Printer Friendly

Kentucky keepsakes.

No one knows marvin Finn's age: mid-70s perhaps, but he's not telling. As one of Kentucky' most renowned folk artists, h lives in a Louisville public housing project and turns out whimsical plywood chickens, roosters, and butterflies from his kitchen workshop. Among his patrons is Phyllis George, former Miss America and former Kentucky first lady, whose personal art collection includes a one-of-a-kind Finn flamingo. The bird--12 feet tall and dressed in a red hula skirt---commands attention even in a collection as large and colorful as George's.

"You don't need a college degree to paint a chicken," Finn responds modestly when asked about his formal art training. He prefers to speak of heaven. He says he's ready but adds that even when the good Lord calls him home, he'll "never quit making toys, because this is heaven to me."

Finn's passion for his craft is typical of the thousands of ingenious artists whose work is being honored in 1993-the Year of the American Craft. It took an act of Congress and a presidential proclamation to launch the national salute, but most artisans need no such official encouragement to nudge them to their workshops and studios each day. "I look forward to it all the time," says Finn of the hours spent whittling and painting. "I'm pretty sharp with my imagination, and I just do what my mind tells me to do."

Although the Year of the American Craft is a coast-to-coast celebration, Kentucky has assumed a leading role in the observance. Phyllis George serves as national spokesperson, and the full schedule of festivals, fairs, and exhibits currently unfolding in the Bluegrass State stands as a model for other states. Names of specific events hint at the art form they champion. Among them: Quilt Fest, the Great American Dulcimer Convention, Sheep to Shawl, Homespun Fair, Pieces of the Past, and the Scarecrow Festival. All crafts, primitive and refined, are valued as unique expressions of creativity. The best examples find their way to the trendy Kentucky Art and Craft Gallery in a historic comer of downtown Louisville. Here, collectors find items that are predictable-quilts, baskets, pottery, and jewelry--as well as treasures that are downright curious.

"We once did an exhibit of doghouses and invited folk artists and architects to participate," says Debbie Skaggs, director of operations at the gallery. Among the most unusual single pieces of art shown and sold in the gallery since it opened in 1984: a table-size bowling alley meticulously handcrafted in maple by a blind man. To ensure that the craft collection always includes works by unknown as well as established artists, the curator and marketing director make frequent forays into remote hollows of the state.

"They might be visiting with a weaver in the hills of eastern Kentucky and hear about a neighbor down the road who carves," says Skaggs. Packages of art sometimes arrive at the Main Street gallery carefully wrapped in flour sacks and boxed in Metamucil cartons.

Two Kentucky schools, located miles from each other, encourage the perpetuation of traditional arts and crafts. Berea College, situated south of Lexington, was rounded to provide education to mountain students on limited budgets. Concern for the preservation of Appalachian crafts led to the establishment of college-operated student industries such as weaving, broom making, needlecraft, wrought-iron working, and wood turning. Undergraduates are required to work in the Student Labor Program to meet expenses of their education. Spin-off benefits of the program are that young Kentuckians master the arts and crafts of the past, and that the tiny city of Berea has been elevated to mecca status by tourists in search of future heirlooms.

To the east, at Morehead State University, a wildly different kind of art is displayed at the Folk Art Museum. Perhaps because the school's mission statement includes words about "promoting local culture," or perhaps because of the state's enthusiastic support of traditional crafts, the museum has successfully ducked funding cuts that have curbed other educational programs.

"We decided there was no reason to duplicate what goes on in Berea," explains Adrian Swain, potter and curator. "We opted to channel our interest toward folk art and to take a personal interest in the local artists and what they are producing."

Word quickly spread among area craftsmen that Swain and his museum staff had no rigid standards about what folk art ought to be, but instead appreciated whatever the artists carried in from their rural studios. Walking sticks painted as snakes, fiery red figures of devils, tree branches fashioned as birds and monsters, and whimsical paintings of Noah's ark fill the gallery on the edge of campus. Religious messages, not always spelled right, are scrawled on wooden chests and describe Judgment Day, Hell's Heater, and the Devil's Depoe (depot).

"We try to reflect, not direct, what is going on here," says Swain. "We never suggest to artists what they should do. Instead, we give support to people doing creative things."

People such as Marvin Finn: "Maybe the good Lord plants these things in my mind," says Finn of his colorful birds, butterflies, and fish, "because every day I'm making something different."

Dozens of festivals and exhibitions are scheduled to celebrate the Year of the American Craft.-For information about Kentucky events, call 1-800225-TRIP, extension 67, or write: Travel, Dept. M.R., Box 2011, Frankfort, KY 40602. For a state-by-state listing of 1993 craft events, write: Year of the American Craft, American Craft Council, 72 Spring St., New York, NY 10012. AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

Seventy years after the death of its last resident, Kentucky's Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill still welcomes visitors through separate doors. About 275,000 guests file into the frame Meeting House annually--men to the east, women to the west--and huddle in seats at opposite sides of the room to learn about the curious sect whose law of celibacy did nothing to boost membership.

"We make you kindly welcome," says Randy Folger, a music interpreter with a voice so powerful it causes windowpanes to quake during his 15-minute program of Shaker music and lore. He dispels a few myths: the Shakers were not overly somber, even though they worked 18 hours a day and ate meals in silence to save time. And, in spite of their wild gyrations when they were moved by the spirit of God, they were serene people with healthy habits that led to a lifespan almost double the national average. Overnight visitors to Pleasant Hill do more than hear about life in a no-frills society; they witness it firsthand. Accommodations are offered in 15 restored buildings where the Shakers once worked and lived. Each room is furnished with handwoven scatter rugs, electrified candles, and surprisingly comfortable, uncluttered wooden furniture. Self-guided tours of the village enable guests to amble through the spacious grounds, wander the 33 original structures, chat with knowledgeable interpreters such as Folger, and witness demonstrations of Shaker crafts. Tightly sewn flat brooms--a Shaker innovation, along with wooden clothespins--are among favorite souvenirs produced within the settlement and available in one of two gift shops.

To showcase Shaker workmanship during the Year of the American Craft, several one- and two-day workshops are set for autumn. Artisans will travel from around the country to join village "residents" in demonstrations and classes in traditional 19th-century crafts such as oval box making, tinware decorating, herbal wreath making, and silhouette cutting.

Visitors for a day or a weekend are quick to adapt to the rural setting and Spartan trappings of the settlement that once was home to 500 believers. Few guests object to the lack of customary tourist amenities: no snack bars, swimming pools, video rooms, or fitness salons can be found on the premises. To the contrary, one "resident" says that some guests are offended by the single concession that Shaker Village makes to modern innkeeping. "We've found our portable televisions pushed inside the closets or hidden under the beds to get them out of sight."

For a calendar of upcoming events, write to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, 3500 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg, KY 40330 or call (606) 734-4411.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:includes related article on Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, in Kentucky; folk art
Author:Miller, Holly G.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:1346
Previous Article:Tooth or consequences.
Next Article:In Russia, it's St. Petersburg again.
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters