Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 28, 2006

MSU artist adding flair to Elliott barns

By ALLEN BLAIR / The Independent

Sandy Hook — The painted face of the old farmer just leaves Gwenda Adkins speechless, she says.

“You can just see him wiping his face, out in the sun, can’t you?”

Outlined on an old black barn just off Ky. 7 near Sandy Hook, he’s part of a farm scene mural — the first of 20 planned throughout Elliott County.

It’s the result of a $95,000 grant the Laurel Gorge Cultural Heritage Center, the county and community received for a Clothesline of Quilts and Beyond project, said Adkins, county extension agent who helped spearhead the effort.

“This is the beyond part,” she said.

The grant came last fall from the W. Paul and Lucille Caudill Little Foundation.

Specifically, it pays for the murals and painted quilt blocks on barns, brochures and maps listing each, and other tourism marketing tools, school programs, a Web site, oral histories and story recordings.

It’s exciting, said Kendrick Holbrook, 20, a 2004 Elliott County High graduate who’s now a junior art major at Morehead State University. He was commissioned to paint each mural.

“Around Christmas break last year the cultural center called me and asked if I was interested,” he said. “We have a small farm, so it’s pretty neat.”

Holbrook gets to preserve some of his own heritage with painting, and painting something he’s loved doing since 2 years old.

“The surface is a fun surface to work with; I just really like the rough texture and working with it for a change rather than a canvas,” he added.

The acrylic paint, plus a clear protective coat, should make murals last a long while, allowing his work to “hang” for decades.

“It makes me feel like I’m worth a little bit of something.”

A group of volunteers governing the grant funds have applications available at the cultural center. So far, there’s only four mural requests for Holbrook, Adkins said.

For quilt squares — painted high school and community art groups — there are 40 applications so far; and the first 30 or more at old post office names will be done first, she said.

Eventually, a map of places will allow visitors to drive to see those 70 creations, museums in paint so to speak, which will be a great tourism benefit, Adkins said.

A driving tour CD, planned school participation and programs, the oral histories and more, she said, meets the overall goal — to boost arts, involve students, chronicle local history and entice travelers into venturing away from the interstates and onto the backroads.

And it fuses several art forms to create a visual awareness of Elliott County’s history, Adkins said.

“It’s a huge project when you start breaking it down,” she said.

In the next five or 10 years, there will be a totally different people in the country as city dwellers are already buying up farms; plus, there was a fear that farmers were going to tear down the old barns as tobacco declines, Adkins added.

“It’s about preservation of culture, and history, and who we are.”