Kentucky artisans have a rich history that traces back longer than the commonwealth itself. The early craftsmen and women created sculptures and baskets and tools out of necessity, and now there are a handful of artists who are keeping those traditions alive.
The Frazier History Museum is dedicating exhibit space to these artists with “Kentucky Craft Luminaries: Sharing the Stories,” which opened Nov. 19 and features more than two-dozen pieces from 17 artists.
The artwork includes everything from weaving and pottery to glass blowing and basket making. There are traditional paintings as well.
The exhibit came about through a partnership with the Kentucky Craft History & Education Association (KCHEA), an organization that gathers, conserves and presents the history and the impact of crafts in Kentucky.
A similar exhibit was held in Lexington in 2015 at LexArts, and KCHEA’s most recent project is to document the oral histories of these artists.
Frazier’s “Kentucky Craft Luminaries” features newer pieces by many of the same artists in the original show. And according to Brigid Witzke, chief curator at the Frazier, the artists are only a small sample of the more than 80 KCHEA has interviewed for its project.
Preserving the past is a main reason the museum wanted to showcase the exhibit to Louisville audiences.
“With a renewed mission to focus on the history of Kentucky, we wanted to bring this exhibition to the Frazier to highlight the role that craft plays in the culture and heritage of our commonwealth,” Witzke tells Insider. “By exhibiting the work of artists who use both traditional and contemporary materials and techniques, it highlights how traditional craft has evolved over time and is able to remain a part of the fabric of Kentucky.”
The artists in the show include the basket maker Leona Waddell; the violinist and artist George Wakim; Mary and Robin Reed, who make art with corn shucks, poplar bark and other materials they get from their creekside farm in the Daniel Boone National Forest; the woodcarver Minnie Adkins; and the textile artist Rebekka Seigel, among others.
Witzke says she hopes the exhibit gives people an appreciation for the many talented artists and craftspeople in Kentucky, and how they are using centuries-old techniques in a contemporary way.
“But perhaps more importantly,” she says, “I hope people take away an appreciation for the impact these artists have not only in Kentucky but the country and beyond.”
For instance, she notes, Waddell received the Kentucky Governor’s Folk Heritage Award and has a basket on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. And Philis Alvic serves as a craft development consultant in Peru, Morocco, India, Nepal, Armenia, Sri Lanka, and seven countries in southern and eastern Africa.
“While these artists are rooted in Kentucky, their influence branches out far beyond our state,” says Witzke.
“Kentucky Craft Luminaries” continues through March 24 at the Frazier History Museum, 829 W. Main St. The exhibit is included in regular museum admission.