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Like the Ring-Around-the-Moon cow, I’m over the moon at the wonderful honor Minnie has just received. South Arts, headquartered in Atlanta, has just announced the 2021 In These Mountains: Folk and Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship recipients and Minnie is one of the winners. The recipients, from Central Appalachian counties in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee, are each receiving $12,000 to pursue lifelong learning goals and continue their work.

Here are some excerpts from Minnie’s application, prepared and submitted by her niece, artist Sharon Boggs (including responses by Minnie):

“My Aunt Minnie is a woodcarver. She’s often referred to as a folk artist, but she prefers to be known as a woodcarver.

“Although she will first rough out some the pieces with a chain saw or bandsaw, she does almost all of her carving with a pocket knife. She typically uses basswood (or lindwood as it’s sometimes called) and maple for her trademark “stick roosters.” Though basswood and maple are her main materials, she will use whatever is available and has made carvings from sycamore, cedar, pine, poplar, and driftwood. She sometimes leaves the pieces as natural wood, but typically paints them with brightly colored acrylic paint. Besides her pocket knife and saws, she occasionally uses a power drill and a power sander."

  • Describe how you learned your art form. When did you start? From whom did you learn? By what materials did you learn?
  • “When I came up in Elliott County, we did everything for ourselves—growed our own food, raised our animals, made our clothes. All of the men carried pocket knives, and if a child wanted something to play with, they, or somebody else, had to make it. My older brother Edgar made things out of wood like pop guns from elderberry stalks, bows and arrows, sling shots, spool tractors, pawpaw whistles, and so on. From about five on, I wanted a knife to make me some toys, but Mam and Pap wouldn’t let me have one for fear I’d cut myself. But when I was around 10, my Uncle Bill Watson loaned me his knife, and I started making the kind of toys Edgar had been making. Before long I was a better hand to whittle than Edgar, and he’d ask me to make things for him and I would.

    “I learned from Edgar but also from the things around me—the kinds of wood that was good for different things, the animals on our farm that I later started to carve. Over the years, I’ve known many great woodcarvers and folk artists of other kinds—Denzil Goodpaster; Minnie Black; Marvin Finn; Noah, Charley, and Hazel Kinney—and I took inspiration of the spirit from all of them. But I never tried to imitate their work. Folk art is art from the heart, and I let my hands carve what my heart tells me to and that way the person who gets the piece is getting whatever it is but also a little part of me and to know that they’re enjoying it does my heart good.”

  • Why is your art important to you, your family, and/or community? Is this art form commonly practiced by you and others in your community? If so, where, when, and by whom? If not, explain why there are not many practitioners and why it is not commonly practiced.
  • “For many years my art helped put food on the table. Many’s the time me and my first husband Garland sat up all night getting somebody’s order finished next morning so a bill could be paid that afternoon. And it helps make ends meet still.

    “But, really, art is just something I have to do to feel satisfied. For most of my younger years, before I was known or had a market for my work, I’d carve things for family and friends and give them away as presents. Nobody thought much of it, and sometimes I’d learn that what I’d made had been thrown in the trash can. Now, some of those folks wish they had the can they throwed it in.

    “But that doesn’t bother me because the making is its own pay. When I get through with a rooster or a horse or a fox or a figure for a children’s book, that piece is its own reward, and I look at what wasn’t before but now is and there’s a satisfaction that passes back and forth between me and the carving.

    “And during this Covid time, my art has been a blessing to keep me focused and sustained each day, alone and confined to the house. Since March I’ve finished around 190 pieces for a new book, and it’s a comfort to see the piece and know that besides its own self, it may someday be on the page in a book giving pleasure to a child.”

