Oral History Interview with Garry Barker Part I

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:35 - Early involvement in the arts / Director of KY Guild

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Keywords: art fairs; Asheville (NC); Berea (KY); Berea College; Bob Gray; craft fairs; Craft Marketing Program; English major; fiction; Indian Fort Theatre; John Y. Brown; Julian Carroll; Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen; Marketing Appalachia Through the Church (MATCH); Phyllis George; Phyllis George Brown; Richard Bellando; Southern Highland Handicraft Guild; Wendell Ford; writer; writing

12:32 - Writing fiction / Morehead University / Berea College

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Keywords: Asheville (NC); Berea College; Berea Craft Festival; Crafts Marketing Program; fiction; Flemingsburg Gazette; Kentucky Folk Art Center; Morehead University; New York; Phyllis George; QVC; Southern Highlands Craft Guild; writer; writing

23:30 - Rude Osolnik / Making a living as an artist

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Keywords: Austria; Bob Gray; Bybee Pottery; Homer Ledford; New Mexico; Rude Osolnik; Sam Maloof; Southern Highland Handicraft Guild

29:11 - Asheville, North Carolina

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Keywords: Allen Eaton; Asheville (NC); Bob Gray; Ford Falcon; Glenn Douglas; Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands

30:28 - Homer Ledford

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Keywords: banjo; dulcimer; East Tennessee; woodworker

33:45 - Artists vs. Craftsmen

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Keywords: Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen; Wallace Kelly

41:19 - Kentucky School of Craft

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Keywords: design; Ed Hughes; Kentucky School of Craft; marketing

47:39 - Different arts organizations working together / competition for funding

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Keywords: Appalshop; Folk Arts Center; Kentucky Arts Council; Kentucky Book Fair; Lexington (KY); Louisville (KY); Marie Hochstrasser; Marilyn Moosnick; Southern Highland Guild; University of Kentucky


WILLIHNGANZ: I am Greg Willihnganz and today I am going to be interviewing Garry Barker at Susan Goldstein’s house in Lexington, Kentucky. For the Kentucky Craft History and Education Association. Today is Thursday, August 21, 2008.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay, Garry, if you can in a sentence, try to tell me uh what it is you do.

BARKER: Maybe I should tell you what it is I’ve done that it relates.


BARKER: I’ve, I’ve been…I invented the term Art’s Administrator back in 1965 when I started to work for the Southern Handicraft Guild [it was called then] and I had no idea what it was…I just…the director of the Guild showed up in Berea College where I was a student. He wanted somebody to write. Somebody that……didn’t talk funny and……and would work. And he promised me I didn’t have to wear a tie, and I get to travel a lot. So, I took the job and forgot to ask what it paid or I wouldn’t be sitting here. I went to Ashville…

WILLIHNGANZ: Can I interrupt you for one second here. What both of us are gonna have to work on is not squeaking our chairs.


WILLIHNGANZ: I wonder if I could ask you to take off your shoes. I know we’re gonna, my mike is sensitive enough it’s gonna pick up all of that.

BARKER: The squeak right there.

WILLIHNGANZ: Yeah. Okay, so tell me, you were, you were basically……that history part. Do that part again, cause I wanted to catch that you were in Asheville was it?

BARKER: I went to Asheville, North Carolina in June, 1965, just as an untitled staff member for the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild which is a nine state organization. One of the older, larger ones in the country, and I grew up with homemade…and to be real honest……I’d had about enough homemade chairs, homemade clothes, homemade tools, so I went to Berea. I went as a math major, finally switched over to English, but …now I made that trip to Asheville and found out the value of really well done craftwork, and that just……a wonderful bunch of people and I spent 5 years getting……my master’s degree in Craft Administration from Bob Gray, was director of the Guild, and involved in everything, traveled all over the southeast region. We ran retail stores, craft fairs, exhibitions, work shops, and I was the assistant director and……president actually of their market corporation when I left. But…

WILLIHNGANZ: Now [Interrupting] what years were these?

BARKER: ‘65 through late 1970, but I, you’ve probably heard it all before and I’m from Kentucky and……I wanted to come home. I loved it in Asheville, and I’ve kept going back for 40 years. But, …in 1970, Berea College offered me a job with their craft program, and I was kind of flattered, and I was also looking for a way to get back home. And I took the job and moved to Berea, and was hired to run their college’s gift shops; and as happy as I was to get back; and as much fun as it was to see everybody again, I absolutely hated the job. Compared to, I was used to traveling, being involved, and I’m supposed to baby-sit two stores. So, it’s a so when Richard Bellando decided to take another job, and the Kentucky Guild came and offered me the director’s position there, and I didn’t think about it for maybe 2 minutes, and went ahead and took that position…and I was with the Guild for almost 10 years.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now [Interrupting] that would be from ‘72?

