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Ky Folk Art Icon Minnie Adkins Prepares For Art Festival That Bears Her Name

Cheri Lawson

Well-known Kentucky woodcarver Minnie Adkins is getting ready for the annual folk art festival that bears her name.  

Artists from around the country will bring their art to Sandy Hook, Kentucky on the third Saturday in July for Minnie Adkins Day. 

 At her home in rural eastern Kentucky 87-year-old Minnie Adkins spends just about every day whittling.  She taught herself when she was 10 years old.  

“Well now when I was a growing up I needed toys to play with and I didn’t have 'em. If I had a sharp knife, I could whittle things. So, I whittled pop guns and I whittled bow and arrows,” said Adkins. 

The woodcarver is known for what she refers to as her small critters, like foxes, possums, and bears.  

Credit Cheri Lawson
Minnie Adkins shows two characters she whittled. The Bright Blue Rooster and Mr. Kudzu have been photographed and used as illustrations in a children's book.

She’s whittling a rooster that she’ll sell at Minnie Adkins Day. She told how she decided the piece of wood resembling a slingshot could be carved into a rooster.

“I just got to lookin’ at that stick, you know, to make the slingshot out of and I thought well, if it had a pair of legs on that handle and then a head and a tail, why, it would be a rooster,” explains Adkins. 

Her work is featured in permanent collections around the country, including the Smithsonian, The Huntington Museum of Art, and the Kentucky Folk Art Center.  

At the Cincinnati Art Museum, one of Adkins’ red foxes is on display. Curator Julie Aronson called Adkins’ characters universally appealing.  

“They seem very animated like they could kind of walk off and you know you could meet them,” said Aronson. 

The curator said the Kentucky folk artist has achieved a considerable level of fame.

“She’s probably among the best-known folk carvers in the country,” said Aronson. And she’s also been so important in helping other artists find ways to make a living in her area, which I think is something that’s very admirable about her.”  

In 2014 the Elliot County fiscal court officially declared the third Saturday of each July, Minnie Adkins Day. 

“And four years later in 2018, both houses of the Kentucky legislature issued a joint resolution designating the third Saturday of each July as Minnie Adkins Day,” said Mike Norris. 

Norris lives in Lexington. He and Adkins have collaborated on children’s books for 30 years.  Norris said Minnie Adkins Day is a folk art festival that honors Minnie and her work. He said the festival was canceled last year due to COVID. 

Credit Cheri Lawson
Minnie Adkins holds up one of the roosters she whittled and painted.

“But this year’s Minnie Adkins Day is breaking all records for registration.”  

Sitting on the front porch at her house, Adkins continues whittling in preparation for Minnie Day. She said artists from states as far away as California will bring their art to sell.

“When you get to come to Minnie Day you’ll see how many people from far away. We had people from 17 different states last time we got to have it, year before last it would be. And one lady come all the way from Bonn, Germany,” said Adkins. 

A team of people has been working for months to get Minnie Adkins Day organized. Sharon Boggs is Adkins’ niece and the local arts council president. She said typically more than a thousand people  attend. Boggs said the festival runs from 8 am until 4 pm on the grounds of The Little Sandy Lodge in Sandy Hook, Kentucky. She said live music and food are on the schedule. It’s free to get in and browse. For those who want to purchase folk art, the artists will have a variety of items available.

“They always do have carvings and then they have quilts, they have paintings. This one lady uses garbage and makes things out of trash and they are beautiful,” said Boggs.

Credit Cheri Lawson
Minnie Adkins holds up the first rooster she ever carved.

 The down-to-earth Adkins said she’ll be selling all kinds of carved animals including roosters, bears, and cats this year at her booth.

“I want to make something that people can enjoy and it makes em’ laugh, you know,” said Adkins. 

If you spot her at the festival, she may not have time to sit and visit but she’ll be sure to wave.

Cheri is a broadcast producer, anchor, reporter, announcer and talk show host with over 25 years of experience. For three years, she was the local host of Morning Edition on WMUB-FM at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Cheri produced and hosted local talk shows and news stories for the station for nine years. Prior to that, she produced and co-hosted a local talk show on WVXU, Cincinnati for nearly 15 years. Cheri has won numerous awards from the Public Radio News Directors Association, the Ohio and Kentucky Associated Press, and both the Cincinnati and Ohio chapters of the Society for Professional Journalists.
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