Just like the Bluegrass State itself, art in Kentucky is anything but straightforward. Self-taught artists from the Appalachian Mountains produce whimsical works. Western Kentucky honors the region’s award-winning quilters. Intricate works in all kinds of mediums reveal aspects of the state’s heart and soul.
Kentucky spotlights its artistic achievements at artisan attractions across the state. Some focus on unusual folk art, some on art education and some on revealing the width and breadth of Kentucky’s artistic skills.
Whether your group seeks a take-home art class from a local professional, an inspirational walk through a professional gallery or a chance to purchase some authentic Kentucky art, these attractions can edify and entertain.
Kentucky Artisan Center
Visitors with budgets ranging from $2 to $2,000 will find something to fit their price range at the Kentucky Artisan Center. More than a gift shop, the educational site features 800 Kentucky artisans who use materials of all kinds, including glass, ceramic, metal, note cards, woodworks, furniture, jewelry, books and paintings.
On Saturdays, groups can watch one of the artists at work at a scheduled demonstration. The artist’s process is brought to life; guests can watch up close, read an educational handout about the artist and ask questions as they go.
Groups can also book a workshop to learn a specific art form, such as basket weaving. Past groups have also scheduled food tastings, book signings and musical performances at the center.
The Kentucky Artisan Center displays five rotating gallery exhibits a year based on specific artists or themes. Groups can add a gallery talk to their stop for an educational element.
Directly off Interstate 75, the center can host both quick breaks and longer experiential activities. Staff can give walking introductory tours of the center before turning groups loose in the 25,000-square-foot facility.
The Artisan Cafe and Grill allows visitors to dine on Kentucky favorites such as Hot Browns, fried catfish and bourbon bread pudding. Groups can opt for private dining areas or outdoor patios to see some of the center’s 10-acre landscaped grounds.
Kentucky Folk Art Center
The impressive imaginations of ordinary people from Kentucky are on full display at the Kentucky Folk Art Center. Administered by the Morehead State University, the site preserves and educates guests on the folk art of the state.
Each work in the museum was created by self-taught artists; subjects range from the everyday to the fantastical. The museum’s main floor rotates works from the 1,400-piece permanent collection. Eccentrically carved wooden figures, paintings and mixed media show off the talents of these self-taught artists. The center displays some of the area’s well-known artists like Edgar Tolson, Minnie Adkins and Charles Kinney.
The gift shop showcases folk art, crafts, jewelry, books, housewares and more. Group activities usually happen in the 50-seat Jimmie Ruth Auditorium.
On the second floor, the center houses its changing exhibits; past topics have included folk art, fine art and historical content.
The Kentucky Folk Art Center was established in 1985. Its collection was housed in two separate buildings on campus until 1997, when the collection was moved to the historic Union Grocery Building in Morehead’s First Street Arts District.
The center offers regular cultural events, such as the Appalachian Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair the first Saturday in December. More than 100 vendors participate annually.
Admission to the museum is free.
Paducah’s Cultural District
For some, a quilt is for keeping people warm. For fiber artists, a quilt is an art medium. The complex and intricate works on display at Paducah’s National Quilt Museum represent the latter outlook. The museum is one of many art-focused attractions in Paducah’s Cultural District.
The National Quilt Museum helped give Paducah the nickname Quilt City USA. Guests expecting to see traditional bedding leave the museum surprised by the innovative, creative works on display. Groups can book workshops to make their own piece of fiber art after seeing the museum’s masterpieces.
Paducah, in western Kentucky at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, offers interactive art experiences downtown and beyond. UNESCO designated the town as one of the world’s Creative Cities, an honor bestowed on only nine cities in the United States. The city’s emphasis on preserving and encouraging art remains an important reason behind the designation.
Groups can begin their tour of Paducah with the Wall to Wall mural tour, a public art project celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The murals span three city blocks and tell stories of the river city’s past.