BARKER: Early, well actually, I think I started early ‘71…well ‘71 through ‘79…be eight years I guess. Maybe 1980…my memory’s not what it used to be……which was a great time. I was thinking on the way up here I’ve been on the job about a week probably and Carroll Hale…(a potter from Richmond)…came over to see me and was real serious. He said there’s two ways you can handle this job. He said the first way, the easy way, is you can show up for the board meetings…keep the fair going once a year…you know a lifetime position if you want it. Or, you can try to make it into a real statewide organization, involve everybody, and he said you’ll make everybody mad . And it will be a lot more work. And obviously, I choose his way. It was, it was already a good organization. It grew dramatically during the nine years we had the second fair. We’d just opened the store in Lexington, The old Guild Gallery. Granted it was growing by leaps and bounds, 20-25% a year. We added a second craft fair in Berea the fall of ‘75 I think. We hosted the Southeast Regional gathering of the American Crafts Council and brought oh…Sam Maloof and David Leach, people from all over…literally all over the world as instructors, and about 400 people…mostly because I was at a meeting of the American Crafts Council in Atlanta. We mentioned trying to do this, and they said you can’t do this. And they said you can’t do it--you’re not big enough. So we did. We did it just to show them. This was the days before the Crafts Marketing Programs so I approached actually the first……Governor Wendell Ford was still in office and said they were doing a lot of work for you, won’t you reimburse us. So, the first funding from the state we ever got was from……Wendell Ford. It really significantly grew under Julian Carroll’s administration. Grants directly to the Guilds for programs, work shops, involved in buying a truck. It’s all things. When John Y. Brown was elected, picked up the Courier-Journal that morning, and he was really making fun of how the money had been distributed, and he said they funded a crafts fair and I said uh-oh, I’m in trouble. But two weeks later, I think I spoke at Phyllis George’s first official function, which was a gathering of legislature wives talking about crafts in Kentucky. And I think everybody knows how Phyllis jumped in and turned that into a wonderful event. But you know, we, the Kentucky Guild was a sort of a high flying active organization during those years, in state, in the region, all over the country really; and if anything happened there for about seven or eight years, we were involved in it. It was up and down and Carroll Hale was right, I mean I made a lot of people mad sometimes. But we, we, …were sort of held up as the model for a state’s mark organization at the time. I think we helped get a lot of the other stuff started and then sometimes every now and then one of the grandkids or somebody will ask me why I’ve got a plaque from the Sorghum Festival in West Liberty hanging on the wall in my office, and I said, ‘Well, I helped start it.’ I helped get the Capital Expo in Frankfort going, and I don’t know how many more. And one of the great side benefits was being asked to jury…as to serve as a juror for……national, regional organizations, shows, places like Kansas City, Miami, Baltimore, New York--all of which helped me learn a lot more about what was going on everywhere. And, and to draw all those people together. But I think, you know, that,…the fairs we did at Indian Fort Theater in Berea were absolutely the most beautiful, active, happening events anywhere in the country. And that was wonderful as long as it didn’t rain . Even when it rained, there were……people would still come but, I think when I decided it was over, was the year it rained eleven straight days--including the four days that we were open and my boots rotted . Instead of our fair bringing in twenty-five or thirty-five thousand dollars for us to operate on for the year, we lost money. And mostly just, just……I was exhausted too. And, my departure wasn’t at all that wonderful. There were controversies…I made mistakes. I’m not a great bookkeeper and, …I paid for them. Trying, I can’t ever remember, and the worst mistake I made and I give anybody the advice not to do it was I gave six months notice when I was going to leave. And……that makes you a lame duck target for six months . So, I don’t ever recommend that to anybody else and I’ve never done it again. After I left the Guild, I went to work for an organization…I don’t think it exists anymore…was called MATCH, and that initially stood for Marketing Appalachia Through the Church. But they got funding, and we……when they hired me was to do a catalog of crafts…and changed the name to Marketing Appalachia Through Traditional Community Handcrafts. We renovated the old L & N Depot in Berea into offices and warehouse that’s just probably what saved the building, and got the broken window cycle broken. But MATCH at one time, had a store in Lexington, one in, …just out of Cincinnati, and one in Berea. And we did probably one of the first color catalogs, retail catalogs ever done. Still I see it popping up on the internet as a collectible, and I wish I had a box of them. But, …we set up a small warehouse, mail order program there and actually we just well…backing up…when I worked in North Carolina, I set up the first wholesale craft warehouse that ever existed. We had so many requests from people who wanted to buy a product. I was trying to coordinate it and I couldn’t really make it work, since I didn’t touch the stuff…and we set up…we bought a building and set up a warehouse that lasted fifteen or twenty years down the line. So I tried to do the same thing again there in Berea. You…you…it’s the same old story. You start trying to warehouse and market crafts in volume, customers want everything to be identical, and in the craft world that doesn’t happen a whole lot…so. And we just didn’t have the funding to hold on. So, …some states we ran out of grant money to keep going on with that, but not until I’d served six months as the interim manager of the whole Council of the Southern Mountains Bookstore at Berea which