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Program 1117

1. Sharpe Houseboats
2. the music of the Junkman
3. folk artists Ronald and Jessie Cooper
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Season 11 Menu

Pulaski County

For more information:
Sharpe Houseboats, 5215 S. Hwy 27, Somerset, KY 42501, (606) 676-0610

Producer, editor: Tom Bickel
Videographer: John Breslin

A House on the Water

Sharpe Houseboats

Southern Kentucky is a water wonderland, and Lake Cumberland in particular may be the houseboat capital of the world—not just as a destination for vacationers and their boats, but as a center of houseboat manufacturing.

The man who got it all started is Somerset native Jim Sharpe, whom his family likes to refer to as “the Henry Ford of houseboats.” When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began impounding the waters of the Cumberland River to create the lake a few years after World War II, Jim saw a golden opportunity and started building boats to sell to the locals. At first the products were fishing boats and runabouts. But as Lake Cumberland started to draw tourists from all over the East, Jim saw a demand for floating accommodations. He built his first houseboat in 1953, then spent almost five decades refining and expanding the operation.

For the first two of those decades, his company was known as Somerset Marine. In 1973, a printer’s typo accidentally changed it to “Sumerset,” and Jim decided he liked that variation, sticking with it for many more years. But when he decided to retire and turn things over to his children and grandchildren, they renamed the company Sharpe Houseboats in his honor.

Sharpe specializes in building custom vessels that are much more house than boat—sometimes for people who plan to live in them full-time. You’ll find well-appointed kitchens; bedrooms with full-, queen-, and king-sized beds; full baths; and luxurious interior design in most examples. And some boats have included second stories and even helicopter pads.

Our tour of the manufacturing operations is led by a grandson, Jim Sharpe II, who shows several of the company’s creations and talks about the family and company history.

Jefferson County

For more information:
Junk Music, c/o the Moo Group, P.O. Box 2074, Manchester Center, VT 05222, (802) 362-0548

Producer, editor: Gary Pahler
Videographer: Mike Blackburn

Homemade Music

The Junkman

As a member of the Louisville Orchestra and then the Buffalo Philharmonic, Donald Knaack played drums, triangles, cymbals, and other classical percussion instruments. Nowadays, he makes his music with junked car parts, tin cans, clay flowerpots, wine bottles, highway signs, and other leftover pieces of modern life—and spends his days encouraging others to do the same.

Some years back, driven by both a passion for music and a concern for the environment, Knaack transformed himself into “The Junkman” and decided to use only discarded and recycled materials to create his art. His experiments resulted in a whole new genre, “junk music,” and won him a Grammy nomination for Best Classical Composition for his first CD.

Junk music is also highly shareable, since its instruments are all around us and usually free for the taking. The Junkman spends a lot of his time as an itinerant teacher of, and evangelist for, music, showing people who might never have thought of themselves as musicians how they can create something magical with junk. His projects include community-built sculptures made of found objects, which double as multi-person musical instruments, and “junkjams” during which people collaborate spontaneously, using whatever’s at hand. One such jam, at a music festival sponsored by the rock band Phish, went on for more than three hours.

Our profile catches the Junkman in action back in his hometown of Louisville, where he visits Blue Lick Elementary to introduce kids to the joy of making music.

Fleming County

For more information:
• You can contact Ronald and Jessie Cooper through, and see examples of their work at, the Kentucky Folk Art Center, 102 W. 1st St., Morehead, KY 40351, (606) 783-2204. Host Dave Shuffett also does his introductions for this program from the Folk Art Center.

Producer: Jeffrey Hill
Videographer: Daniel V. Conrad
Editors: Chris Meritt and Chris Wisecup

Homemade Art

Folk artists Ronald and Jessie Cooper

Ronald Cooper of Flemingsburg says that his art career is a gift from God. But its subject matter also draws on a very personal hell. In 1984, Ronald and his wife, Jessie, were involved in a serious car accident in a blinding snowstorm. Ronald was thrown out of the car, began crawling back to check on Jessie, and felt another vehicle run over his legs.

With Ronald unable to return to his job at General Motors in Ohio, the Coopers moved back to Fleming County, where they had both grown up, and Ronald spent the next five years recuperating. Jessie, a self-taught painter, suggested that he try art to keep his hands and mind occupied. So Ronald took up woodcarving and painting. He whittled animal figures, then moved on to sculptures and dioramas incorporating carved pieces, found objects, and text messages.

During his recuperation period, Ronald was plagued by frequent nightmares of being chased by snakes, and serpents are a frequent presence in his works. You’ll also find angels, demons, and human figures playing out Bible stories or simply squared off in the eternal battle between good and evil.

The finished works are often collaborations with Jessie, who also favors Biblical themes in her own work. She paints on found objects and crafts human figures. Both Coopers have become well known within the folk-art world, and collectors in several countries as well as several museums now own their works.

Fayette County

For more information:
Kentucky Horse Park, 4089 Iron Works Pkwy., Lexington, KY 40511, (859) 233-4303 or (800) 678-8813

Bonus Video

This episode also contains a short filler of scenes from the Kentucky Horse Park outside Lexington.

SEASON 11 PROGRAMS: 1101110211031104110511061107
110811091110: Wild and Scenic Kentucky11111112

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