Are you tired of shopping in the same old places for that perfect gift and once again having to settle for the same old everybody’s-got-one-like-it item? If so, why not venture off the beaten path, watch a Kentucky craftsperson at work, and come home with a one-of-a-kind piece of pottery that’s sure to be a hit with the recipient, making you feel good about supporting an artisan to boot.
“Pottery is a thing of beauty made from the earth by a real person,” says Sarah Culbreth, who with husband Jeff Enge owns Tater Knob Pottery. “The individual you give it to will always think of you when they use it, either to eat from, drink from,illuminate, or put flowers in.”
Tucked in the Appalachian foothills about 10 miles from Berea, the Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, 30-acre Tater Knob Farm is the rustic home of the couple’s showroom and studio. Here, Sarah explains the process while a blob of clay begins to assume a distinctive shape on her spinning potter’s wheel. The piece may become a mug, bowl, lamp, or perhaps one of the pottery’s signature Spoonbread Bakers that can be purchased either onsite or online in a gift box complete with mix and recipe.
Berea grads, Culbreth and Enge have spent 27 years in a business spawned long ago by two abundant Kentucky natural resources: clay deposits and some of the best folk artists in the nation. Tater Knob uses seven tons of Paducah clay a year.
In the same spot near Waco in Madison County since 1809, Bybee is the oldest working pottery west of the Alleghenies. The sixth generation in the family business, Buzz Cornelison operates Bybee and is the son of its current owner, Walter Lee Cornelison, who creates signature hand-thrown pitchers and spoon jars much as their ancestors did.
Buzz attributes the company’s longevity to keeping things simple.
“We make crude stoneware,” he explains. “It’s made, cleaned, glazed, fired, and sold. That’s the way it used to be. We dig our own clay about two miles from here. Farmers hate it. It’s hard to grow a turnip in, but you can make a nice vase from it!”
Monday through Friday, Bybee is open for sales and tours, with new ware available on Mondays and Thursdays. Individuals can walk through on their own and chat up the potters. “We tell visitors, ‘Please don’t touch, but ask all the questions you want,’” says Buzz.
Another older establishment is Louisville Stoneware Company, begun in 1878 by John Bauer as J. B. Pottery, which today makes stoneware much as it did back then, and even gives visitors a hands-on experience.
“In our Clay Room, you can feel it, touch it, and smell it,” says Barbara Jones, who leads company tours five days a week. “All of our pottery is handmade, and artists paint each piece. You can even pick out a piece of green ware and paint your own.”
Green is becoming more of a theme for David Craig Waltz, whose Heart’s Image Pottery is on a 67-acre farm near Columbia.
“Since I retired from teaching school six years ago,” he explains, “my work is evolving from the functional to more ornamental.”
Visit his Adair County studio for gardeners’ gifts—birdbaths, planters, and wall-mount flower pots with faces he dubs Garden Gods.
According to Murray potter Wayne Bates, most folks purchase pottery as gifts rather than for themselves. The season is upon us, so put on your shopping shoes and do your part at the following studios, all of which offer a peek at the pottery-making process. Call first, as some are by appointment only.
Gallery 121–Wayne Bates
Elegant, whimsical, functional porcelain pottery
Blanket Creek Pottery–Paul Borian
Functional stoneware pottery
Pots Place Studio–Bob Brigl
(270) 535-0561 or (270) 781-6546
Pottery face jugs; stoneware figures and vessels
Gloss-glazed crude stoneware
Daro Gallery–Steve Davis-Rosenbaum
Maiolica style, hand-painted, utilitarian earthenware
Hand-painted dinnerware, bakeware, housewares, ornaments; Paint Your Own Pottery studio; tours
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
Back in the so-called good ole days, the signal that the Christmas season had arrived was when the largest store in town put up a Christmas tree and decorated their front window.
It was special to drive or walk past and see the twinkling lights, bright bows on beautifully wrapped gifts, and sometimes Santa and his animated elves hard at work, getting ready for the big day.
Life seemed less complicated back then, and it didn’t take much for the kids, or even the adults, to get in the spirit of things. The squealing, cackling laugh of a 2-year-old made life worthwhile.
Towns across Kentucky have been lighting up for years, some on a grander scale than others. From the largest to the smallest, many cities, towns, villages, and hamlets are doing their best to make Christmas special.
Downtowns are doing their share to draw people to their tree lightings. Christmas parades abound, some of which are at night, featuring illuminated floats.
Even if where you live doesn’t get into Christmas in a big way, you can bet there’s a town near you that does. You and your family can enjoy some nice holiday road trips between now and New Year’s.
