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Producer, editor: John Schroering
Funky Fund-Raisers for Feathered Friends
Our next segment is as simple as ABC: Artists decorating Birdhouses for a Children’s garden.
The location is the University of Kentucky-Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Arboretum (usually just called “the Arboretum” for short), a 100-acre oasis of rolling hills and open space adjacent to the UK campus in the heart of Lexington. Established in 1991, it offers a two-mile paved pathway that takes visitors on a “Walk Across Kentucky,” with gardens and plantings representing seven different geographical regions. Meanwhile, a small wooded section shows what much of Lexington looked like when European settlers first began arriving.
The next planned attraction is a 1.5-acre children’s garden, which is where the birdhouses come in. In an annual fund-raising project, local artists decorate birdhouses to be displayed at the arboretum and then auctioned off, with the proceeds going into the children’s garden fund. When completed, the area will include themed, child-scaled botanical displays; a small amphitheater; and lots of opportunities for hands-on play and educational workshops meant to put city kids back in touch with nature.
The arboretum—Kentucky’s official state botanical garden—is open year-round. There is no admission charge, though of course donations are always welcome.
Watch This Story (7:59)
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Producer: Tom Bickel
Enameling is the art (and science) of applying glass to metal, ceramic, or even other glass and then using heat to melt the coating and fuse it to the surface, creating a smooth and glossy finish. It’s an all-over finishing technique for everything from lapel pins to automobile emblems to bathroom fixtures. And in the hands of artists, it’s a technique that can literally add a new dimension to a piece, adding textural complexity, vibrant color, or simply a highly polished finish.
No matter how you want to use it, though, the chances are very good that any glass enamel coating material you buy was manufactured in Northern Kentucky: The only glass enamel maker in the Western Hemisphere is Thompson Enamel in Campbell County.
The company was founded in 1950 by Woodrow Carpenter, an artist who studied ceramics at the University of Illinois. On our visit in 2007, we found him still going strong in his 90s, overseeing operations on the factory floor.
Thompson enamels begin as powders, which are then smelted in kettles, poured out through rollers that turn them into flakes, and carefully ground and sifted to consistent particle sizes to ensure even coating. Manipulating the formation of crystals during the liquid stage controls the relative transparency of the finished enamel, while the injection of various metals and other elements enables the Thompson artisans to create a dazzling variety of colored coatings engineered to bond with specific surfaces.
As an artist himself, Carpenter has always had an affinity for the customers who use his products in jewelry, pottery, and sculpture. He developed several new types of enamels to meet specific artistic needs, started a society and a magazine for enamelists, leads frequent workshops, and has amassed an impressive personal collection of artworks incorporating enamels. Thinking toward the future, he also started a foundation that will continue his educational work and exhibit the collection.
Watch This Story (7:40)
Producer: Tom Thurman
The Founders and the Festival
the Mountain Music Gatherin’
J.P. and Annadeene Fraley may not be as well known as some other musical couples, but they occupy a very special place in the hearts of devotees of traditional music. Both talented performers, they also created the Mountain Music Gatherin’, an annual celebration of that music that draws fans and practitioners from around the country to Carter Caves State Resort Park in Olive Hill each September.
Jesse Presley Fraley grew up near the small Carter County town of Hitchins, where his father ran several businesses, during the 1930s and ’40s. He remembers his father, Richard, as a business-minded man who could be aloof—except when he was fiddling. Early on, young J.P. learned to take advantage of his dad’s enthusiasm for music: By expressing a desire to practice a new song on the fiddle, he could get himself excused from hoeing corn or some other distasteful chore.
During his boyhood, cars were still a rarity, and many people lived their lives without ever leaving Carter County. So homemade entertainment was the order of the day, and a man handy with a fiddle could always be assured of food, drink, and maybe even a date with the prettiest girl at any gathering. J.P. picked up songs and techniques from various local fiddlers, most notably Ed Haley, and soon started playing at socials and contests around the region. (An entertaining autobiography by J.P., written for Rounder Records in 1973, contains more of his reminiscences of growing up in Hitchins.)
In his teens, he met Annadeene Prater, whose family had traveled around to various coal camps before settling in Star Branch. She was a singer and guitarist and had performed on the radio at WCMI in Ashland as one of the Rachel Valley Girls. After she and J.P. got married, they had four children in quick succession, and neither had much time for music. Eventually, though, J.P.’s success as a mining equipment salesman allowed them some leisure, and they rediscovered the fun of playing for family and friends. J.P. started entering contests again, and later the Fraleys began making recordings.
They also started hosting an annual family reunion that gradually evolved into the Mountain Music Gatherin’. For years, Annadeene would start the event by getting up on stage and asking the crowd, “Has anybody seen J.P.?” He would shout his answer from the audience, then join her to kick things off with a rousing fiddle and guitar duet.
Annadeene Fraley died in 1996, and poor health has kept J.P. from performing in recent years. But as this visit to the 2007 gatherin’ attests, the event that bears their name is still a vibrant showcase of traditional musical styles. From 15-minute stage performances to ad hoc jam sessions in parking lots, it’s a weekend full of nearly non-stop music, dedicated to the sheer joy of making it.
Our tribute to the festival and its founders also includes an archival recording of Annadeene and J.P. performing “Margaret’s Waltz.”
The performances and interviews seen here are taken from footage shot for KET’s Kentucky Muse documentary Mountain Music Gatherin’. The accompanying web pages include more video performances, background on the festival and on mountain music, and links for learning more. Kentucky Life Program 1414 also includes another piece from the gatherin’, focusing on some outstanding contemporary fiddlers.
Watch This Story (6:03)
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