Paintings perched on easels, sheets of metal pressed into sculptures, yards of fabric rendered into wearable art—the Bluegrass State elevates and celebrates the craftsperson, as its profusion of arts and crafts festivals and fairs attests each year. Call it a ham or a hillbilly fête or a straight-up arts fair, artisan-made items are the centerpiece or a focal point of these events.
An award-winning fest
Francisco’s Farm Arts Festival, hosted annually by historic Midway College, is an outdoor exhibition of juried fine arts and crafts. Held in late June, the prestigious festival is named in honor of Colonel John Francisco, the original owner of the property where Kentucky’s only college for women stands.
Marcie Christensen, the festival’s event coordinator, has seen it grow from a local event with 75 artists in 2004 to a nationally recognized one that last year showcased 150 artists from 17 states. Along the way, the festival has scooped up a number of awards and has been named one of the Top 10 Art Fairs & Festivals in the country four years in a row, including 2010, by AmericanStyle magazine, the nation’s premier arts lifestyle magazine for art lovers, collectors, and travelers.
“It’s quite an accomplishment for a festival as young as ours to make the list at all, let alone four years running,” Christensen says. “Many festivals on the list have been around for more than 20 years—some as many as 50.”
This year, visitors can expect to see more of the high-quality art for which the festival is renowned, plus an array of interpretations for the festival’s changing gallery theme.
“The 2010 theme is ‘Francisco’s Gallery Goes Green—Interpretations in Recycled and Found Objects,’” Christensen says. “It features artists who incorporate these elements in their work.”
All about the art
For many artists and art lovers, the St. James Court Art Show has become an autumn tradition. Held in early October amidst the Victorian splendor of Old Louisville, the free-admission show was ranked the No. 1 fine arts and crafts show in the country by Sunshine Artist magazine in 2003, 2004, and 2006.
“This show began in 1957 with a few artists stringing their paintings on clotheslines between trees on St. James Court,” director Marguerite Esrock recalls. “After 53 years, it is a nationally recognized, three-day event over a four-square block.”
Artists from all over the country come to display their original, handcrafted works: paintings, sculptures, pottery, leather and woodcrafts, photography, textiles, glass, and other fine arts.
“The Art Show Consortium always strives to make the show a better experience for the art patrons,” Esrock says. “There are new artists and artwork each year.”
One year, an artist surprised attendees with huge sculptures of animals that had to be lowered off a semitruck with a crane.
“The towering giraffe and rhino were hard to miss,” Esrock says.
Of hillbillies and ham
Celebrating its 34th year is Pikeville’s Hillbilly Days Festival, an event that brings out not only arts and crafts booths, but festival food, carnival rides, live music, and Shriners costumed in hillbilly garb and driving those colorful claptrap conveyances called “modified hillbilly limousines.”
“Two local guys started the event with a handful of participants,” says Cindy Wheat, executive director of Pikeville-Pike County Tourism. “This little town of 7,000 puts about 200,000 visitors through here in three days.”
A fund-raiser to benefit the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Lexington, the festival teems with Shriners from all over the country. Adding to the fun is bluegrass music from three stages and name entertainment headlining at Pikeville’s Eastern Kentucky Exposition Center.
The other white meat gets its due every year at the Trigg County Country Ham Festival. Held the second weekend in October, the event averages 140 vendors with a variety of arts and crafts, including leather works, woodcrafts, quilts, and wildlife photography, seen by more than 55,000 festival-goers.
In 1977, following in the hoof steps of other rural counties that traditionally held spring and fall events, Trigg County expanded its local barbecue dinner-baking contest to a full-fledged festival that put the humble pig at its pinnacle. Long distinguished for this delicacy, it seems only fitting that Trigg County celebrates not only the craft of curing hams, but the craft of the individual artist as well.
“The most unique craft is the farm-cured country hams that are on display and judged for the Grand Champion Ham,” says Bill Stevens of the Cadiz-Trigg County Tourist Commission. “These are local cured, smoked country hams with the flair of the farmer-producer hanging out around them to talk ham talk.”
Talk ham or hillbillies, Kentucky’s arts and crafts festivals and fairs have plenty of fun and folk arts and crafts–music, conviviality, and even ham on the side.
At the Bardstown Arts, Crafts & Antiques Fair held in October, nearly 200 juried artists, including local craftsmen (dulcimer maker, gourd artist, oil painter) share their exceptional wares during this weekend event now in its 30th year. Jewelry artists, potters, floral designers, woodcrafters, and other artisans mingle with antique vendors as thousands of visitors kick off their holiday shopping, browsing booths for handmade, one-of-a-kind items.
The festivals listed below have hundreds of arts and crafts booths. Of course, there’ll be plenty of the Kentucky-style vittles that festival-goers love, plus music and other fair fun, too.
Hillbilly Days Festival
April 15-17, downtown Pikeville
Spring into Summer
May 29-30, War Memorial Walking Trail, Oak Grove
June 3-5, Capital Plaza Complex, Frankfort
Francisco’s Farm Arts Festival
June 26-27, Midway College
Hot August Blues Festival
Aug. 27-28, Kenlake State Resort Park, Hardin
Kentucky’s Western Waterland Arts & Crafts Festival
Sept. 4-6, Grand Rivers
Constitution Square Arts Fest
Sept. 10-12, Danville
Black Gold Festival
Sept. 16-19, downtown Hazard
Glasgow B&PW Arts, Crafts & Gifts Fair
Sept. 25, downtown Glasgow
St. James Court Art Show
Oct. 1-3, Louisville
The Bourbon County Secretariat Festival
Oct. 2, Bourbon County Fairgrounds, Paris
Trigg County Country Ham Festival
Oct. 8-10, downtown Cadiz
Bardstown Arts, Crafts & Antiques Fair