‘Appalachia From the Inside’ now open at Art Center of the Bluegrass; Exhibit runs through March 16

Published 4:45 am Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The Art Center of the Bluegrass celebrates Kentucky’s Appalachian art and culture through its latest exhibit – Appalachia from the Inside. This 2022 winter show features three inter-related exhibits that showcase the enduring history and contemporary relevance of Appalachian art, artists, and ethos.

Appalachia is a cultural region in the Eastern United States made up of thirteen states stretching from southern New York to northern Alabama and Georgia. The Appalachian culture consists of art and crafts, food, music, dance, storytelling, and poetry with multiple ethnic influences including African, European, and Native American. Its influences extend far beyond its borders and permeate the state of Kentucky. Appalachia has a deep and rich culture that is connected to family, the land, and resourcefulness.

Niki Kinkade, the executive director at the Art Center of the Bluegrass, was looking to shine a light on Kentucky’s Appalachian region, so rich with culture and traditions. “This region is sometimes portrayed in a narrow, negative light and we wanted to share a wider, more positive perspective. Artists are interpreting past traditions and future possibilities; they are sharing intimate experiences and everyday moments all through an artistic representation of Kentucky’s Appalachia,” says Kinkade.

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The three inter-related exhibits take on the past, present, and future of the region. In the Grand Hall, the Art Center of the Bluegrass will host pieces from the permanent collection of the Kentucky Folk Art Center at Morehead State University in an exhibition titled Folk Yeah!. Works selected by Julia A. Finch, associate professor of art history and interim director of the Kentucky Folk Art Center, displays a wide range of artistic styles created by Kentucky artists including examples of traditional folk art, visionary art, and outsider art.

One of the highlights of this exhibition is a piece created by Kentucky native Nan Phelps titled Duncan Sing to Orville from 1969. This painting is a perfect example of traditional folk art exhibiting attributes such as a highly decorative design, bright bold colors, flattened perspective, and strong forms in a simple arrangement. The painting depicts a young boy dressed in a red and white cowboy suit sitting in a chair holding a small guitar next to his trusted dog Orville. Phelps’ piece is a very stylized example of folk art reminiscent of early 1800 century Miniatures created by traveling untrained artists commissioned to create small portraits before the invention of photography.

Outsider artist and Lexington resident LaVon Williams is a descendant of the Gullah culture of South Carolina’s coastal plain and Sea Islands. The Gullah people are African Americans known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African American community in the United States. The Gullah were West Africans brought to the region through the slave trade due to their advanced knowledge in the cultivation of rice. Williams was taught by a family member in the traditional carving techniques of the Yoruba tribe of West Africa and made evident in his piece titled Racine from 1990. The imagery Williams uses is of a young African American woman stretching upward in a dance pose in the style of imagery of the 1920’s Harlem Renaissance and artists such as Jacob Lawrence.

For the exhibition Legacy, executive director Niki Kinkade commissioned three talented regional artists to reimagine pieces from the permanent collection of Kentucky Folk Art Center.  The three artists include Danville son and Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker, Morehead, Kentucky’s Stef Ratliff, and from Ermine, Kentucky, artist Lacy Hale. In her piece titled Finding Comfort in Utility, a mixed media collage on canvas, Hale painted a young father sitting in a rocking chair holding a newborn child with a thin translucent veil between the father and the depiction of ancestors looking over his shoulder in the background. Hale’s piece was created in response to the renowned Appalachian furniture maker Chester Cornett’s Rocker created in the 1970s. As one of the first artworks visitors see upon entering the gallery, the two pieces are presented side by side to exemplify the importance of family in Appalachian culture and are a great introduction to one of the overall themes of these exhibitions.

In the Upstairs Gallery, the Art Center is presenting Imagining the Future of Kentucky’s Appalachia featuring works from an open artist call reflecting the theme ‘the future of Kentucky’s Appalachian region.’ The selection of these artworks was based on creativity, strength of execution, and overall artistic excellence and included two prizes of cash awards for first ($300) and second ($100) place.

Artists participating include Jeff Chapman Crane, David Farmer, Ashley Gatewood, Rhonda Gilliam, April Koon, Brandon Long, Pam Oldfield Meade, Kathleen O’Brien, and Karen Roland.

In addition to the exhibitions, the Art Center of the Bluegrass will host a Zoom Artist Talk with Legacy exhibition artists Frank X Walker, Stef Ratliff, and Lacy Hale on Thursday, Feb. 3 at 7 p.m. Julia A. Finch will present in person at the Art Center of the Bluegrass on the impact of Appalachian culture on the art produced within the region and the pieces on display from the Kentucky Folk Art Center on Saturday, Feb. 19 at 3 p.m. Registration is required for each event. Find out more information by visiting artcenterky.org or calling 859-236-4054. The exhibitions are up through March 16, 2022.

Additional Appalachian-themed programming is happening at the Art Center January through March, and includes classes, performances, and more. The Lunch with the Arts series will return on Feb. 2 for seven consecutive Wednesdays, noon – 1 p.m., and feature speakers and musicians such as Silas House, Mitch Barrett, Kentucky Poet Laureate Chrystal Wilkinson, and others! Learn more and register by visiting artcenterky.org or calling 859-236-4054.