The annual Kentuck Festival of the Arts has a 52-year history of celebrating creativity and community in Northport, Alabama. What began in 1971 as a celebration of the City of Northport Centennial and the folkways of yore, the Kentuck Festival of the Arts has grown into a highly celebrated, nationally recognized art festival. Of those 52 years, 41 festivals have been graced with the quilted works of Hallie O'Kelley. For 41 years, Hallie O'Kelly has presented a new quilt representing the "theme" of each festival. Each quilt begins as a blank piece of white fabric and is dyed, hand stitched and screen printed into a brilliant tapestry. Together, these quilts weave together a visual representation of the rich history of the Kentuck Festival of the Arts.
Hallie O'Kelley, a renowned screen print and fiber artist was originally born in Iowa. However, she moved to Tuscaloosa in 1951 when her husband, a biology professor, accepted a position at The University of Alabama. O'Kelley received her masters degree in textiles from Iowa State University and was designing Christmas cards in the 1970s when she took a class on painting cloth held by Arrowmont in Tennessee. At some point, however, O'Kelley decided that she did not want to paint yards of cloth. Instead, she wanted to fully quilt like her grandmother had done and her mother wanted to do. In 1979, she made her first quilt.
In 1983, O'Kelley began making 220 screen-printed, tri-colored posters featuring a quilt design to sell at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts. In 1994, Gary Richardson, former Kentuck Executive Director, asked O'Kelley to create a physical, fabric quilt. For several years after that request, both the collectible posters and a quilt were made for each festival. When the labor to do both became too intense, O'Kelley resolved to make a quilt for each forthcoming festival.
For this blog post, each Hallie O'Kelley quilt is paired with a few sentences about what happened at Kentuck or some important events in Kentuck artists' lives that year. While this is in no way a comprehensive history, we thought this would be a fun way to start reminiscing the past 40 years. Were you born in the last 41 years? Scroll to your birth year to see what happened at Kentuck!
In 1983, Hallie O' Kelley unveiled her first design for the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, twelve years after the first festival was held in 1971.
The idea for creating a new quilt pattern each year came from Georgine Clarke, Kentuck Art Center's founder and first executive director, who wished to bridge the gap between southern traditions and contemporary art. The 1983 quilt features pine trees, a common theme for O'Kelley's work which captures southern beauty in an artistic lens and aims to encapsulate the energy of each years' festival.
Festival goers that year enjoyed many craft demonstrations, including origami by Michiko Reed, split oak weaving by Albert Colburn, butter churning by Anne Lowe, silk screen printing by William Alford, basket making by John Puryear, mud painting by Jimmy Lee Sudduth, pottery by Jerry Brown, and many others.
The following year, O'Kelley unveiled her second quilt for Kentuck Festival of the Arts. This one featured a more geometric and mandala pattern. O'Kelley's art is frequently influenced by primitive art, the Incas, and Peruvian design, which this quilt for the 1984 Kentuck Festival of the Arts emanates.
Festivalgoers in 1984 may remember craft demonstrations that included blacksmithing by Gavin Harris; folk art by Lonnie Holley; woodcarving by F.M. Webster; and natural dye and spinning by Sue Parker, Paul Robinson, and Andrea Seeley,
What else happened in 1984?
Another artist, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, who first exhibited at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in 1981, experienced a life-altering event in 1984. That year, a fire, possibly started by sparks that ignited from a stack of paintings, burned his home and destroyed several of his earlier works. This was a setback, but this did not stop Sudduth from continuing his work. He continued to exhibit at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts for more than 20 years, and his art reached national and international levels when his work was shown at the Outsider Art Fair in New York as well as galleries in Sweden and Germany. Today, his work is on permanent display at the Birmingham Airport, Fayette Art Museum, and The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. His work is included in the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the High Museum of Art, Kentuck Art Center, the National Gallery of Art (Corcoran Collection), Birmingham Museum of Art, and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
In 1985, Hallie O' Kelley's quilt for the festival featured bold colors and a floral pattern reminiscent of the Peruvian art that frequently inspires her.
This was also the first Kentuck Festival of the Arts where Yvonne Wells made an appearance. Yvonne Wells is an African-American folk artist, self-taught quilter, and native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her quilts tell stories of the Bible and Civil Rights movement. Her work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the International Quilt Museum, Kentuck Art Center, and The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, to name a few.
Not only was this her first year at Kentuck, but she also received Best in Show for her work, an award she would go on to receive several more times.
The design for the 1986 quilt featured bold colors with orange accents, providing an autumn aesthetic to the work. The choice was appropriate as this was the first time the Kentuck Festival of the Arts was held in October. In previous years, the festival was held annually in September.
Festivalgoers in 1986 may remember craft demonstrations from Carol Timkovich and the West Alabama Fiber Guild, metal sculpture by Charlie 'Tin Man' Lucas, quilting by Ollie Shelton, knives by Wayne Bridges, cornshuck dolls by Dorothy Maxwell, and pioneer living by Kerry and Karla Barksdale.