Paducah’s Lower Town is the city’s oldest residential neighborhood. It hosts the Artist Relocation Program, which has helped preserve many historic buildings and encourage local art.
Groups can book an interactive experience at Ephemera Paducah in Lower Town or Make Paducah in downtown. Both sites welcome groups and offer art studios with accessible and customizable hands-on art projects.
Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center
Groups that visit the Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center can leave with an appreciation for art as well as a souvenir made with their own hands. The center offers one-day workshops throughout the year with wide-ranging topics, among them printing art onto blocks of linoleum and building a succulent terrarium.
Based in Covington, a small city in northern Kentucky, the Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center boasts a team of more than 85 professional art instructors to offer workshops in drawing, painting, photography, sewing, ceramics and more. The nonprofit organization serves thousands of students each year from school age to adult.
Groups can book a workshop or simply enjoy the 3.5-acre campus of landscaped Victorian gardens and two historic mansions in the historic Licking Riverside neighborhood.
Margaretta Baker-Hunt donated her home to the community in 1940. Now known as the Baker Hunt Mansion and Family Museum, the house displays acclaimed paintings, stained-glass windows and a display of historic gowns.
Groups can also visit the Kate Scudder House, an 1820 property originally sold to the Covington Art Club in 1926. In 2000, the property became part of the Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center. The mansion’s ballroom now serves as a venue for the center’s concert series and other events.
Appalachian Artisan Center
Up in the mountains of Appalachia lies an art enclave renowned for promoting the region’s arts, culture and heritage. The Appalachian Artisan Center in Hindman recently opened Cody Studios, where artists can rent low-cost studio space with easy access to a network of artists and support services.
The studio also contains the Museum of the Mountain Dulcimer and the center’s art gallery. Groups can tour the studio to meet artisans working in a variety of mediums, including painting, photography, ceramics, jewelry-making and weaving.
Hindman is known as the homeplace of the mountain dulcimer, a string instrument commonly used in the region’s folk music. The instrument has remained an important part of the area’s culture ever since James Edward Thomas first pushed a cartload of the dulcimers up and down the creek roads in the early 1900s.
Locals like to say, “You can’t toss a rock without hitting a musician.” These cultural roots are preserved at the Appalachian Artisan Center with instrument-building workshops that teach students to handcraft mountain dulcimers at the site’s Appalachian School of Luthiery. Artists at the woodworking shop also create guitars, banjos, mandolins and the occasional kazoo.
The Bolen Blacksmith Studios offers workshops for various art projects, including knife-making and blacksmith-related skills. After touring the site’s studios, groups can shop for items made by the center’s artists at the gift shop. The shop offers varied handcrafted items, such as jewelry, pottery, furniture and quilts.
The Appalachian Artisan Center recently received a grant to construct a hospitality center atop Cody Studios.
Bardstown for the Arts: The Gallery
From chain saw carvers to handmade card designers, the artists of Bardstown find inspiration everywhere. Bardstown for the Arts: The Gallery fosters the town’s burgeoning creativity with a cooperative of 40 local artists offering items on exhibit and on sale.
Artists involved in the nonprofit volunteer each month to keep the organization’s gallery open to the public. Groups can tour the historic 1914 building, which once served as the town’s post office. The building’s tall ceilings and open spaces made it a perfect art gallery.
Inside, visitors can interact with some of the artists and browse works such as pottery, woodworking, barrel furniture and glasswork. The gallery hosts six-week exhibits by local or regional artists. The annual “Beyond the Bourbon” exhibit features employees of the local bourbon industries, since Bardstown is known as the Bourbon Capital of the World.
The site also holds weekly art classes for youth. Student groups can work with the gallery for tours, scavenger hunts and on-site learning projects. The gallery can open after hours for groups to deliver an exclusive experience.
The gallery is located in Bardstown’s scenic downtown, and groups can tour together or individually as they walk past locally owned restaurants and shops. Within two blocks, groups can visit soap-makers, coffee shops and antique booths.