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Amazing artistry

Kentucky arts communities flourish

Kentucky has a rich heritage and tradition of arts and working artist communities, from over-the-top, in-your-face arts hubs like Paducah and Berea to under-the-radar, not-quite-expected destinations where visitors find working studios, art galleries and shops with Old World themes like stained glass-making. These are places to not only watch the artistry as it unfolds but have a hand in creating it.

Even in such obvious arts overachievers like Paducah, a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts & Folk Art, and Berea, Kentucky’s Folk Arts and Crafts Capital, there are hidden arts assets.

Local musicians, influenced by Paducah’s location at the heart of the inland waterways between Kentucky’s Bluegrass region and the Mississippi Delta, contribute to its distinctive rhythm.

In Berea, the shops and galleries aren’t the only places filled with art; its very streets are, too.

“Local breweries, Dry Ground Brewing Company and Paducah Beer Werks, restaurants and performance venues, including Clemens Fine Arts Center Backstage Pass Series, feature a regular rotation of talented local performers and traveling musicians,” notes Laura Oswald, director of marketing at the Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The award-winning Market House Theater presents multiple performance series as well as murder mysteries and ghost tours, and the Carson Center features traveling Broadway shows, national entertainers and an orchestra-in-residence, the Paducah Symphony Orchestra.”

Georgetown does it up big during the annual Festival of the Horse with a parade trotting right through downtown. Photo: Georgetown/Scott County Tourism

“Walk through the Artisan Village or College Square to see statues of mythical creatures, painted hands and historic architecture,” says Aja Croteau, communications manager at Berea Tourism. “Visit the Wings of Berea mural and step inside one of our restaurants to see more of Berea’s popular new additions to the public art scene.”

Berea also is home to three active theaters, each bringing lively performance art to the community year round—everything from thought-provoking dramas performed by Berea College students to original comedy presented at Berea Arena Theater to the stagey suspense of a murder mystery dinner show at the Spotlight Playhouse. 

Of course, for any visitor to Berea, high on the list of things not to be missed are workshops in painting, blacksmithing, woodworking, glassblowing—pretty much whatever your heart desires. Learn from master artisans, gain new skills and leave with a finished masterpiece.

A look under the radar

Among Kentucky’s unexpected arts destinations are Georgetown and Paris. Although on a smaller scale than Paducah and Berea, each rocks an arts scene with a dynamic combination of galleries, working artist studios and crafts workshops.

Best known as the (alleged) birthplace of bourbon—a sublime art in its own right—Georgetown is also home to several high-profile artists, including John Stephen Hockensmith, rock star of equine photography and publisher of exquisite art books like Gypsy Horses and the Travelers’ Way and The Gift of Color: Henry Lawrence Faulkner. The latter chronicles the life of the prolific Kentucky artist who once kept company with Tennessee Williams and whose works were collected by none other than Hollywood femme fatale Bette Davis.

Thoroughbred racehorse artist Robert Clark also has a gallery in Georgetown. The Scott County Arts & Cultural Welcome Center, located in the old jailer’s house, exhibits fine art and sells local and regional handcrafted gift items. Nearby Georgetown College has three art galleries showcasing works by new, emerging and experimental artists from around the world. And at Heirlooms & Gretchen’s, one of Kentucky’s only authentic stained-glass shops, visitors can watch Old World artistry take shape—as well as grind, saw and solder their own keepsake. 

About a dozen artisans make their home and art—from bronze sculptures to pottery to paintings—in Paris in Bourbon County. Dr. Regina Raab, who considers her German shorthaired pointer, Koti, her muse, owns Gallery St. George, a studio and fine sporting art gallery downtown. Raab’s work hangs in the homes of such celebs as Dolly Parton, Donny Osmond, Jay Leno and Harry Connick Jr., among others. Bobby Shiflet, owner of Frames On Main Gallery, says that Paris surprises with its strong arts community. Shiflet is a fine art photographer whose specialty is documenting Kentucky—its horses, horse farms, bourbon culture and more.

Studios like MAKE Paducah offer a variety of scheduled classes and open studio time for on-demand, do-it-yourself creating. Photo: Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau

“I try to capture the personality of a community,” Shiflet says.

Changing local and regional art exhibits share space with heritage displays at the Hopewell Museum. Loch Lea Antiques is highly regarded for its fine Kentucky and equine antiques, books and art. Kathy Werking, a juried member of the Kentucky Craft Marketing program, Kentucky Proud and the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, not only owns Kentucky Green Studio, a family business making natural body and home care products, but also teaches art to young people at her studio and through the nonprofit On The Move Art Studio and Art on High.

Art comes alive here

Besides their variety of galleries and working artists, these arts-centric destinations host festivals with an arts flair.

Berea Welcome Center 

3 Artist Circle; (859) 986-2540 or (800) 598-5263. The 9th Annual Festival of Learnshops takes place July 12-August 2 and is the place to experience just about any art form imaginable. Workshops cover a huge variety of interests, from storytelling to fiber arts to jewelry making and more.

Georgetown/Scott County Tourism Office & Visitor Center

399 Outlet Center Drive; (502) 863-2547 or (888) 863-8600. The 39th Annual Festival of the Horse, Sept. 6-8, celebrates not only the history of the horse but also offers lots of arts and crafts exhibits in downtown Georgetown.

Morehead Visitor Center

150 E. First Street; (606) 780-4342. The Kentucky Folk Art Center at Morehead State University annually hosts the Appalachian Holiday Arts & Crafts Market on the first Saturday in December, featuring arts and crafts from Kentucky and surrounding states.

Mayfield Graves County Tourism Commission

1001 S. 10th Street; (270) 247-6106. Although the Gourd Patch Festival, held annually in September, is not a juried festival, there are strict guidelines for artists who show and sell their work. “The festival showcases local artisans,” says Cynthia Elder of the Mayfield Graves Tourism Commission, “and all of the entries are made out of gourds.”

Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau

200 Broadway (location temporary; check website for updates); (270) 443-8783 or (800) 723-8224. Quilt City marks a milestone anniversary in 2019 with the 35th annual Spring AQS QuiltWeek, April 24-27, a world of quilting wonder with special exhibitions, merchant malls, workshops and lectures, contests and more.

Paris-Bourbon County Tourism Commission

720 High Street; (859) 987-8744. The annual Spring ARTWALK takes place annually in April, usually the second Friday of the month. See website for updates.    

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