Several communities offer the stay-in-your-car-and-listen-to-Christmas-music routed drive-throughs, while others decorate their downtown, offering holiday foods, decorations, pictures with Santa, music, and even carriage rides.
RiverPark in downtown Owensboro offers one of the state’s most spectacular Christmas presentations. It features an outdoor skating rink overlooking the Ohio River. A giant 20 x 40 foot inflatable screen allows visitors to watch some of the favorite holiday movies. A snow-making machine adds to the reality of it all, especially when the children have a chance to build a real snowman.
Lee’s Ford Marina near Somerset is the new home for what used to be the light display at Christmas Island in Burnside. Considered the granddaddy of holiday light displays at its former location, Lee’s Ford Marina owner J.D. Hamilton bought the show in order to give his facility another season.
“Last year was our first year with the lights,” Hamilton said. “We had displays set up from the time you entered our property all the way down to the water’s edge. Several are even constructed out on the water and they really make for a spectacular view.”
Six years ago, the town of Edmonton, in Metcalfe County, started with a few lights on the fences around the duck pond at the Bowling Community Park. Now it has more than 10,000 lights on a 3/4-mile walking trail that can also be driven.
In Benton, their Christmas in the Park lets visitors see some 750,000 lights. Last year, 28,000 cars toured the grounds.
(all events run through Christmas)
Owensboro: Winter Wonderland
215 E. Second Street
The downtown RiverPark is transformed into an ice- skating rink, outdoor movie venue, carriage rides, and “real” snow. A fee is charged for some of the extras. Rental skates are available. Owensboro also has a driving tour through Panther Creek Park where some 250,000 lights are on display.
Lake Cumberland, Nancy: Winter Wonderland at Lee’s Ford Marina
475 Lee’s Ford Dock Road
Near Somerset, it is all visible from the car. More than a million lights and hundreds of displays, some of which are positioned out on the lake. Santa Claus and live reindeer add to the ambience.
Admission: $10 per car
Edmonton: Bowling Park Lights
1608 W. Stockton Street
Benton: Christmas in the Park
596 Highway 68W
Mike Miller Park and its 80 acres become a winter wonderland with more than 750,000 lights, figures, and displays.
Admission: fee or canned goods are required to enter the park. Marshall County Needline is the recipient of proceeds.
Lexington: Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park
4089 Iron Works Parkway
A three-mile route takes you past dazzling lights and animated figures. Visitors can also leave their cars and eat, shop, and experience other holiday treats.
Admission: $15 per car (prices vary depending on vehicle size)
Elizabethtown: Christmas in the Park
1030 N. Mulberry Street
Freeman Lake is pretty enough on its own, but it really becomes something special for Christmas. With more than a million twinkling lights and 100 displays around the lake, the driving tour has become a regional draw.
Bowling Green: Winter Lights at Basil Griffin Park
352 Three Springs Road
More than 50 animated glowing displays that can be viewed from the vehicle while listening to holiday music.
Admission: $6 per car; $10 per bus
Christmas in Lebanon
239 N. Spalding Avenue
The city-owned Graham Memorial Park has a driving tour, but it’s the Ruley family display that causes locals and visitors alike to drive by the two-acre, 300,000-light displays that just keep growing. The Ruleys live about 10 miles from Lebanon, but that doesn’t stop the crowd.
Light up Glasgow
118 E. Public Square
The downtown square is the focal point of the holiday season for the entire area. With its thousands of lights, decorated lamp posts, continuous events, and displays on the courthouse lawn, it’s a must-drive-by if in the vicinity.
Ashland: Winter Wonderland of Lights Festival
1733 Winchester Avenue
Central Park and downtown look like a postcard. This is the 18th year that Ashland has had organized lighting in the community. Visitors can tour free in their cars or ride the Wonderland Train for a $3 charge.
Archer Park in Prestonsburg
113 S. Central Avenue
More than 50,000 lights featuring motion characters, Santa, nativity scene, and of course feisty elves and reindeer. Begins December 10.
Paducah: Christmas in the Park
Noble Park features half a million twinkling bulbs in the form of dancing bears, beautiful presents, and even a partridge in a pear tree. The one-mile drive is free, but the park does accept donations and canned goods.
Christmas in Maysville
216 Bridge Street
Not flashy, but very classy is the Christmas streetscape in this historic downtown on the Ohio River.
Munfordville: Holidays on the Square
113 Main Street, P.O. Box 304
Lighted displays downtown, caroling,and home tours.
Brandenburg: Christmas by the River
737 High Street, P.O. Box 483
Riverfront Park, on the banks of the Ohio River, is lit up with more than 60 lighted displays.
Gary West is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.