Cre­ative art and crafts

Ken­tucky town draws tourists with mu­rals, world’s big­gest quilt mu­seum, crafts

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Lori Rackl

fuel Pa­d­u­cah, Ky., draw­ing tourists from all over the world and earn­ing the town a “Creas­t­ive City” des­ig­na­tion from UNESCO.

Ky. — In this river­front town in western Ken­tucky, art isn’t just a lux­ury. It’s a life­line.

It helped sal­vage one of the city’s old­est neigh­bor­hoods with an artist re­lo­ca­tion pro­gram that lured tal­ent from around the coun­try.

And art, in the form of 52 mu­rals and a na­tional mu­seum de­voted to quilt­ing (much cooler than it sounds), served as a shot in the arm for down­town re­vi­tal­iza­tion, spar­ing the his­toric area from the fate of many a small city de­stroyed by subur­ban sprawl.

More re­cently, art is what prompted UNESCO to des­ig­nate Pa­d­u­cah as one of only six “Cre­ative Cities” in the U.S. In late Septem­ber, del­e­gates from around the world will hud­dle here for the in­au­gu­ral meet­ing of the Cre­ative Cities’ crafts and folk art net­work.

You could say art is wo­ven into the fab­ric of this town of roughly 25,000, known as Quilt City USA (again — cooler than it sounds). And the cre­ative vibe that comes along with it has kept Pa­d­u­cah from de­volv­ing into just an­other pit stop off the in­ter­state.

“There’s a lot more here than gas sta­tions,” said Ed Mus­sel­man, one of sev­eral Pa­d­u­c­a­hans who, in the last cou­ple of years, have res­ur­rected di­lap­i­dated pieces of the city’s past and re­cy­cled them into cre­ative new spa­ces.

Mus­sel­man and his wife, Mea­gan, re­cently re­stored an old Coca-Cola bot­tling plant in mid­town and filled it with a craft brew­ery, restau­rant and artist col­lec­tive, among other things.

“Peo­ple thought we were nuts when we bought this build­ing,” Ed Mus­sel­man said about the 43,000square-foot Coke Plant con­structed at the tail end of the De­pres­sion. “We thought this was the per­fect spot to show­case what makes Pa­d­u­cah great but isn’t nec­es­sar­ily seen by the ca­sual ob­server. If peo­ple make one stop in Pa­d­u­cah, we wanted it to be some­where that might make them want to stay a lit­tle longer, maybe go to the Lower Town Arts District, go lis­ten to live mu­sic or ex­plore some more.”

Be­fore the Lower Town Arts District was called that, it was a run-down part of Pa­d­u­cah few would visit by choice.

“It’s changed a lot from when I got here; it’s a walk­a­ble, safe neigh­bor­hood now,” said mixed-me­dia artist Char Downs, who lives above her Pinecone Art Gallery & Stu­dio.

Downs moved to Pa­d­u­cah from the San Fran­cisco area in 2004 as part of the city’s artist re­lo­ca­tion pro­gram, which of­fered in­cen­tives to get cre­ative types to live and work in this 26square-block area be­tween Third and Ninth streets, and Jef­fer­son Street to Park Av­enue.

“It was a big deal in the art world,” Downs said about the pro­gram. “Sud­denly ev­ery­one knew about Pa­d­u­cah.”

Downs is the lead artist for a new project that’s bring­ing more mu­rals to down­town. This lat­est batch — all de­pict­ing quilts — will start crop­ping up by the con­ven­tion cen­ter this month. Downs is paint­ing the first one: a replica of Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gen­try’s 1989 award-win­ning quilt, “Corona II: So­lar Eclipse.”

Fallert-Gen­try’s “Corona II” is among the crown jew­els of the Na­tional Quilt Mu­seum’s 500-plus col­lecPADUCAH, tion. The world’s largest quilt mu­seum, opened in 1991 at 215 Jef­fer­son St., an­nu­ally draws more than 100,000 visi­tors — some be­grudg­ingly, at first.

“Half of our au­di­ence is peo­ple get­ting dragged in here by some­one else, but they end up re­ally lik­ing it,” said Frank Bennett, head of the mu­seum.

In down­town Pa­d­u­cah — re­fresh­ingly free of been­there-done-that-fran­chises and chains — you’ll find sev­eral cute-as-a-but­ton arts and crafts shops. Two good ones: Bri­co­lage Art Col­lec­tive and Must Stitch Em­po­rium. Both are on Mar­ket House Square, within a ball of yarn’s throw of Yeiser Art Cen­ter and its col­lec­tion of more than 300 pieces by lo­cal artists, as well as big names like Mary Cas­satt and Alexan­der Calder.

If all this gets your cre­ative juices flow­ing, head to Make at 628 Broad­way St. About two years ago, artist Ki­jsa Hous­man trans­formed this old pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio and church into a pub­lic work­shop space of­fer­ing lessons in ev­ery­thing from paint­ing to cro­chet to hand-let­ter­ing. Or sim­ply drop by dur­ing busi­ness hours, and make a Christ­mas or­na­ment, dream catcher, wel­come sign — what­ever you want.

Hous­man, a Texas na­tive, has an in­fec­tious pas­sion for the arts, and she’s hap­pily spread­ing that pas­sion around her adopted home­town.

“Ev­ery­where you look, art is be­ing cut from the schools, fund­ing is down,” said Hous­man, a mother of three. “The ex­pe­ri­ence of cre­at­ing some­thing with your own two hands — we’re los­ing that. I wanted to start a fun place where that’s still pos­si­ble.”

Straight down Broad­way, about a half-mile from Hous­man’s busi­ness and stu­dio, are 52 mu­rals by artist Robert Daf­ford. The life-size paint­ings along the banks of the Ohio River de­pict scenes from Pa­d­u­cah’s past: images of Na­tive Amer­i­can vil­lages, early ex­plor­ers, the Civil War, steam­boats.

“It’s the di­ary of the town,” said Fowler Black, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion Pa­d­u­c­a­han who works for the city’s tourism bureau. Black was a teenager when the mu­rals started go­ing up in the mid-’90s.

“This three-lin­ear-block project is what I would credit as be­ing the res­ur­rec­tion of com­mu­nity pride made tan­gi­ble,” he said.

Night and day, tourists and lo­cals stroll along­side these pan­els of vis­ual his­tory, snap­ping pic­tures and read­ing the de­scrip­tions at the base of each mu­ral. The paint­ings are spread across 14-foot-tall con­crete walls built by the Army Corps of Engi­neers af­ter a flood in 1937 nearly dec­i­mated the city.

“What pro­tected us also par­ti­tioned us from the river,” Black said. “Peo­ple used to con­gre­gate by the wa­ter, but that changed when the walls went up.”

And it changed again — for the bet­ter — when Daf­ford and his team used art to turn the flood walls into a can­vas.

LORI RACKL/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

The Queen of the Mis­sis­sippi steam­boat pad­dle-wheeler can be seen through an open­ing in the mu­ral-cov­ered flood walls in Pa­d­u­cah, Ky.

NA­TIONAL QUILT MU­SEUM

Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gen­try’s “Corona II: So­lar Eclipse” quilt.

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