    “Many members of my family have taken up art. My first husband, Garland would help me rough out the big pieces, and after he died, I never thought my second husband, Herman, paid that much attention to my work until one day he was sitting with me in the workshop while I was whittling. Out of the blue, he said, ‘Anything you can make out of wood, I can make out of metal.’ ‘Well, I wish you’d prove it,’ I said. So he got up and went out in the garage. Now Herman was a master pipefitter and welder before he retired, and in about two hours, he came back in the shop with the cutest little metal rooster you ever saw. I painted it, and I could see it pleased him. For the next two days he stayed in the garage, and when he called me in, he’d made a nine-foot rooster. I painted it, and we put it in the front yard. Next week some visitors came by from the Huntington Museum of Art, saw the rooster, bought it, and it sits in the Museum to this day. Herman welded metal roosters for the rest of his life.

    “Now, my son, Mike, helps me rough out some of the bigger pieces, and my grandson, Greg, carves his own pieces. My niece, Sharon, paints, and makes folk art of all kinds. She even knows how to make spool tractors.”

    “Elliott is a very poor county without much work. I’ve been blessed to encourage different people and families to take up carving and other kinds of folk art, and many add to their income that way and some’ve been able to do it full time.

    “On the third Saturday of each July, we have a big folk art festival, and people come from around the state and around the country, and artists from the county and further out in Eastern Kentucky can sell their work, and it not only helps the artists, but others in the county from the money it brings in.

    “And we have a art group—the Elliott County Heritage Arts Network— that meets every month where we show what we’ve been working on and encourage each other and learn new things. I’ve really missed those meetings during Covid and look forward to when we can all be together in person again.”

  • Tell us about the life-long learning opportunity you wish to pursue and why.
  • “When you do art, you’ve got to keep learning and trying new things, or it gets stale. There’s always new ways to work with the wood to get the look you want, and sometimes you try things and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, and sometimes good things just happen by accident and you learn from that, but you have to keep searching for new ways to work at your art and keep it growing.

    “If I was to win a fellowship, I’d like to make a trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, and spend a few days going through the Art Museum of West Virginia University. They’ve got some of my pieces there along with a wonderful collection of folk art by other Appalachian artists. I take inspiration and get ideas from their work and also the work of what I’d call trained artists. You learn in a different way from looking at a piece in person instead of a book or magazine.

    “I’d also like to attend Appalachian Folk Week at the Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, Kentucky. At Folk Week, you’re surrounded by craftspeople, storytellers, musicians—artists of all kinds, and I always get energy and encouragement from being there and, even though I’ve lived here almost all my life, learn new things about Eastern Kentucky and its history.

    “Another thing that keeps you growing as a artist is the tools you have to work with and the space you have to work in. Better tools let you try things that wouldn’t be possible with worn, old-fashioned equipment. I could use a better bandsaw with a bigger selection of blades, an electric chainsaw (which is lighter and would let me try things I can’t manage with the old gasoline chainsaw), and a better sander. I could also use heating and cooling for my workshop. I can try bigger, more venturesome pieces there, but because of the cold and heat, it sits unused a lot of the time.

    “Besides travel and better equipment, the children’s books I work on challenge me to keep learning because you never know what the next rhyme will call for. Maybe the person is doing something unusual with their hands, or their arms are crossed, or they’re holding their head, and those things would be easy to do with clay, but not so easy with wood and a knife. But you learn to figure out a way. Or maybe the story calls for something you’ve never carved before, like a flying blue jay, or a frowning hammer, or a clock that runs on two legs, or a Kudzu Man. What does a Kudzu Man look like?


    • We sure hope and pray that 2021 is going to be a better year for the artists to be able to work shows...they are the lifeblood for artists. They work all winter painting and creating for the summer Art Shows and Festivals. At this minute, it seems that many shows are a "go" ...subject to change of course.

      FINSTER FEST - MAY 29-30, 2021
      at Paradise Gardens - Summerville GA
      MINNIE ADKINS DAY - SAT. JULY 17, 2021
      ELLIJAY, GA -- SAT - SUN SEPT 25-26, 2021
      KENTUCK (it's NOT in Kentucky) OCT 16 & 17
      50th Annual Festival - Northport, Alabama
      It's the BEST FOLK ART FESTIVAL in the Country
      A lot of the Artists in our Gallery will be there

      If you hear of more...Please let me know!

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