The Makings of a Master: Kentucky Folk Art Apprenticeships

“I can’t remember the first story I ever told.  If I ask you when did you have your first drink of water?  You don’t know, but you drink water.  That’s like me and stories, I grew up with them.”

Octavia Sexton, master storyteller (pictured, left, with apprentice JJ Bryant).

Working on an EXHIBITION? What an intimidating word. By presenting information in new ways, you have an opportunity to shape public perspectives, individuals’ opinions and thoughts about a topic. Over the last several months as I listened to audio interviews of Kentucky master traditional artists and their apprentices, there was never a moment of taking this project lightly.

As my coworkers and I revisited over 60 master/apprentice pairs funded by the Kentucky Arts Council over the last 20 years, an idea began to emerge: a theme or “big idea” as it’s known in museum studies. Master artists and their apprentices share a unique relationship that goes far beyond sharing techniques and skills.

Folk culture lives within these relationships, at the time and place where masters are made. Continuity and change come together during an apprenticeship. That is why the Kentucky Folklife Program makes every effort to document each one.

So, working on an exhibition is exhilarating, but there are sad moments sometimes. That quote above by Octavia Sexton–get this–had to be cut from the script. How could I? So many great quotes, pictures, artifacts, videos had to be left on the cutting floor. There is only so much time in the day, we know, and so much attention span and so much space, so we moved forward chopping away with hopes that removing content might strengthen the content that remains.

Don’t fret, Octavia’s apprenticeship still makes an appearance in the panels. And there will be plenty of opportunities to experience master/apprentice relationships beyond the panels, art works and videos. On Sept. 15, 2011, The Makings of a Master: Kentucky Folk Art Apprenticeships will open at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History with Thursday night concerts and Saturday activities. The exhibition will remain there for the rest of 2011, then tour statewide for three years. So check out the exhibition, meet the artists, and experience the relationships–the conduits of folk culture–that make up these apprenticeships.

Mark Brown, folklife specialist

Categories: Folk and Traditional Arts | Tags: , , , , ,

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One thought on “The Makings of a Master: Kentucky Folk Art Apprenticeships

  1. oh no! I think I felt it when I was cut out. lol

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