What else happened in 1986?
1986 was the year that George Jones Jr.'s grandfather taught him how to make brooms, officially involving him in the family business. George Jones Jr. grew up on a farm in Florence, Alabama, where his family had been making brooms since the Great Depression. When the Great Depression hit and the government removed most of the price supports for crops, George Jones Jr.'s great-grandfather decided to grow broom corn and popcorn to help generate an income. His great-grandfather taught other farmers how to make brooms from the crops, and they sold them for 35 cents each. Learn more about George's artistic brooms by scrolling down to the year 1992, when he first exhibited at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts.
In 1987, Hallie O'Kelley's quilt featured a geometric pattern with pops of eye-catching red. Festivalgoers may remember that 1987 was the first year that B.F. Perkins, also known as 'Brother Ben,' exhibited at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts!
In August 1987, Kentuck Art Center hosted an exhibition called "The Northport Treasure Hunt," in celebration of the bicentennial of the Constitution. This exhibition relied on West Alabama citizens to loan Kentuck their personal belongings for display. The exhibition featured items such as quilts, needlework, pieces of furniture, household objects or crafts, tools, photographs, documents and papers with historic connection to Northport.
In October 1987, Kentuck Art Center hosted an exhibition called Picture Quilts, featuring artists from four states.
In December, Kentuck hosted an exhibition titled Cartoon Magic: Animation Art from the Richard Klauber Collection.
In 1988, Hallie O'Kelley unveiled a quilt that used eye-catching colors and a hexagonal design. That same year, a special program of Kentuck, called Kentuck for Kids, sent artists into several local schools to do demonstrations and activities with local children. Today, in 2023, that program is called Artists in the Schools, and it sends 23 artists into 20 schools to do activities with 1,503 children in Tuscaloosa City and County schools.
Also in 1988, Kentuck Art Center hosted an exhibition called "Alabama Crafts/Focus On Glass," which featured the glass art of 12 artists from 7 Alabama cities.
In 1989, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt design featured a pattern of intertwined circles. Festivalgoers in 1989 may remember craft demonstrations including woodcarving by Archie Lee, pottery by Eric Miller, and baskets by Rose Petty. Additionally, Kathryn Tucker Windham and Faye Brown were storytellers at the festival that year.
This year, Yvonne Wells, quilter and winner of 'Best in Show' at Kentuck Festival of the Arts in 1985, joined her first exhibitions outside of Alabama, Stitching Memories: African-American Story Quilts, a travelling exhibition organized by Williams College.
For Kentuck's 19th year, in 1990, Hallie O'Kelley designed a quilt similar to a picnic blanket with Peruvian elements.
In 1990, Northport's Mayor Wayne Rose issued a proclamation declaring the week of October 15,1990 as "Kentuck Week," in recognition of "the programs of Kentuck, including the festival and the art center, assist in preserving Northport history, in educating children about our heritage, and in encouraging the arts and business in this area."
Yvonne Wells also won Kentuck Festival of the Arts 'Best in Show' for the second time.
In 1991, Kentuck Festival of the Arts' 20th year, Hallie O'Kelley designed a quilt to incorporate not only the celebration of Kentuck's 20th annual year but also images from her past works, such as the tree from 1983, the mandala from 1984, the floral ring from 1985, and panels from the 1986 quilt. In 1991, Yvonne Wells won 'Best in Show' at Kentuck Festival of the Arts for a third time!
In 1991, the Chamber of Commerce hosted the first Dickens Downtown in Historic Downtown Northport. This event celebrates community, the spirit of Christmas, and is inspired by Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." That event is still held annually, and is now hosted by the Merchants of Historic Downtown Northport.
What else happened in 1991?
Also in 1991, Rodney Hardee became one of the first collectors for Ruby Williams. He commissioned a table top painting after noticing some eye-catching, bold signs Williams painted to advertise her produce stand. Hardee's commission encouraged Miss Ruby to continue painting, which led to a long career as a famous folk artist. She was later honored with a Florida Folk Life Award, and she was included in the show "On Their Own: Selected Self-Taught Artists" at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum in Washington, D.C. She was a longtime Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, and one of her pieces, The Piano Playing Cow, was featured on the 2014 Kentuck Festival Staff shirt, and is now included in Kentuck's Permanent Collection.
In 1992, Hallie O'Kelley created an annual quilt featuring a geometric, symmetrical, boldly-colored star. In 1992, festivalgoers may remember musical performances by Stillman College Choir, Front Porch String Band, and C.J. Chenier and The Red Hot Louisiana Band.
What else happened in 1992?
George Jones, Jr. exhibited at Kentuck for the first time! George didn't realize his handmade brooms could be considered art until he told the folks at Kentuck about his work. In 1992, he juried into the Kentuck Festival of the Arts and created brooms right in front of festival-goers. He realized he could make a living creating artwork and telling the story of his family's farm that started it all. (Learn more about George's artistic origin story by scrolling up to the year 1986.) George now sells his brooms at festivals across the southeast, including as a Demonstrating Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts. He also sells his work in Kentuck's Gallery Shop and the gift shop at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, New York.
