(Editor’s note: The LOVEworks Sculpture in Clifton Forge is the editor’s choice story of 2022, to revisit in that it personifies a team effort for economic revitalization).
There is only one town named Clifton Forge, and there is only one LOVEworks of more than 300 in Virginia that features an interactive QR code which serves as a guide to the Town’s attractions.
Martha Edwards, an English, French and reading teacher whose career in education led her to teach on both the secondary and college levels in Richmond, retired in 2004.
Neel Edwards, her late husband who was president of Horizons Education, and Martha moved to Clifton Forge from Richmond in 2005.
Martha, who spearheaded the community effort that resulted in the unveiling of the LOVEworks Sculpture on Nov. 19, 2022, recalled, “We had friends in Clifton Forge, and we liked Douthat State Park and the C&O Historical Society.”
Neel was an original member of the C&O Historical Society, and Martha remembered, “He was one who liked trains.”
In Jan. of 2021, during HULU’s filming of “Dopesick” in the Town of Clifton Forge, one of the producers of the film engaged Martha in conversation at the United Methodist Church.
Martha noted that the producer asked her, “How come this town doesn’t have a LOVEsign?”
The question planted a seed that motivated Martha to take action, and she attributes the filming of “Dopesick” as the catalyst for generating the idea to create a LOVEsign for Clifton Forge.
She said, “I asked my good friend, Janie Barnette, to help me create a LOVEsign.”
“After we did some research, we went to Chuck Unroe (Town Manager of Clifton Forge) for help,” she continued.
Unroe responded in a positive way that led Martha to conclude, “It is really a blessing that a citizen can go to the town with an idea and gain support.”
Following their meeting with Unroe, they recruited other citizens who volunteered to help with the project.
The LOVEworks Committee was formed with Martha as chairwoman and Barnette as treasurer.
Bill Atherholt was instrumental in finance work, and Mott, his wife, became the “All-Star Organizer,” according to Martha.
Mac Beard was instrumental in website design and manufacturing, and Gayle Hillert provided leadership in marketing and grant writing.
Troy Cottrell was placed in charge of manufacturing, and Tony Williams, owner of Williams Fabrications, Inc. doing business as Jenfab, Inc., was instrumental in creating the sculpture that has a lighting component and the Quick Response Code that the public can use smartphones to access information via bar codes, information about attractions and community services within a 20-mile radius of the Town of Clifton Forge.
Chris Keyser at the Clifton Forge Public Works was helpful in preparing the site and foundation for the LOVEworks that is located adjacent to the Masonic Amphitheatre at 513 Church St.
Martha remarked, “Chuck Unroe was very supportive of the whole project.”
She observed, “The LOVEworks is a 24/7 billboard for Clifton Forge and the Alleghany Highland.”
Reluctant to accept individual credit for the project, Martha emphasized that the year-and-a-half project was a team effort that is already working as an economic driver.
She credits Beard and Hillert for coming up with the concept for the QR Code, and she pointed out that each letter has a QR Code that provides vital information to visitors, data such as area restaurants and their menus, art class schedules, trail maps, all kinds of history about the area, events along with their dates and times, and the curriculum of Mountain Gateway Community College.
The LOVEworks Committee continues to meet, and plans are underway to develop merchandizing such as Christmas ornaments featuring the LOVE Sculpture, an artistic creation that features multicolored lights that accentuate its stainless steel and corten steel construction.
Concerning the LOVEworks Committee, Martha concluded, “All volunteered, and they all love Clifton Forge and were willing to work for a year and a half to get the job done.”
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “The value of love will always be stronger than the value of hate.”
The Clifton Forge LOVE Sculpture is part of Virginia Tourism’s LOVEworks program initiated to strengthen its state-wide branding launched 50 years ago, “Virginia is for Lovers.”
The two other LOVEworks in the Alleghany Highlands are located at Humpback Bridge and at 328 W. Main Street in the City of Covington.
Online charitable giving to support the LOVEworks Committee and its project which will require further landscaping and the designing and placement of directional signs can be achieved by visiting https://cfloveworks.com/#donate.
Also, donations may be made by mailing a check made payable to the Town of Clifton Forge with the words, “LOVE SIGN,” included on the memo line.