was fun. All those years there, you know, I was an English major in college. I always said someday I’m gonna be a writer, and……every job I’ve been in the writing has been a big part of it……newsletters, press releases, exhibitions, catalogs--all that. Finally, oh…somewhere in the late’70s……I did start writing fiction, there are different things…a lot of magazine work; and then I started writing fiction--getting that published. I think my first book sort of came out…came out in 1983…some during the transition from the Guild through MATCH. I also wrote a book of short stories. It was picked up for publication, and then I found out what I really didn’t understand until then, …you can’t make a living off a book . So, I took a job at Morehead University which is close to home. I grew up in Elliott and Fleming counties in their old Appalachian Development Center as the Communications Coordinator. And enjoyed it, it was fun to be back home again. I was trying to sort of get out of craft administration, arts administration, and go into communications. Sort of change gears and do something different, and couldn’t. We started the Berea Craft Festival the year before in ‘82, there in the summer, one July event with the Bellando’s and Yosomanic’s. I still have that going and then Berea College started calling somewhere along the line early ‘85. Somewhere along there, wanting me to come back and work at the crafts program there at the college. And I wasn’t sure that I could deal with educational institutionalism . I didn’t do too well the first try, but I was also tired of trying to live in two places. So, I think in May of ‘85, I came back to Berea to run the marketing program for Berea College student crafts program, which was a huge challenge. It had been…uh-oh…nobody’s ever really known exactly why it’s there except that it was a good thing to have, so it’s been part of the business operation and trying to pay its own way. And Terry Fields was hired as director, I was hired as the marketing manager at the same time and we, we made some tremendous changes. We……probably saved them close to half a million the first year. And just tighten up the operations, and then started hitting gift shows--and did a huge project in mail order with the catalog. At one stage, we were mailing 600,000 catalogs, doing about two million dollars worth of volume, …all at the same size staff. Computers can be wonderful things . Yeah, we’d…the first year I was there I asked for money to buy a computer system to replace the twenty-one, I think it was, IBM Selectric typewriters, and they said we’ll give you money for the computers but we won’t give you money to hire anybody to set them up and run them. So, I had one student who was pretty good who helped me for a while and he left. I’d wake up at 3 in the morning wondering, just what in the heck is a DOS Error #43. I still don’t know. But I went through about six months of learning how to do the computer part. But it was fun working for Berea College. We did too many trade shows probably, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago. We tried everything that came along. We worked really closely with Phyllis George, with the whole, you know, Crafts Marketing Program grant…everybody in Frankfort. We sold to QVC……hundred and some thousand dollars worth of cutting boards one year. Tt was sort of a…we worked so hard we didn’t exactly…you’d look up every now and then and see where we were. And it was fun. And, I don’t know my title changed ten or twelve times……over the years. They finally……long after I was gone, went ahead and adopted a whole lot of what I suggested years ago; that they admit the crafts are part of the educational program and incorporate them more into the teaching part of it. But I stayed at the college until……’95 or ‘96, and a new person, new president come in. New ideas, new directions……we were going to have to downsize very dramatically, and I’d already started looking for another job at the time. More in the Appalachian Studies line of work and……wound up having to have back surgery right in the middle of our busy season, from setting up a booth at a show in Louisville. And when I came back I just said it’s enough. We’re gonna up gonna change directions again and Morehead State University was just in the process of opening Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead. Like I said I wanted to go home. So many of the folk artists, 10-12 years ago were older. They were pretty much the same people I worked with when I first went to Asheville in 1965. Self-taught, very independent. I was kind to four or five of ‘em probably ‘cause my family’s been in Elliott County 150-200 years. And it was a chance to go back close to home. I grew up mostly in Fleming County, and I’d never got to live at home since I was 17, so it was my big chance to go back . Which I did--and it was fun. I learned a whole lot about folk art. One of…one of the things about Kentucky that is different from any place else I’ve ever consulted or worked is Kentucky’s always been open to whatever direction you want to go with your artwork. A lot of craft organizations didn’t accept contemporary folk art, which is…tends to be sometimes painted wood or, …you never know what it’s gonna be. And here it’s always been a matter of whatever you do, bring it on. Let’s have fun with it, and……we did get the Folk Art Center finished--actually just getting the building finished, open, getting it funded was a huge project--which I stayed with for seven or eight years. And then, …during this time, I actually spent a couple of years serving on with Tim Glotzbach and Fran Redmon on the board of the……Kentucky School of Craft in Hindman, and the Kentucky Appalachian Artisan Center. So, doing a lot of work helped them get that going. And health problems, I guess, would be what it boiled down to. I got to where I could not any more handle jumping in the truck, driving all over eastern Kentucky or to Asheville, wherever. All along this time when I was at Berea, as soon as I went there, I was elected to the Board of the Southern Highland Craft Guild where I used to work, and served 2 terms, was president for a year……and…