In 1993, Hallie O'Kelley chose a geometric and autumn-colored pattern for her annual quilt. In 1993, festival attendees could see many artists including Mose Tolliver, Nora Ezell, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Lonnie Holley, Sarah Rakes, Woodie Long, Charlie 'Tin Man' Lucas, and Bernice Sims. A total of over 200 artists were present to exhibit their work, along with two music stages, kids' activities, and storytelling.
What else happened in 1993?
In the same year, Bernice Sims, a folk artist from Hickory Hill, Alabama, was included in a travelling exhibition of self-taught artists at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Bernice Sims was a longtime Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts.
Sims art typically depicts memories, especially those of her time as an activist. In the 1960s, she worked to coordinate the activities of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in secret, as the organization was outlawed by the state of Alabama during the Civil Rights movement. She was historically one of the first to enroll her children in her community's formerly all-white public school. She was also chased by a pickup truck full of Ku Klux Klansmen during the era, and she participated in the famous Selma-Montgomery March. She witnessed the events of "Bloody Sunday", a day when 600 Civil Rights marchers in Selma were brutally attacked on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and this event would later become the subject for several of her paintings.
Sims work has since been included in the Brooks Museum of Art, the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University, the Alabama State Capitol, and in galleries in Washington D.C.
In 1994, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt design featured the famous Kentuck tree logo. That same year, The Kentuck Festival of the Arts was featured in a New York Times article titled Tuscaloosa As Its Own Place.
Kentuck Art Center began hosting Art Nights, a series of free monthly events hosted on the first Thursday of each month in which artists' studios are open, Gallery Shop hours are extended, and live music plays in the courtyard.
Missionary Mary Proctor, a longtime Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, experienced a tragic event that would ultimately lead her to the path of her creative journey. In 1994, three family members of Mary's were trapped and killed in a fire which she escaped. She recalls receiving a spiritual message a year later: "The door is the way". After receiving the metaphysical message, Mary painted three doors in memory of her three family members. She placed them in her yard, which resulted in the attention of a collector. A series of events unfolded, and these first three creations led to Mary exhibiting in a New York show, solidifying for her that creating art and telling her story was her purpose.
In 1995, Hallie O'Kelley featured a very unique and dynamic pattern in her annual quilt, catching the eye of festival-goers.
This year, it was not only O'Kelley's quilt or the amazing art that enchanted attendees. In 1995, Kentuck welcomed a new, soon-to-be iconic and easily-recognizable member to the team: Rusty the Red Dog. Rusty the Big Red Dog is a sculpture made of scrap metal that sits perched on one of the studios of Kentuck's campus, overlooking the main street of Northport.
Rusty was first created in 1983 by Larry Godwin for his brother and father's pet feed shop in Dothan, Alabama. In 1995, Georgine Clarke, founder and former executive editor of Kentuck, purchased Rusty with the original intention of using the sculpture for exhibitions. However, Clarke made the decision to make the iconic dog a permanent installation atop of the studio where he has since become a beloved Northport landmark and one of the famous attractions listed on the national website, Roadside America.
Also in 1995, Yvonne Wells won 'Best in Show' at Kentuck Festival of the Arts for a fourth time!
In 1996, Hallie O'Kelley's quilt again featured a version of the iconic Kentuck tree, an appropriate choice considering this would be Kentuck's 25th annual festival and a monumental year for the organization in general.
In 1996, Northport was selected as one of the "Top 20 Small Towns in America" and was listed in "The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America", a book by John Villani. The Kentuck Festival of the Arts was also selected by Southeast Tourism Society as one of the "Top 20 Events in the South for 1995-96," and it was also named one of the "Top 200 Best Art Events in the United States" the same year.
What else happened in 1996?
In the same year, Gregory Warmack, better known as Mr. Imagination, was commissioned to make an eleven-foot-tall rendition of a Coca-Cola bottle for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Mr. Imagination was a longtime Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts. His major works included a garden installation at the National Botanical Gardens, a globe piece at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and a wall display for the transit building in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In addition to Coca-Cola, Absolut Vodka also commissioned a rendition of their bottle in his style.
In 1997, a new facet to Hallie O'Kelly's annual quilts was added to the tradition. From this year forward, each quilt was given a title. In 1997, the title of O'Kelley's quilt was Log Cabin Pinwheel.
Kentuck Art Center collaborated with several organizations for the Kentuck Festival in 1997, including American Council of the Blind-West Alabama Chapter, Apple Annie, United Cerebral Palsy, Black Warrior Lions Club, Black Warrior Review, Marr's Field Journal, Boy Scout Troop 100 and 15, Central High Civinettes, Key Club of Central High School, Northport Lions Club, Hillcrest Band Boosters, Brookwood Cheerleaders, Elysian, Tombigbee Girl Scout Council, Tuscaloosa Belles, Tuscaloosa Civitans, Tuscaloosa County High Interact, Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra Guild, University of Alabama Art Students League, and University of Alabama Japan Program.
