December 2, 2020

Auntie M’s American Cottage: Where history meets handmade American art

By Cathy Welch

Correspondent

“It’s definitely a mix of goods you won’t find in any other store, and that’s part of what attracts people to come back and check out what’s new and different,” said Marilyn West, owner of Auntie M’s American Cottage on historic Yorktown’s Riverwalk. “I am proud to support local business — and own one.”

A Texas native, West moved to Virginia in the mid-1980s. Raised in Missouri, she earned her Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Missouri, but she always had the creative heart of an artist.

After a long career working in journalism, West began creating large art pieces to adorn her Yorktown home.

“I gather my inspiration mainly from primitive folk art rugs and quilts,” she says of her early folk art.

West’s artwork was featured in venues such as Peninsula Fine Arts Center, but in 2013 a “For Rent” sign posted along the Riverwalk changed her life’s path.

A few months later, she opened Auntie M’s American Cottage next to Ben and Jerry’s. She realized her dream of becoming an aunt through her business’s name.

“Our merchandise includes an eclectic mix of recycled pieces — from slump wine bottles and cheese trays to button bracelets and bottle top earrings,” she said. “These mix with a variety of artful products from hand-sewn aprons and children’s clothing to all sorts of art prints, cards and original folk art.”

Although much of the work in the store is made by West, she has handpicked American artists from all over Hampton Roads to complete the mix.

“I attend American-made wholesale shows,” she said of sourcing original art for her shop. “We try to listen to what our customers are telling us and fill in the gaps with new products that we haven’t carried before.”

Auntie M’s offers seasonal merchandise in addition to holiday items. They carry beach-y items (perfect for their waterfront locale) and inexpensive pewter necklaces along with a variety of items perfect for parents and grandparents to purchase for their children and grandchildren.

Three years ago, Barbara Zel bought a necklace slide made of entwined silver thread and colored beads.

“They were so creative and inexpensive, so I bought a few,” she says. “My sister wanted one with black-and-white beads, and I found out Marilyn was the artisan who created them.”

The items were no longer in the shop, so West offered to make several color varieties for Zel and her sister to choose from.

“She could have said I’m not making them anymore,” Zel said. “She’s very accommodating and always has a smile on her face.”

Auntie M’s is operated by three employees besides West, including artist Jean Thompson.

“I feel fortunate to work here in the midst of Yorktown’s rich history,” Thompson said. “Visitors to the store tell me we inspire them to be more creative. The simple acts of recycling and repurposing ensure that we will have even more history to share with future generations.”

Auntie M’s also carries unique, Yorktown ornaments, T-shirts, signs and magnets crafted exclusively for their shop.

The shop has a unique atmosphere due to the vintage furniture, unique displays, aromas of handmade soaps and soothing music.

Auntie M’s American Cottage contributes to events in Yorktown like the Virginia Symphony concert each fall and the upcoming Lighted Boat Parade.

“I feel like I am supporting the community by providing jobs, promoting art and forming lasting personal relationships,” West said. “We hope to be in our little corner of Yorktown for a long time.”