Visual Arts

Hindman initiative showcases Appalachian artisans

HINDMAN — In a little café in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, it's art, not food, that's grabbing attention.

Pulled pork barbecue, burgoo, and fried apple pies made by Buddy Hall at Applecreek Farms in Lexington are on the menu. But that's not what Lexingtonians are driving 21/2 hours to experience.

What's special about this café is that you can eat a sandwich and drink an Ale-8-One while sitting in, say, a handmade walnut chair at a finely crafted walnut table that sells for about $600. The art on the walls is painted by Kentucky artists, the music is from a CD created by an Eastern Kentucky musician, and the gift shop sells handcrafted jewelry from artisans who have honed their craft at the Kentucky School of Craft just down the street.

The Appalachian Artisan Center came about through the Community Development Initiative when Paul Patton was governor. It was part of a plan for Eastern Kentucky's future that didn't involve coal or timber.

Board member Dennis Dorton said it was an opportunity for community leaders to sit back and dream. The redevelopment of downtown Hindman, a former coal town, began to center on arts and crafts.

"That's a big part of our culture," Dorton said.

The non-profit center receives support from individuals; businesses and foundations; and state, federal and local governments, executive director Stuart Burrill said. Other artisan centers are in Berea and Pikeville.

Hindman's center is in the town's old Ben Franklin store. The nearby Cody building is becoming a studio with a rooftop garden. An artists' studio, a few doors down, is a workshop for jewelers and woodcrafters who have completed study and refined their skills at the Kentucky School of Craft, which is housed in the historic Hindman High School and is part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Seven students have finished the jewelry/metals and woodcrafting programs, and 15 are enrolled in jewelry classes. Ceramics and blacksmithing will be added to the curriculum soon.

The first graduates of the program have started their own businesses and are working in the studio, where visitors can watch them at work. "And buy from them," Burrill said.

Jewelry designer Gena Goodrich has had several large sales from customers stopping by the studio.

"We get excited about the way it's building," she said. "People don't find us by accident, they're coming here on purpose to see us.

"As the goal of making Hindman an artist community is accomplished, and more artists move into Knott County and live here and work here, it'll get us there much faster. It's exciting to be part of something in the starting stages."

Goodrich's exquisite bead work is designed for the collector or person in search of a one-of-a-kind gift. Goodrich also has an affordable line of jewelry for special occasions such as proms and weddings.

Jan Stanfill was the first Craft School graduate to set up her own business in the studio. Her husband died in 2004, and "I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life," Stanfill said.

When she went to register for classes at Hazard Community College, Stanfill signed up for jewelry-making. After the first semester, she realized it was "what I want to do with the rest of my life."

Her signature designs are enameled dogwood crosses; although each is handmade, her most treasured works are the pieces she creates on a whim. She makes sterling silver cuff bracelets formed around a zipper stiffened with paraffin and encased in a substance such as plaster of Paris. When the zipper's polyester and plastic are burned away, the silver is left with one-of-a-kind characteristics.

Nancy Brown was decorating cakes when she decided she wanted to do something different. She's now a metalsmith who makes jewelry from silver, brass and copper. Brown, who lives in Whitesburg, has been at the studio since January.

At the Craft School, Brown learned more than just how to work with metals.

"They gave us the whole package, including accounting," she said. "Setting up your own place is expensive, and at the beginning you really don't have your style set or line started. When you work at it every day your style comes out and who you are comes out. This is more fun than work."

Rebecca Amburgey of Hindman found her niche in creating jewelry out of elk antlers, and enameling. "This is the best opportunity for me I've ever had," said Amburgey, whose enameled jewelry reflects the beauty of the mountains where she lives.

At the woodworking studio in the same building, Kelly Sizemore is working on plate racks in between making hallway tables.

"This is something I really like doing," he said. "I wasn't expecting this opportunity, and I want to make it even more.

"I'm still new at this. It takes a little while to get to the side of woodworking you like doing. Once I get a customer base and test the waters, I'll know more what I want to do."

His love of woodworking came from his grandfather, a blacksmith and farrier. He would cut up wood blocks for the young Sizemore to play with while he worked.

"Country people are very resourceful," he said. "My dad read books and built a house; he read a book and painted cars."

Sizemore was taking carpentry classes in Hazard when the opportunity to attend the Craft School arose.

"It's nice to have this option of working for myself, " he said.