Additionally, Yvonne Wells won 'Best in Show' at Kentuck Festival of the Arts for a fifth time!
Kentuck Festival Guest Artist Mose Tolliver was featured on the cover of Raw Vision Magazine issue #12. Raw Vision is an international publication that aims to highlight "unknown geniuses" of the art world.
In 1998, Hallie O'Kelley's quilt featured bold colors and an kaleidoscope-like pattern. The title for this year's quilt was Rolling Star.
In July 1998, Kentuck Art Center hosted the exhibition "Local Color" by Glenn House. Glenn House was an illustrator, sculptor, painter and printer, probably best known for the iconic Moon Winx Lodge sign he designed for a motel in the Alberta region of Tuscaloosa.
Also in 1998, artist John Kelley, who attended Kentuck Festival of the Arts for over 10 years, had his very first gallery show at the Kentuck Gallery. John has won many awards, including the Award of Excellence at the Oil Painters of America Eastern Regional Exhibition in 2015, Grand Prize at the 11th annual Energen Art Competition in 2010, and Best of Show for the Alabama Pastel Society (Regional Show) in 2001.
In 1999, Hallie O'Kelley's design once again featured an Aztec-esque star, this time titled Star Within a Star.
In July that year, Butch House installed a large, metal fire ant sculpture in Kentuck's Courtyard of Wonders.
In the same year, Missionary Mary Proctor was featured on the cover of Raw Vision magazine, an international publication that aims to highlight "unknown geniuses" of the art world.
In 2000, the beginning of the new century, Hallie O'Kelley's work featured bright, neon colors and a symmetrical star pattern. She titled this piece Iowa Star.
In 2000, Kentuck Art Center hosted Local Color 4, an exhibition featuring new works by Barbara Lee Black, Cinderee, Kathleen Fetters, Glenn House, Sr., Butch House, James Morris, and Sky Studio. This exhibition opened at July Art Night, which included a performance by Henri's Notions, and studio artists Ann Betak, Steve Davis, Brian Evans, Anden Houben, Mark Rigsby, and Lackey Stephens opened their studios for visitors.
What else happened in 2000?
Also in the year 2000, Ruth Robinson began painting again after a tragedy that affected the trajectory of her artistic career. Ruth grew up working on a farm where her grandfather and brothers were sharecroppers. The family grew corn, picked cotton, raised chickens, and plowed fields. Ruth began painting from a very young age, starting at the age of eight. She continued throughout her teenage years until a tragic house fire caused her to lose all of her paintings. The loss of work devastated Ruth, and she did not begin painting again until 2000. Ruth is a longtime Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts and is included in Kentuck Art Center's Permanent Collection.
In 2001, Kentuck celebrated its 30th annual festival with Hallie O'Kelley's quilt, Retrospective in a Cube. Festival guests may remember The Center for Puppetry Arts' performance of Billy Goats Gruff at the Kentuck for Kids section of the Kentuck Festival of the Arts. In addition to the performance, David Stephens hosted a 'Puppet Factory,' during which he would teach children how to build their own puppets.
Also in 2001, New York-based artist, Ellie Ali, was inspired to create her exhibit "How do you get to Dreamland from here?" after a conversation she had at an art festival in Birmingham, AL. She asked a colleague how to get to Dreamland BBQ from where they were, but she found herself unable to focus on their response, struck by the poetic beauty of the question. The exhibit "How do you get to Dreamland from here?" was later showcased in Kentuck's Main Avenue Gallery at an Art Night in 2012, where approximately 20 works from Ellie Ali were featured.
When asked about returning to Northport and Kentuck, Ali responded with, "Art grows out of the earth here. You could say I'm a Northerner who discovered the South with great joy...".
In 2002, Hallie O'Kelley unveiled her annual quilt, October Pinwheel, which featured a mix of orange reminiscent of October and bold colors with a cohesive pattern.
In the same year, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., a printmaker, book artist, papermaker, and Demonstrating Artist at Kentuck Festival of the Arts, began making posters for the annual festival. His posters were created using the process of letterpress printing, a type of printing in which raised letters are covered with ink before being applied to the paper to create a print.
In 2003, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt design featured rows of chromatic bars. She titled the piece Amish Bars. This screen printed, hand pulled poster is the last of the 100 limited edition posters signed and numbered by the artist. After 2003, only hand-stitched quilts were made.
In the same year, the Kentuck Festival of the Arts was featured in Smithsonian Magazine. Several exhibiting artists were featured in this multi-page spread, including Sam 'The Dot Man' McMillan, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Woodie Long, Chris 'Chub' Hubbard, Debbie 'Miz Thang' Garner, and Tom Haney. In the article, author Brian Noyes refers to Kentuck as "folk art at its most personal, a unique event where nationally acclaimed self-taught and primitive artists create, show and sell their work...". This publicity brought record crowds to the festival from across the US.
