Goldenseal' magazine celebrating 40th anniversary - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

‘Goldenseal' magazine celebrating 40th anniversary

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By JAMES E. CASTO
For The State Journal

March 4 is a red-letter day on John Lilly's calendar. That's the day the 40th anniversary issue of "Goldenseal" magazine is slated to go in the mail. 

For four decades, each quarterly issue of "Goldenseal" has delivered to readers an eclectic mix of articles on a wide range of topics, including folklore, music, farming, religion, traditional crafts, food, politics and more. 

In the magazine's first issue, founding editor Tom Scarven wrote that the publication's goal would be "to serve not only as a device to preserve many aspects of the state's traditional life, but also as a means of communication for students and enthusiasts of West Virginia's folklife." 

"That remains our mission today," said Lilly, who's edited the magazine since 1997. A graduate of Davis & Elkins College, he's a talented musician and songwriter who's released a half-dozen self-produced CDs. 

In putting together the 40th anniversary issue, Lilly said he was guided by what former editor Ken Sullivan did for the 20th anniversary issue. 

"Ken reprinted some of the most popular stories from the magazine's first 20 years," Lilly said. "Following that example, we've assembled an anniversary issue that contains some of the best articles from the past 20 years." 

And so the subjects explored in the 40th issue range from the West Virginia-made Norwalk automobile and the state's three official songs, to Blacksville Pottery and the Mine Safety Day competitions at Red Jacket in the 1950s. "We think we've come up with a good mix," Lilly said. 

"Goldenseal" is published by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and has its office at the Culture Center. 

"We truly appreciate the continued support of Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith of the Division of Culture and History and Secretary Kay Goodwin of the Department of Education and the Arts," Lilly said. 

The anniversary issue of "Goldenseal" will go out to the magazine's 11,500 subscribers in all 50 states and more than two dozen foreign countries. The magazine also sells more than 1,000 copies of each issue at newsstands and book stores around the state.

"Roughly 70 percent of our readers live in West Virginia," said Lilly. "Most of the others are former residents or frequent visitors." 

Lilly said the magazine takes its name from a medicinal herb, also called yellow root, among other names. It grows naturally in much of the forested areas of the state, flowering from April through May, and fruiting in July. The herb is valued for its bright yellow-colored root, which is dried and taken as a tonic or used as a salve. The name was chosen for the magazine, Lilly said, "because it represents beneficial things that occur naturally in West Virginia."

"Goldenseal" grew out of an earlier publication called "Hearth & Fair," also edited by Scarven. It was founded in 1973 to promote activities and spread information concerning the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair, hosted annually at the Cedar Lakes Conference Center, located near Ripley in Jackson County. 

In its early years, "Goldenseal" was funded entirely by the state and was distributed for free to anyone interested in receiving it. Circulation grew from a few hundred in the earliest days to more than 30,000 readers at its peak. The magazine also grew from the 40 pages of the premier issue to its current size of 72 pages. 

Sullivan became editor of "Goldenseal" in 1979 and remained at the helm until 1997. He successfully steered the magazine through an extended transitional period from its early incarnation as a state-supported publication, through years of voluntary subscription payments beginning in the fall of 1981, to being entirely self-supporting by 1995. 

Today the magazine remains financially free-standing, funded exclusively by subscriptions and sales, Lilly said.

Looking back at his years as editor, Sullivan, now the executive director of the West Virginia Humanities Council, said he found it "gratifying that after all this time the magazine is not only surviving but thriving under John Lilly's leadership."

"Apart from whatever credit we editors can take," said Sullivan, "I think the real strength of ‘Goldenseal' is that the people who like it, like it a lot. It's always had the backing of devoted readers, willing to support the effort by their subscription dollars and by their eagerness to share their own stories."