Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Kentucky Cradles Appalachian Art

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By Marlene Fanta Shyer

  Mature Life Features

MOREHEAD, Ky. —- If Kentucky’s bluegrass soul races through its thoroughbreds, its heart is held in the hands of its artisans. An arts council established to preserve the heritage of the 49 counties in the eastern part of the state pays homage to its folk art in an array of galleries and museums and you can find Appallachian Mountain artifacts ranging from potholders to painted gourds in gifts shops peppered throughout the region.

There is much to see but a car is a necessity. For example, Lexington’s Blue Grass airport is a two-hour drive away. But the roads are fine and trundle alongside mountains, rivers and pretty white churches, mostly Baptist.

The Folk Art Museum in Morehead has the most comprehensive collection in the area. The artists, many of whom live in isolation,  usually are self-taught and much of their work is childlike.  Minnie Adkins’ folksy wood figures represent local life and the colorful and glossy walking sticks that seem to be everywhere can bear intricate designs or be whimsical, as is one with twin croquet-ball protrusions inspired by Dolly Parton.

In Hindman, a one-traffic-light town, is the modern Artisan Center with its bright workshop, a former grocery store that is now a museum/shop. Everything is crafted locally. Among with the carved dulcimers, bird houses, and wooden toys we found some beautifully made and reasonably priced fabric pocketbooks.

Outstanding examples of ceramic art are lanterns that hold  candles or electric light bulbs. Their sides are pierced and cut to peek-a-boo the light and project interesting shadows.

Next came Whitesburg, where The Cozy Corner Craft Shop offered more “true mountain handicrafts” and an extensive collection of books about Appalachian culture and history. This is one of many places in which to see the ubiquitous quilts (see photograph) that are wildly popular in this area. A hand-stitched and hand-painted prize-winner can be priced as high as $1,600 but prices are generally lower there is a variety of

Next door is the Courthouse Cafe, which is a reminder that this region’s “country cooking” is generally inexpensive and the payoff comes at dessert. Most places serve up spectacular pies, usually home-made.

Pack your own liquid fire if you want to be assured of a drink because some counties are dry. It’s a local joke: Bourbon County is dry; Christian County is wet. The state parks are all dry, but they’re the best bet for lodging.

You can try the Jenny Wiley resort that  offers much more than a standard-issue motel. Named for a heroic pioneer woman who endured the slaying of her children by the Cherokees, the lodge is on Dewey Lake, surrounded by wooded trails, and offers resort activities like hiking, birding, and pontoon-boat rides. Children’s activities also are available.

For visitors who need more than a fix of folk art, other attractions in the area include a visit to Loretta Lynn’s birthplace in Butcher’s “Holler,” which is interesting not only because it’s the home of “The Coal Miner’s Daughter” but because it is typical of the poverty of its time and place. It’s also fun to read messages left by fans that cover every inch of her home’s wallpaper: “We are a coal miner’s family also,” ” From a coal miner’s granddaughter: You touched my life in a way no other human being ever has” and “I’ll be back when I’m a country star.”

Also worth a visit is the original “Moonlight school” in Morehead. It was founded in 1911 by Cora Wilson Stewart to teach the three Rs to farmers and their wives but only on nights bright enough “so the mules wouldn’t go into the creek.” The first night, 150 people were expected, but 1,200 showed up. The idea caught on. This school movement is considered the genesis of adult education.

An earlier time is on view at the Mountain Home Place, a “living history museum” in Paintsville. It is a reconstructed 1800s farmstead with costumed interpreters and includes an excellent video, featuring Richard Thomas of the television Waltons.

In Magoffin, a collection of log buildings also of the same era has been relocated from various places in surrounding counties.

To wrap up our trip, we took a winding road to Breaks Interstate Park on the Virginia border and checked the view across the Russell Fork River and the Cumberland Mountains. Called the “Grand Canyon of the South,” it’s not folk art, but ranks among nature’s best landscape work.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2004

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 8, 2012 at 6:56 pm

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