Also in 2003, Southern Living published an article discussing what makes folk art great. Several Kentuck artists were featured, including Woodie Long, Chris Clark, Billie Roper, Bernice Sims, Isaac Smith, and Charlie West.
In 2004, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt design featured a compass pattern. The piece was titled Kentuck Compass. Yvonne Wells won 'Best in Show' at the 2004 Kentuck Festival of the Arts, marking her sixth time winning that award. Festival patrons may remember the Guest Folk Artists that year: Alpha Andrews, Butch Anthony, Michael Banks, Ned Berry, Jack 'Mr. B' Beverland, Jerry Brown, Chris Clark, Lorraine Gendron, Anne Marie Grgich, Lonnie Holley, Danny 'The BucketMan' Hoskinson, Chris 'Chub' Hubbard, Bettye Kimbrell, Johnnie Jane Laird, William 'Willie Willie' Lamendola, Woodie Long, Annie Lucas, Charlie 'Tin Man' Lucas, Sam 'The Dot Man' McMillan, Miller Pottery, 'Missionary' Mary Proctor, Sarah Rakes, Linda Laird Sandford, Matt Sesow, Robert Frito Seven, Cher Shaffer, Robert 'Dr. Bob' Shaffer, Bernice Sims, James 'Buddy' Snipes, Lamar Sorrento, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Wanda Laird Teel, Ab The Flagman, John Henry Toney, Annie Tolliver Turner, Gregory 'Mr. Imagination' Warmack, and Ruby C. Williams.
What else happened in 2004?
Also in 2004, Charlie 'Tin Man' Lucas, a folk artist and sculptor moved from Pink Lily in Elmore County to Selma, AL where he lived next door to Kathryn Tucker Windham, the famous storyteller, author, and journalist. Charlie is a longtime Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival, and Kathryn Tucker Windham is well known for telling ghost stories at the Kentuck Festival. In 2021, Kentuck Art Center rededicated the Spoken Word Stage to honor Kathryn, and Charlie told the audience many stories of their friendship.
In 2005, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt featured an eye-catching and dynamic pattern with an equally eye-catching title: Kentuck Pineapple. Lisa Klakulak (fiber) was awarded Best In Show, and Awards of Distinction were granted to Tom Haney (sculpture) and Yvonne Wells (fiber). Merit awards were granted to Julie Belcher (mixed media), Cal Breed (glass), Joseph DeCamillis (mixed media), Jimmy Descant (sculpture), Terry and Ann Gibson (natural materials/baskets), Elayne Goodman (mixed media), George Jones, Jr. (natural materials), Joachim Knill (photography), Rhonda Kuhlman (jewelry), David Nagel (wood), Elaine Rader (jewelry), and Mark Rigsby (clay).
What else happened in 2005?
Additionally, in 2005, Charlie 'Tin Man' Lucas, a longtime Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, was interviewed by NPR (National Public Radio) for his exhibit at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, AL titled 'In the Belly of the Ship'.
In the same year, the United States Postal Service chose to honor Bernice Sims, a Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts and a well-known Civil Rights Era activist, by issuing a postage stamp featuring her painting of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL. The stamp is one of ten in a series titled "To Form A More Perfect Union", a name chosen to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
Also in 2005, Bernice Sims' work was included in the "On Their Own -- Selected Self-Taught Artists" at the Smithsonian Anacostia Museum.
In 2006, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt design featured a bold mixture of lavender and red. This quilt is titled Log Cabin Variation.
Ignatius Creegan (fiber) was awarded Best In Show. Awards of Distinction were granted to Chris Roberts-Antieau (fiber), and Kathy Frey (jewelry). Merit Awards were granted to Bethanne Hill (two-dimensional), Kay Basiago (glass), Joseph Decamillis (mixed media), David Nagel (wood), Connie Ulrich (jewelry), Jim Newbury (toys), Lisa Klakulak (fiber), Steve Terlizzese (mixed media), Jamie Jo Fisher (jewelry), Jean Yao (natural materials/baskets), Steve Shepard (two-dimensional), and Bryan Cunningham (mixed media).
In 2007, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt featured a unique geometric floral pattern. She appropriately titled the piece Kentuck Flower Garden.
In 2007, beloved folk and Kentuck featured artist, Jimmy Lee Sudduth, died at the age of 97. By the time he passed, he had accumulated some nine decades of work in his craft—a feat only possible because he started young and lived long. At the age of three, while on a medicinal plant finding trip with his adoptive mother, he dipped his fingers in mud and drew his first picture on the stump of a recently cut tree. He went on to develop his own mud painting technique with "sweet mud" as his paint. Sweet mud was a special combination of mud, water, and a sweet additive—sometimes syrup, Coca-Cola, white sugar, or honey.
A staple at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, he sold his paintings under the same pine tree every year, and his audience knew just where to find him. His paintings often sold out within hours of his arrival. Proud of his accomplishments, Sudduth once said, "I'm easy to find. I'm the center of the universe!" And for many at Kentuck, he was.
