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Stephen C. Stonestreet's roots run deep in Appalachia with a lineage going back five generations in the hills of West Virginia. His ancestors were farmers and entrepreneurs - working class people centered in one of the "flyover" states with a deep connection to the land and to family culture.

His grandfather, Denzil Wayne Stonestreet, was a marine and traveled around the world three times on a boat, returning home to raise his six children with his wife, Elaine Marie. He was self-employed since 1952, founding 27 successful small-businesses, including several flower shops, a cattle farm, a carpet company, and a land use company called Stonestreet Lands Company, focused on the coal, natural gas, oil, and timber industries.

Stephen's other grandfather, Donald Willard Bowling, was a veteran of the Korean War and worked at Monsanto and Dow Chemical for a number of years. A union laborer, he later worked as a manager of the local grocery store, Kroger, while raising two children with his wife, Francis Null, who was the administrator to five generals. Francis' ancestors owned the land that now makes up the greater Cross Lanes area, which was sold when her great grandfather decided to sell most of the family farm and move to the city of Charleston to work in the factories during the first Industrial Revolution.

Center Yourself Here

Recently, Stephen visited his grandfather's (Stonestreet) land in Braxton County, West Virginia, the center point of the state and all of Appalachia (interestingly enough, the counties slogan states, "Center Yourself Here"), searching the endless hills, exploring his heritage, and meeting the townsfolk.

One Sunday morning upon visiting his ancestors small country church, he stumbled upon a grave site where his great great grandfather, Stephen Samuel Stonestreet, was buried. Of course, this lead to wide eyes and a huge mouth drop at its sight. It's not every day you see your name on a tombstone. 

Raised a mile away from both sets of grandparents, Stephen grew up in Cross Lanes, West Virginia, where his father has been a Family Physician for 30+ years and is known as the singing and praying doctor in town (a pastoral healer of sorts). His mother was a music teacher at local schools and choir director at the church he was raised in for 11 years. She stayed at home later to raise and educate Stephen and his three siblings.

A lot of people lived off the land in those days, which you don't see much of anymore.

"One morning after celebrating Thanksgiving with the family, I was talking to my mom about her early childhood years and what life used to be like back in the 60s and 70s, and even earlier. I had recently been exploring topics around land-based family culture and heritage, reading books by authors like Wendell Berry. I asked her if she grew up living off the land at all, or how her parents and grandparents lived. She said, 'Do you not know that before your dad and I got married in 1979, I canned all the food we needed for the next year while he was in medical school? A lot of people lived off the land in those days, which you don't see much of anymore.'"

This conversation struck a chord in Stephen, leading him even more to learn and explore topics around land-based family heritage and agrarian culture, including his own heritage, as he struggles with the overwhelming themes of disconnection and isolation in the Digital Age. He believes the greatest need in our time is to build places and spaces to nurture interconnectivity, interdependence, and shared community, much of which has been lost as society has left the rural, agrarian small town life of their ancestors.

Two generations removed from the land, Stephen began pursuing humanitarian work abroad at a young age, working with the Open Arms Foundation (OAF) in Medellin, Colombia, SA at age 16. At age 18, he orchestrated and led the first arts and media missions team down to Medellin to document the lives of street children and the work of OAF, while working to rebrand and promote their organization and raise awareness about their work. This project helped inform his passion for storytelling and his belief in the power of an image to unite people around a cause for good. 

Hope lies in your shovel.

"The greatest image we can present to the world is ourselves - everyday, ordinary people are the image-bearers. What we do, how we speak, what we believe, and how we live informs the world around us and shapes ourselves, our families, our communities, and our future. I am a storyteller because I want to remind, reimagine, and transform our world and its communities through the art of visual storytelling, inspiring people and communities to be the best form of themselves and grow unity and peace in their everyday places and spaces. I believe this is where change occurs - on the ground level in communities. As my brother once put it when I asked him where hope lies, 'It's in your shovel.' 




Past Clients // J.Q.  Dickinson Salt-Works, Amizade Global Service-Learning, Appalachian Funders Network, Cause A Scene (Nashville, TN), Dead Oceans (Label), Sustainable Williamson, The Williamson Health & Wellness Center,  Inlet Dance Theatre, Open Arms Foundation, Write Choice Network, Liberty Health Group.

Publications // WhiteHouse.Gov, UpWorthy, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Renewable Energy World, Home Power Magazine, Green For All, OnEarth, Eye Opener TV, The Charleston Gazette. 

Collaborators // Xeno Productions, Mesh Design and Development, The Farm House Cville, Lauren Stonestreet Photography, Taylor Napier Media, M Squared Creative, Braiden Maddox Sheldon, Amizade Global Service-Learning.