Campy Country Queers: Juniper Moon Folk Arts magnifies Appalachian voices

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Cole Riggs
he / him / his
contact@queerkentucky.com

We all know, at some point or another, what it is like to feel misunderstood. For those of us who stray from what is “normal,” names like “weirdo” and “freak” become a part of our subconscious identity, and most people use this as an opposing driving force on our confidence. 

The things that make us, are suddenly in question, and it’s hard to tell what is a true reflection, with such a warped mirror of reality. Taking a step back from this, most of us begin to see the parts of that mirror that belong to the minds, words, and perceptions of others. 

Whether you’re gay, transgender or just someone who collects bottle caps or comic books, we define our identities, not others.

Raina Rue

Raina Rue, co-owner and founder of Juniper Moon Folk Arts, has collected the best reflections of herself, her partner Vann, and the great roaming hills of Appalachia. Rue is the artist and Gibson is the shop manager

Raised in a Baptist household in Irvine, Kentucky, with her grandmother and a preacher for a great uncle, Raina had many things to be distracted by in the warped mirror. Her mother, battling opioid addiction, facing arrest and rehab, caused the uprooting of her sister and her from their childhood home in Lexington, all to be put on the path of Christianity. 

While it may have good moral standing in some regards, and whether you’re religious or not, this path was not for Raina. It kept her from expressing what was within and the authentic pieces of her mirror. The mirror became even more warped by other hardships: being overweight, a daughter of addicts, and the caretaker of a grandmother with mental illness and seemingly contagious eating disorders. As mentioned before, and now in another way: no person is void of fault in the mirror. To be clouded by it is a problem. 

Up until high school began, Rue considered herself the “artsy-fartsy” type with her drawings and collage-filled diaries. Assumingly, school and life got in the way of her true talents as she floundered out of Eastern Kentucky University her junior year while studying journalism and creative writing. What did she have to show for it? 

Raina and Vann, Co-Owners of JMFA

“A shitty SEO, work-from-home, job,” Rue said. This mundane gig continued repressing her “artsy-fartsy” self. However, see this as no tragedy, for it is Rue’s realization of the repression that began to shatter her mirror to remind us all to take a step back and see the whole picture.

Who is she? Indeed not this Baptist woman, unhappy with her body and dating the ever-so boring cis-male she had been taught to be. No! This woman was once a girl painting murals on her school walls, lettering posters to perfection, and competing as a writer in her college days while discovering her sexuality. 

Tickets to a Bluegrass concert nine years ago led her to find Vann admiring her in the line, thus sparking a “ride-or-die,” long-lasting connection in Rue’s words. 

All it took was a Christmas gift containing needles and naturally dyed sheep’s wool for what is known as fiber art to get the ball rolling. The local surroundings inspired Raina to begin creating soft-sculptured mushrooms, witches, and gnome heads. While fiber art may be where things started, Raina and Vann have been making “Wilder’n Hell” illustrations for stickers and pins that represent not only the queer community but the good folk of Appalachia.

Setting the stage in the southeastern region of Kentucky — lush hills and mountains covered in green and orange oak, persimmon, and pawpaw trees. Wildflowers paint the forest and valleys in beautiful colors, all to create the perfect place for the many deer, foxes, rabbits, squirrels, and Raina’s favorite: the infamous marsupial, possums. 

“The opossum has become a symbol for rural queerness, leftist politics, and ‘scrappy’ survivalists,” Rue said.

Possums attributed to her work as the main character for many of her illustrations. Talking with Raina, she uncovered the stigma towards these ‘woodland rats’ as, “…often misunderstood, not usually welcome in what is their natural habitat because of someone else’s comfort, and are exceptionally beneficial to their surroundings given the opportunity to thrive.”

As a great source of inspiration, possums don’t get all of the credit. Raina was greatly influenced by the work of the famous drag performer Sasha Velour. Sasha wears many hats, both literally and figuratively, for her various roles in the drag and creative world. Some may know her award-winning TV show as the hostess of “Nightgowns,” as well as her appearances in RuPaul’s Drag Race as the winner of Season nine. 

It’s no question that a person of such talent and creativity would influence other creators in the LGBQT+ community, especially Raina Rue. With tickets to a meet and greet at Play Louisville, a local gay dance club with live music and weekly special guest shows, Raina got the opportunity to see Velour live. 

“I wanted to show her how much her performances and aesthetics inspired me and give her some sort of lovingly-made gift,” Rue said, and the gifts of “cute-but-a-little wonky pins” themed with Velour’s style had Sasha “flipping her lid over them.” 

Rue has gotten to meet Sasha several more times since then. She gifted more handmade pins, Matryoshka dolls of her most iconic looks, and a needle-felted portrait of her Italian Greyhound, Vanya, now hanging in her Bed-Stuy kitchen, pictured in People Magazine on the features of Velour’s home. Needless to say, Raina credits Velour’s versatility and creative style for the beginning of her pin-making and the kindle to the fire that is JMFA.

With high hopes of growth, JMFA would love to make new merchandise that people can relate to, and with the support of the community, they are sure to get there. Just seeing one of their stickers or pins makes you want to collect and attach them to all accessories possible. You may even wish for hats and apparel with their designs, and it takes all the support available to make it happen. 

Local vendors get stock of JMFA products, but the best place to find them is on Etsy.com. Your help would benefit JMFA and their connection to others in the area, raising money for Eastern Kentucky families in need of financial aid. On July 17,  JMFA set up shop in Grayson, Ky., and alongside some stand-up acts, readings from Appalachian poets and authors, and even some live music from Kentucky acts, Slut Pill and Yellow Cuss.

It was “one hell of a night,” says Rue, and there are sure to be many more as time progresses. To get the scoop on their latest merch, events, and life updates, you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with their handles and links listed below. 

Patreon is a great way to support us and help a pair of queers keep their heads above water in today’s tumultuous world, as are Venmo and Cashapp,” Rue said. “I’d like to say that I really appreciate any and every single person who has ordered a pin from us – every time I hear the little sale notification on Etsy the support absolutely floors me. I’ll make pronoun pins and hillbilly bolo ties for as long as y’all will let me. I promise never to forget anyone who’s had a hand in making JMFA possible.” 

Whether she’s called a “holler rat” or “creek freak,” she’s happy to hear it, and for anyone who may have negativity to stir up, you can “kiss my grits” says Rue. She’s too busy for pessimism; busy living the extraordinary life of being queer and country.

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