His artwork was added to the permanent collections of the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution, the High Museum of Art, Kentuck Art Center, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
In 2008, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt featured kaleidoscope images of trees within squares. She titled the piece Kentuck Pickle Dish.
In 2008, festivalgoers may remember Black Warrior Review performing excerpts from their annual literary magazine at the Spoken Word Stage. Black Warrior Review, an annual literary magazine created by students of UA in 1974 that publishes works of fiction, nonfiction , poetry, and comics -- was named one of the "19 magazines that matter."
What else happened in 2008?
Also in 2008, Gregory Warmack, known affectionately as Mr. Imagination, experienced a life-altering event that would go on to shape his creative journey. Shortly after moving to Pennsylvania to further his artistic efforts, a fire consumed most of his artwork and material processions along with several beloved pets. Afterward, Mr. Imagination moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he continued making art.
During his lifetime, he became one of the most famous self-taught artists in the world. He was a Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts for many years. He was featured in several national and international exhibitions, however, his work now permanently resides in the collections of the American Visionary Museum in Baltimore, MD; The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.; The Museum of American Folk Art in New York, NY; Kentuck Art Center's Permanent Collection; and several other institutions.
In 2009, Hallie O'Kelley's annual piece included a bilateral diamond pattern and was fittingly titled Festival Diamond. This quilt was also featured on a commercially printed poster and sold at the festival.
In the same year, Katy DeMent won 'Best in Show' at Kentuck Festival of the Arts. Katy DeMent, who majored in Art History and Psychology at Georgia State University, is a self-taught papermaker. Her works include layers of ephemera, cloth, and photos to tell a story. Her unique papermaking process has been featured on HGTV's Crafters Coast to Coast and Daniel Tigers Neighborhood. Pieces of her artwork are also on display at the American Museum of Folk Art in New York. Aside from her award at Kentuck, she was named Georgia Arts Educator of the Year in 2005. Mrs. DeMent currently owns a studio in Pennsylvania, where she makes paper from invasive species of plants and pulls prints from a 100 year old press.
Additionally, Kentuck Festival of the Arts was named one of Time.com's "50 Authentic American Experiences" for 2009.
In 2010, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt featured pattern of small, checkered squares and was titled Nine Patch Variation.
The Kentuck Festival of the Arts received several honors in 2010, including being named one of the Top Ten Art Festivals by American Style Magazine, being listed as one of the 100 Best Small Arts Towns in America, being named a "Local Legacy" by the U.S. Library of Congress, being named one of the Top 20 Events for October by Southeast Tourism Society, and receiving the Governor's Award for 2010.
Also in 2010, Butch Anthony, a Guest Artist for Kentuck Festival of the Arts, was featured on The History Channel's 'American Pickers'. Anthony first exhibited at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in 1996, but he started his largest art installation, now known as The Museum of Wonder, in 1970, on his 80-acre property in Seale, Alabama. The drive thru museum is filled with curiosities, art, strange artifacts, and gifted exhibits such as "the world's largest gallstone" and "an actual footprint from Sasquatch."
In 2011, Hallie O'Kelley created a quilted kaleidoscope of the Kentuck Tree with a special "40" logo to celebrate Kentuck Festival of the Arts' 40th anniversary. This quilt is titled 40th Anniversary. The 40th Anniversary logo was developed by Kyle Henderson.
2011's festival was also dedicated to two past Kentuck Festival of the Arts exhibitors, Kathryn Tucker Windham and Chris Clark. Kathryn Tucker Windham was a famous journalist, author, and storyteller who told ghost stories at the Kentuck Festival for many years. Chris Clark was a folk artist well-known for his paintings on scrap wood and flea market furniture and his stunning quilts. His work is included in the permanent collection of the Mennello Museum in Orlando, FL.
In the same year, a tornado struck areas of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham on April 27th, 2011. The tornado was a violent EF4 multi-vortex tornado, and was named one of the costliest tornadoes on record due to the severe damage it caused. The tornado claimed the lives of 64 people, including six University of Alabama students. In response, Kentuck hosted an exhibition titled Turmoil & Transcendence, which featured art depicting the storm and the damage and grief left in the aftermath. A news release from Kentuck stated, “As we are dealing with these incalculable losses, the importance of art as self-expression, as communication and as therapy is ever more clear.”
On November 3, 2011, The Georgine Clarke Building and The Ellis Teer Gallery were officially dedicated. Many volunteers spent time and energy rehabbing the multi-use building for years of future use. Speakers at the rededication ceremony included Bobby Herndon, Mayor of Northport; Al Head, Executive Director of the Alabama State Council on the Arts; Georgine Clarke, Kentuck Founder, Visual Arts Program Manager at the Alabama State Council on the Arts; and Janet Teer, Member Emerita, Kentuck Museum Association Board of Directors.
In 2012, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt featured a unique, angular pattern, and the piece was titled Zig Zag.
