MORE HEAD Say the word folk art and those who are NOT in the know might conjure up Jed Clampett carving and shouting “Wee Doggies.”
Then head to Morehead to visit the Kentucky Folk Art Center and take a look at this collection and your eyes will be wide open.
The center has its roots in a small collection housed in a classroom on the campus of Morehead State University. It was in 1985.
Then, in 1992, the new president of MSU understood the importance of these types of works of art and set in motion the first steps to preserve and share them.
He had the collection moved to a 4,600 square foot building on campus. It remained there until the current collection house opened. This is Union Grocery, a 19th century grocery warehouse.
Today, the center houses a collection of approximately 1,400 sculptures and paintings.
Now back to the question of what folk art is. Don’t call it “primitive” or Tammy Stone, the center’s administrative assistant, will quietly and politely correct you.
“It’s a self-taught art,” she says. “They use the experiences they had from childhood memories or experiences like a car accident and being in the hospital.”
This collection came from artists who chose a piece of wood or paper and colors and let their imaginations run wild.
“They realized they had the talent,” Stone said.
And these artists cross the generations.
“We have a lot of new artists emerging,” she said.
Artists in their 30s and 40s give folk art a contemporary feel.
The center’s acting director, Julia Finch, is new to the art form.
Finch, a medieval art historian, came to Morehead from Pittsburgh to join the MSU faculty in 2014.
This introduction to folk art quickly became an appreciation.
“At first I was totally naive about folk art,” she said. “But it reframes our view of art. These artists have stories to tell about their religious beliefs or their landscapes.
Now she sees a strong relationship between this form and the medieval art she studied in her academic career.
While there are contemporary artists, many still prefer the traditional.
And of this group, one of the leading ladies is certainly Minnie Adkins, whose work is currently on display.
Many years ago Adkins was in Morehead and walked past a pottery shop owned by Adrian Swain of Center staff. On the sidewalk were wooden sculptures.
“I walked in and said I could do things like that,” she said.
This started a career that put his work in international collections.
And Adkins has no intention of slowing down.
“I’m 88 and still hitting them,” she said.