Art Center features Holiday Market with unique, artisan gifts; Hosts international nativities and Kwanzaa displays

Published 2:00 pm Monday, December 6, 2021

The Art Center of the Bluegrass showcases its Holiday Market featuring 68 local and national artists presenting handmade items at gift-giving prices.

“We have curated a distinctive selection of items and artists,” says executive director, Niki Kinkade. “The Holiday Market is our way of giving the holiday shopper a unique experience, showcasing artists and unique items that resonate with a creative spirit, a budding artist, or a gift-giver looking for something truly one-of-a-kind.” Community Trust Bank presents the Holiday Market and bank president David Maynard affirms that the arts are such an important part of any community. “The Art Center of the Bluegrass gives artists and patrons a place to connect and mutually benefit each other by providing the venue for artists to share their work and for the community to bring it into their homes to enjoy,” said Maynard.

Sharing the Holiday Market spotlight is the Black Santas display and Kwanzaa display presented by the Atkins family. J.H. Atkins, his wife Artie, and sons Nathan and Justin, have loaned the Art Center their extensive Black Santa display that contains many dozens of Santas, in which the jolly elf is doing a little bit of everything, says Atkins. Atkins first started collecting Black Santas in the 1980s. He recalls being a kid in an African-American segregated church and seeing Black Santa in the church. Seeing a Santa that looked like him made him feel special and represented.

As he started collecting Black Santas, Atkins’ family, friends and colleagues learned of his interest and started sending him Santas as well. He has Santas from all over the country and world, some of his favorites coming from Ghana, Jamaica, and Hawaii. When he was the principal at Edna L. Toliver Elementary, students and teachers would give him Black Santas as gifts and even personalized the names of his family on Santa’s “naughty and nice list.”

“I always appreciated how they recognized my heritage,” said Atkins. He would receive Black Santa ties, doorstops, and even bobbleheads.

Around 20 years ago, Atkins recalls learning he had cousins in Fredericksburg, Virginia who were also loyal collectors of Black Santas unbeknownst to him, and so he began an exchange, almost a challenge with them, to see who could find and send the most unique Black Santa to the other.

As the years have gone by, Atkins has been on a great quest to continue to find specific Santas that he lacks in his collection. His most recent acquisition has been a brown-faced nutcracker rendition of Black Santa. “Next, I’m on the hunt for a police officer and a football-playing Black Santa,” he said with a chuckle.

Additionally, the Atkins Family Kwanzaa display provides a great opportunity for anyone of any age to learn about the celebration of Kwanzaa, which began in 1966 in the midst of the turbulent Civil Rights Movement. Kwanzaa, which is based on African festivals, means “the first fruits” of the harvest, and is a seven-day celebration beginning after Christmas on December 26 and culminating on January 1. Each of the seven days focuses on a different principal – unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

J.H. Atkins attended his first Kwanzaa celebration in 1972 while in the military service at Fort Campbell and living in Clarksville, Tennessee.

He appreciated and was drawn to the “spiritual focus” of the celebration. Today, he uses the time of Kwanzaa to reflect on the past year and to set goals for the year ahead in a centered, intentional way.

To dispel some misconceptions, Kwanzaa is not anti-religious, anti-government or anti-Christian and it is not trying to take the place of Christmas. Its purpose is to celebrate community as well as individuals, with more than 18 million celebrants throughout the world coming from a range of faiths.

“I consider myself a servant-leader,” Atkins said. “Kwanzaa has always taught me that I’m standing on the shoulders of others. But for the grace of God, I have not accomplished anything by myself, and I continue to learn by the examples of others.”

To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Art Center’s display of the Atkins’ Family collection that includes a brief slide show, books, images, items, and more.

In addition, the exhibit “Nativities from Around the World” is the second of two main exhibits on display this holiday season in the Art Center’s upstairs gallery. On loan from Kathy Lockard, this collection includes nativities from 36 countries and 13 US states. The nativities feature everything from hand-carved olive wood from Israel to ceramic pieces from New Mexico to a Texas-inspired scene with baby Jesus resting peacefully in a ten-gallon hat!

“I acquired my first nativity in 1975 as a gift from my parents– a candle carrousel from West Germany,” writes Lockard. “I didn’t plan to start a collection – it just sort of happened because there is such wonderful artistic variety in nativities, and because Christmas has always been an important holiday for my family.”

The display features over 70 different nativities but Lockard has 85 total in her private collection. She bought many of the nativities and international ornaments while traveling to foreign countries. Family and friends have given some as well from their travels abroad. Many come from fair trade shops, a few from catalogs, and some have been handmade by the Lockard’s children and grandchildren.

To learn more about the nativity display in the upstairs gallery at the Art Center, stop by and view the exhibit key that includes the origin of each nativity.

Learn more about the Holiday Market and Art Center exhibits at www.artcenterky.org/holidays.