Northern Kentucky is host to an exhibit featuring craftspeople in the commonwealth
High on a Hill in Devou Park sits the Behringer- Crawford Museum. Jason French is the museum’s curator of collections. He gives me a tour of the exhibit called Kentucky Craft Luminaries: Sharing the Stories. French points to a quilt made by Owen County textile artist, Rebekka Seigel. The red and white quilt called ‘Lucille Ball Paper Doll Quilt’ is almost as large as the wall where it’s displayed.
“It’s a quilt that has all of these kind of patches, that are dresses and outfits that actually Velcro into the place on the quilt. And it gives it a little more dimension," said French.
More than 30 pieces of art by Kentucky craftspeople are presented in a few rooms at the Behringer-Crawford. French said the museum has been waiting for a chance to display this art which includes a variety of modalities such as quilting, pottery, beadwork, and whittling.
“This is an exhibit that we’ve wanted to have for a number of years. The Kentucky Craft History and Education Association has pulled together oral histories and works from really prominent Kentucky artists in each of their disciplines,” explained French.
Officials with the Kentucky Craft History and Education Association created the exhibit to document Kentucky’s craft history. It’s part of an ongoing oral history project where nearly one hundred artists and other supporters across Kentucky have been interviewed about their work. The displays in the museum feature pictures of the artists, including their biographies which hang on the wall near their art. Fran Redmon is on the KCHEA board.
“Our only requirement is that they be someone who’s had an impact on the craft community in Kentucky. Some are nationally recognized, not all are. So, we try to have a broad representation across the state,” reported Redmon.
This is the fourth time Kentucky Craft Luminaries: Sharing the Stories is being presented in the Commonwealth. Again, Behringer-Crawford’s curator of collections Jason French.
“Anytime you see a Sharing the Stories Kentucky Craft Luminaries exhibit in the state of Kentucky, it’s going to probably have different pieces and maybe different artists displayed there. It just depends on the availability of the artists and what their commitments are for different shows,” said French.
French stands near a glass case where a wooden vessel or vase covered in colorful beadwork is displayed.
The piece, created by Linda Pigman Fifield is from a series called ‘Hills of Home’. Fifield lives in the country about 10 miles outside Berea. She said her beadwork was inspired by a trip in 1974 to the Field Museum in Chicago. That’s when she saw Native American baskets for the first time.
“And I was just spellbound. I was spellbound by how beautiful and intricate they were, how finely twined they were. And I thought that each little stitch looked like a bead. And it was at that point that I got the inspiration to create something of beauty and objects of that skill and detail," said Fifield.
The 68-year-old said she taught herself how to do the beading stitch through trial and error and experimentation. At first, she would stitch over clay pots but changed to wooden vessels she says, because they are more durable.
“I am working with a needle and thread. I’m stitching bead to bead, one bead at a time. So, I’m actually creating a network of beads using glass beads from the Czech Republic, nylon thread, and a needle. So, it’s like a beaded skin that completely encases the vessel,” said Fifield.
Another artist featured in this exhibit is Louisville Potter, Wayne Ferguson. Ferguson’s been working consistently as an exhibiting artist since 1971.
“The theme that I kind of gravitated to in probably the early 90s was more of a sociopolitical kind of a commentary on the environment, strip mining, and a bunch of other things. And I found I can incorporate a lot of that in a teapot for instance,” said Ferguson.
A significant part of this exhibit is the story behind each artist. Wayne Ferguson recalls how a high school teacher helped him find his way through his art when he was in trouble.
” I had an art teacher. Her name was Eva Hinkle. And I was a kid who was in a lot of trouble and when I say trouble, I mean it was non-stop. I’m talking court appearances, probation, incarceration. You name it. She managed how to get me to do work that was positive. She was the person who made the real change,” explained Ferguson.
Museum Curator Jason French said stories like Wayne Ferguson’s are compelling and an interesting part of this exhibit.
“ You don’t always think about your art teacher keeping you out of prison. You know, changing your life. These exhibits I just think are so powerful because they can tell those stories.," said French.
“Kentucky Craft Luminaries: Sharing the Stories,” will be on display at the Behringer- Crawford Museum through May 14th.
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