In the same year, Georgine Clarke, founder and former director of Kentuck Art Center and Festival, passed away at the age of 71. Her memory lives on with the dedication of the Georgine Clarke Building located on Kentuck's campus.
Tragically, following just a few weeks after Clarke's death, Mr. Imagination (Also known as Gregory Warmack) died at the age of 64 on May 30, 2012. His work lives on in the Kentuck Permanent Collection as well as several exhibitions and installments around the world.
Carolyn Fritz, faithful Kentuck volunteer and Kentuck for Kids Festival Coordinator, also tragically passed away the same month on May 7, 2012. Aside from her dedication to Kentuck, Carolyn was an avid volunteer for multiple organizations. She was named Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts, Sustainer of the Year for Junior League Tuscaloosa, Volunteer of the Year as an Active Member of Junior League Tuscaloosa, and Grand Marshal of the Christmas Parade.
The 2012 festival was dedicated in Georgine Clarke, Gregory Warmack (Mr.Imagination), and Carolyn Frtiz's honor that year for their influence and dedication to the arts and community.
In 2013, Hallie O'Kelley unveiled her annual quilt design, which featured mosaic designs of trees, aptly titled Pine Tree.
In 2013, Kentuck Art Center's Museum Building was temporarily vacated due to an endangered bat infestation and major structural issues that made the building uninhabitable. The building remained closed for renovations until 2016, and all operations were headquartered in Kentuck's Georgine Clarke Building.
In the same year, Kentuck hosted a fundraiser exhibition during Art Night April titled Wounded Heart Exhibit. The exhibit was produced by the UA Women's Center, and featured pieces from artists that expressed the impact of domestic violence.
In 2014, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt featured an octagon, Aztec-esque pattern with bold red touches. She aptly titled the piece Festival Kaleidoscope.
Kentuck Art Center hosted the inaugural exhibit, In the AM, in its Transitory Episodic Momentary Provisional (T.E.M.P) Gallery. The gallery was a temporary gallery space established in the Clarke Building, which allowed for Kentuck to continue presenting the pieces of diverse artists while preparing renovation plans for the Main Avenue Building.
In October 2014, Bernice Sims, influential Civil Rights activist and folk artist, released a book about her life titled The Struggle: My Life & Legacy. She attended a book signing for the memoir, and sadly passed away just three weeks later at the age of 87. She was a longtime Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts.
In 2015, complementing the pine trees often featured in her work, Hallie O'Kelley created a quilt that featured a zig-zagging leaf pattern, allowing the beauty of nature nature to once again influence her work. The touches of orange, burgundy, and yellow inspired the name for the piece: Autumn's Colors.
On April 10, 2015, Kentuck Art Center unveiled architectural plans and launched a capital campaign to raise $1.1 million to save the Museum Building. The building, located in the heart of Historic Downtown Northport, had been vacant since 2013 due to bats and structural problems.
In the same year, an article about Minnie Evans, a Kentuck Festival Guest Artist in 2015, was featured in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. At the time of the interview, Minnie Evans was 81-years-old, and she continues to carve her unique basswood carvings of numerous creatures, including foxes, possums, horses, and bears to name a few. Her art is featured in permanent collections at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the Smithsonian Institution and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the private collection of Oprah Winfrey.
Additionally, Kentuck Guest Artist Missionary Mary Proctor was voted the 2015 Folk Artist of the Year by the Folk Art Society of America.
In 2016, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt design featured bold neon pink colors and a star-like pattern. The piece was appropriately titled Off-Kilter Stars.
In the same year, Kentuck Art Center hosted a grand reopening after a $1.1 million renovation of the Museum Building, located at 503 Main Avenue. Thanks to a capital campaign managed by David Pass, pledges for the $1.1 million renovation were made by various generous donors, including the cities of Northport and Tuscaloosa, the Tuscaloosa County Commission, the Alabama Power Foundation, the Community Foundation of West Alabama, the Daniel Foundation of Alabama, the Alabama State Council of the Arts, Bank of Tuscaloosa, Bryant Bank, Buffalo Rock Pepsi, and other private contributors.
Additionally in 2016, the arts contributed $728 billion to economic growth in the US, and the arts also created 47,458 jobs in Alabama. The $728 billion contribution from the arts represents 4.2 percent of the nation's GDP, which is a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism, and agriculture according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The non-profit arts industry alone generates $135 billion in economic activity annually, which supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue according to Americans for the Arts.
With the help of its community, artists, volunteers, and contributors, Kentuck's annual festival generates a 5.3 million dollar economic impact each year during the 2 day event, according to a 2016 report.
In 2017, Hallie O'Kelley's annual design featured a spiral pattern with touches of sapphire. The pattern, resembling the shape of a sun, was titled Sunset Over Kentuck.
Also in 2017, Sloane Bibb, an Alabama native and mixed media artist unveiled his exhibit, Everything But the Kitchen Sink, for February Art Night in the Museum Gallery of Kentuck Art Center.
