Crafting a Life
Deep in the Christian County woods, a few miles outside
Crofton, a pair of Kentucky craftspeople has established a lifestyle that brings
them the peace and quiet they crave. Living in a unique home they built from native
timber, woodturner Paul Ferrell and his wife, potter Tricia Ferrell, live close
to the land while selling their work to galleries and collectors from near and
Becoming artisans wasn't part of their plan when the
Ferrells moved to Kentucky in the early 1970s. Paul and Tricia, then working as
a psychologist and speech pathologist respectively, "really had no direction
at the time," says Paul. "We just wanted to get out of the mainstream
because it wasn't what we were looking for."
The Ferrells began gradually acquiring their property,
now totaling 100 acres, in 1974. The land, which had been abandoned for nearly
a century and was in the hands of some 16 owners, now has become a working organic
farm, supplying nearly all of the Ferrells' food needs.
In the beginning, they grew tobacco and other crops,
and Paul began restoring antiques. Whenever a piece of furniture needed a leg
replaced, he tried to find old wood that closely matched the original, then took
it to a local man who turned it on a lathe in his garage.
"One day I went over there with a job I had to
finish and the man said, 'Ain't gonna do it no more,' " says Paul. "He
had just decided he was going to quit, but I had a job to finish, so I got hold
of a magazine, bought a $39 lathe and some cheap tools, threw some wood on there,
and went to work."
Teaching himself to turn wood "seemed to be a
natural sort of thing for me," Paul says. "I fell in love with it because
it was instant gratification. You put a piece of wood on there and within a period
of time, it's a finished product."
Today Paul specializes in hollow-form vases and bowls
of all sizes, as well as oil lamps, decorative wooden wine tops, and other fine-wood
products. Thanks in part to his longstanding participation in Kentucky Crafted:
The Market, his work is available in a variety of galleries and shops, as well
as at Brushy Fork Creek Gallery, which the Ferrells now operate on their Christian
Like Paul, Tricia learned her craft by self-training
and working with a mentor rather than through formal education. After stepping
away from her career as a speech therapist when the couple's children were born,
Tricia helped Paul with his work until getting an opportunity to try pottery while
visiting a craft show.
When a potter who was exhibiting at the show offered
observers a chance to try working on her wheel, "I thought, 'Finally, here's
my chance,' " says Tricia. "I followed her instructions and I made a
pretty nice pot. She said I had a natural talent, so she offered to teach me."
Paul soon surprised his wife with her own wheel, which she set up in their kitchen.
"There would be clay spatters and dust all over
the place," Tricia says with a laugh. "I'd tell people I was the only
potter I knew who could fry hamburgers and throw a pot at the same time."
Although both of the Ferrells continue to teach their
crafts to others, Tricia has given up her status as a Kentucky Arts Council artist
in residence to devote more time to other interests. Five years ago, she returned
to work as a speech therapist, working three days a week at the nearby Outwood
Residential Care facility for mentally handicapped adults. And she recently opened
a health spa in Dawson Springs, the Hopkins County community she and Paul are
Meanwhile, Paul's work has found its way into New
York City's American Craft Museum, Louisville's Speed Art Museum, the Appalachian
Center for Crafts in Smithville, Tennessee, Washington, D.C.'s John F. Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts, and many private art collections.
Working in a studio a few yards from the couple's
house, Paul uses only local woods, including maple, oak, and hickory, and cures
them himself. One of his favorites is sassafras, which has subtle patterns but
expands and contracts less than most other varieties, he explains. Much to his
disappointment, it has become increasingly hard to find in recent years.
Even as Paul's status as an artisan has grown, so
has his local reputation for buying wood that would be useless for most purposes.
People in the area's lumber industry now call him "wart man," he says.
Frequently people phone to offer burls they don't want.
"Sometimes I'll come home and find burls dropped
off in the yard, along with a note that says, 'Call me' or telling me how much
I owe," he says with a laugh.
Once the wood is on his lathe, Paul waits for its
grain patterns to reveal themselves, deciding what shape the piece will take and
where its focal point will be as he goes along.
Although much of his work has an Oriental or Southwestern
influence, reflecting his nomadic early years in a military family, he has found
out over a period of time that form is really universal. "The character of
wood is incredibly beautiful, but you're going to look at the form forever."
Considering their labor-intensive lifestyle, it's
hard to imagine how the Ferrells have time to work at their crafts. With the help
of Paul's father, they built their home by hand, using wood they cut at their
own sawmill. The house, designed to make them as self-sufficient as possible,
uses passive solar energy and includes a freezer filled with food grown on their
farm, where the soil is enriched by wood shavings left over from Paul's work.
The Ferrells have two grown children, Katrina, an
occupational therapist, and Nathan, a student at Eastern Kentucky University.
"Neither of them wants to be a craftsperson," says Tricia. "They
say we have to work too hard."
BRUSHY FORK CREEK GALLERY
Paul and Tricia Ferrell operate Brushy Fork Creek Gallery located on their
Christian County farm.
Address: 1550 Pleasant Green Hill Road, Crofton, KY 42217
Telephone: (270) 424-5988
Gallery Hours: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. CST, or by appointment.
Exhibit: You can see Paul's work at the upcoming Kentucky Crafted: The Market,
March 3-4 at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center, Louisville.
All Roads Lead to Kentucky Crafted
Point your car toward Louisville the weekend of
March 3 and 4, because that's where Kentucky's finest crafts will premiere at
the 20th annual Kentucky Crafted: The Market at the Kentucky Fair and Exposition
Center, South Wing B.
More than 250 Kentucky artisans or exhibitors
will showcase their art. This dream exhibit for wholesalers and retail buyers
includes contemporary and traditional crafts and two-dimensional art including
paintings, sculptures, pottery, folk art, handblown glass, books, music, food
products, silk beaded purses, jewelry…and the list goes on and on.
This year The Market is expanding the craft
section by inviting selected craftspeople from surrounding states' juried craft
programs. These guest craft organizations include Ohio Designer Craftsmen, Southern
Highland Craft Guild, and the Tennessee Association of Craft Artists.
In addition to the fabulous crafts, a wide
selection of entertainment is scheduled throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday
about every 45 minutes. These include a variety of folk musicians, Kentucky authors,
a jug band, songwriters, banjo artists, gospel musicians, appearances by the Governor's
School for the Arts students, a children's craft area, and much more.
"Last year's Market saw record-breaking
crowds, with nearly 400 retail shops and 13,500 public attendees. As a primary
activity of our program, it serves as a major outlet for Kentucky businesses and
generates 2 to 3 million dollars in sales annually," says Fran Redmon, Kentucky
Craft Marketing's program director.
The Market is produced by the Kentucky Craft
Marketing Program, a state agency in the Kentucky Arts Council, Education, Arts
& Humanities Cabinet.
For more information on Kentucky Crafted: The
Market 2001 or the Kentucky Craft Marketing Program, contact Kitty McAllister
at 888-KY CRAFT (592-7238) or go to www.kycraft.org