KMAC exhibit interprets Southern traditions

Because tradition in art is the handing down of methods from generation to generation, is its opposite innovation the introduction of new methods? The answer, eloquently stated in the exhibition “Tradition/Innovation: American Masterpieces of Southern Craft and Traditional Art,” is yes and no. 

Works are displayed by 58 artists from the Southern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. The show is a project of the Southern Arts Federation, an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the federal arts program. 

The exhibit shows that there are artists who continue to work in a time-honored tradition, much the same way their ancestors did. Part of their job is to keep their cultural past alive. Other artists are radical in their break from the past, standing alone in their artistic expression. Innovation is the path to express their voice, found from within themselves and not from an external historical process. 

A third category emerges from the art. Innovation, it turns out, is also a step-by-step process, based on the traditional but adapting it to suit your self-expression. This concept of the past in relationship to the present is the core of the show. 

[img_assist|nid=7119|title=photo by Luis Quiles|desc=“Rooster,” “Fox” and “Possum with Babies,” by Minnie Adkins, are part of the “Tradition/Innovation” exhibit at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.|link=|align=left|width=200|height=155]

Woodcarver Minnie Adkins of Isonville is a Kentucky artist firmly rooted in past folk traditions. Isonville is now known as a center for woodcarving, and Adkins deserves part of the credit for that. She learned how to carve from the men in her family, with her sculpture keeping their tradition alive. Her painted wood pieces “Rooster,” “Fox” and “Possum with Babies” deviate only slightly from her predecessors. That’s a good thing — Adkins’ work is a visual recorder of the history of her rural Eastern Kentucky life. 

The existence of the Kentucky School of Craft at Hazard Community and Technical College in Hindman is a guarantee that our state will produce its fair share of craft artists. Goldsmith Douglas Harling is the head of the Jewelry and Metals program. He creates unusual, exquisitely innovative jewelry, such as “Full Measure,” made of 22k gold, sapphire and black coral branch.

 His approach to jewelry is explained in the exhibition’s visitors’ guide. “When you deal with jewelry, you’re dealing with Body Theater,” he wrote. “You can and maybe should push it. Function is important, but I reserve the right to ignore it in the end. I don’t often worry about it. It’s a starting point. Jewelry doesn’t exist off the body. Just because you haven’t seen it before doesn’t mean it’s not possible. But you always start from the body.”

photo by Luis Quiles: “Autumn Marble,” “Dancing Karmel” and “Tangerina,” by Fong Choo, the only Louisville artist in the KMAC exhibit.

photo by Luis Quiles: “Autumn Marble,” “Dancing Karmel” and “Tangerina,” by Fong Choo, the only Louisville artist in the KMAC exhibit.

Fong Choo is the only Louisville artist in the exhibition. Originally from Singapore, he is the artist-in-residence at Bellarmine University. Choo is famous for his miniature teapots inspired by historical Chinese Yiching pottery. That history is the launching point for his contemporary interpretation — changing the scale, adding bright glazes and redesigning the forms. The show features three of his porcelain pots: “Autumn Marble,” Dancing Karmel” and “Tangerina.” 

Contact the writer at
[email protected] 

‘Tradition/Innovation: American Masterpieces of Southern Craft and Traditional Art’

Through Aug. 23

Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft 

715 W. Main St.


$5, members free