In addition, Ann Betak, a painter of over 60 years and Kentuck Studio Artist of 20 years, displayed her work in an exhibit at Kentuck's Teer Gallery in 2017.
In 2018, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt design featured a mosaic of striped "flower" shapes with bold red coloration against a gray background. She titled the quilt Striped Poppy.
In 2018, the Kentuck Festival of the Arts was named one of the top-ten events to attend in Alabama by the Alabama Department of Tourism, and Sunshine Artist Magazine ranked the Kentuck Festival of the Arts 5th in the nation in the category of Classic and Contemporary Craft Festivals. This ranking is solely on artists self-reported sales.
Charles Pinckney, a jewelry artist from Athens, Georgia, won Best In Show at the 47th Kentuck Festival of the Arts.
In 2019, Hallie O'Kelley unveiled her annual quilt design, featuring bold colors and abstract shapes bordering leaves representative of the nature that often influences her work. The whimsical quilt was titled Tulip Tree.
Additionally in 2019, Yvonne Wells, renowned quilter and Guest Artist at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, was awarded the Governor's Award from the Alabama State Council of the Arts.
In the same year, Hallie O'Kelley was honored by the West Alabama Quilter's Guild with a wall-hanging of her quilt, "October Glory" at Government Plaza in Tuscaloosa.
For this complex year in Kentuck (and world) history, Hallie O'Kelley created a quilt featuring a bright floral pattern juxtaposing a gray background. She titled the quilt Hexie Flowers.
In 2020, after 48 consecutive years of hosting the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, the COVID-19 pandemic began causing cancellations and restrictions worldwide. Thus, with the safety of the community and guests in mind, Kentuck decided to cancel what would have been its 49th annual festival.
With the cancellation of the festival, potential income for over 200 artists was swept away. Several artists depend on the audience such festivals and art shows typically garner to spread awareness of their art and generate a profit from the pieces they sell.
In a Crimson White article published in September 2020, Kentuck Studio Artists Kerry Kennedy and Scott McQueen spoke about the struggles artists endured during the pandemic. For Scott McQueen, "When COVID hit, it just put everything in reverse.... I was making probably around 85 to 90 percent of my income from all of these art shows – that’s been really devastating not only to myself but to all artists and a lot of small businesses who rely on putting their wares in front of other people."
To try to recoup some opportunity for income for the artists who were set to exhibit at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts in October 2020, Kentuck Art Center hosted their first Kentuck Festival of the Arts Virtual Marketplace, which opened the day the in-person festival was set to occur and remained open until December 31, 2020. Kentuck Festival of the Arts Virtual Marketplace featured dozens of artist shops, and many virtual events throughout the months it was open. In total, artists made about $90,000 in art sales.
In 2021, after facing adversity the previous year, Kentuck hosted a record breaking 50th Festival of the Arts. This year, Hallie O'Kelley's design, titled "The Golden Year," featured the Kentuck Tree logo encircled in the number 50, commemorating the great history of the Kentuck Festival of the Arts.
In celebration of Kentuck's 50th anniversary, Kentuck Art Center renamed the Spoken Word Stage to honor the late journalist/storyteller/Alabama legend Kathryn Tucker Windham. The Spoken Word Stage at the Kentuck Festival of the Arts would not exist if not for Kathryn. In the early years of the Kentuck Festival, there was no storytelling stage - just a circled spot on a map, where someone would tack up a sign with her name, and times. She'd walk the festival grounds, then wander back whenever a crowd of children gathered. It is Kentuck's hope that honoring Kathryn Tucker Windham with this stage dedication will stir feelings of nostalgia for those who grew up reading her stories, and introduce a new generation to the magic of storytelling.
Additionally, Kentuck Art Center's 2021 exhibitions focused on the theme of memory: "how we remember the past, how we are influenced by our personal memories, society’s collective memory, and how we shape our own narrative and legacy."
One of the exhibitions featured was Good Trouble: Civil Rights Past & Present. The exhibit focused on amplifying Black artists voices and stories, and featured at least seven Black artists from Alabama. Kentuck hosted the exhibition in hopes to "educate, break down barriers, and give us hope for a more equitable future."
In 2022, Hallie O'Kelley's annual quilt design featured a mosaic of green, yellow, and blue, bringing a unique touch to a seemingly traditional quilt pattern. 2022's quilt is titled "Square Dance."
In the same year, Kentuck was honored by Alabama Magazine when it was named "Best of Bama 2022."
Kentuck Art Center featured exhibitions by numerous artists, including Ahmad Austin, Chie Hitchner, Michelle Jones, Jim Shores, Debra Riffe, Charlie Frye, and Jeanie Holland and T.R. Reed.
Hallie O'Kelley just unveiled this year's quilt. The quilt, featuring red oak leaves, is titled Another Autumn Day.
Join us for the 52nd Kentuck Festival of the Arts on October 14-15, 2023 under the shade of the trees in Kentuck Park. Can't wait until October? Join us for Art Nights, Saturday Art Markets, or a workshop!