WILLIHNGANZ: This would have been in the mid ‘90s?

BARKER: Yeah. Early mid ‘90s, so it was not at all unusual to get up at four in the morning, make the trip to Asheville for a meeting all day, turn around and drive back that night.


BARKER: Be somewhere else the next morning at seven, …but I had two artery problems, wound up in the hospital and missed work for about six months. And had to take a physical disability retirement in…end of 2006, I think. And……sort of sat at home trying to recuperate about six or eight months. And……my wife’s a journalist; she was a news editor at the Maysville Ledger which was independent at the time. And had worked in the Flemingsburg newspaper before that, and I made a real bad mistake one day. I said, ‘Gina, I’ve been sitting here long enough. I need to get out and see some people again.’ Talking to the gals is fun, but they’re limited . I’m gonna find something to do part of the time, so……I don’t know which incarnation of my career this is, but about two months later we wound up owning a small weekly newspaper in Flemingsburg, The Flemingsburg Gazette. Which she’s the editor, I’m the free employee, the publisher on paper, …janitor. So we thought we knew how to run a newspaper, and …I had to spend a year learning how much I didn’t know about all that so. The last year and a half I have not been involved as much in the craft world. I stay in touch with people……my first boss, Bob Gray, passed away last year sometime. I was in touch, visited with him right up until the end. I’ve, so many of the people I worked with are not with us anymore. I guess that’s …what it really boils down to Rudy Osolnik.

WILLIHNGANZ: Tell me a little bit about Rudy?

BARKER: Rudy was a phenomenon. Rudy was…his parents were Austrian and they came to New Mexico to work in the coal mines, or some sort of mine in New Mexico. Rudy, I don’t think…Rudy told me his father never spoke any English, and he …was in graduate school [unintelligible] Milwaukee, and said he met somebody from Berea, and they offered him a job, and he came down to visit, and …wound up staying for the rest of his life. He helped…he immediately was active in the Southern Highland Craft Guild which is where I met him, and my first interview for the job was in his office. He was on the board, he set up the craft fair…he also was one of the founders of the Kentucky Guild. He taught full time, he was a full time woodworker, and he was a full time volunteer for craft organizations; and he probably slept an hour or two a week. I’m not sure his house, out on the hill out of Berea, was his refuge……a huge swimming pool one side, woodworking shop on that side, and he probably later in his life was sort of regarded as the premier wood turner…maybe in the world. One of the few, one of the greatest things, we had a work shop one year, and I drove out to Rudy’s house on a Sunday morning. He and Sam Maloof and …Mr. Moulthrop from Atlanta, and a young woodworker from Virginia was sitting…we were all sitting there talking, and the young woodworker was sitting there…he’s like I’m not sure I’m still alive. I’m sitting in a room with these three people who are the best that ever were, and I’m here listening to ‘em. I probably saw Rudy everyday for 30 years. We worked together, we disagreed, we agreed, we traveled, we did a lot of work……probably during the ‘70s. Appalachian Regional Commission put a lot of money into the crafts and……headquartered in Asheville Folk Art Center, but they had us do consulting work in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, …all sorts of different places…so we wound up traveling together a lot. Always fun……never any doubt what he thought if you wanted to know what he thought you asked him . Or if you didn’t ask him, he’d tell you anyway. But probably the most influential person in the history of the whole Kentucky craft world would have to be Rudy Osolnik. And……did it all, like I said teaching full time, raising a family, running a gallery, …selling wholesale. I must have been partial to people who made their living doing their artwork and whether it’s traditional or contemporary, it never mattered. Like…I kind of like some of the traditional, but that’s all become so blurred…it mixes together, but……I think one of the changes is, I helped bring about in Kentucky, was……the trend toward more people actually realizing that they could sell their work and make a living at it. I think when I moved back here in 1970, Homer Ledford might have been the only one, he and the Cornelison’s at Bybee Pottery; they were earning their livelihood from making, selling whatever it was they did and now the numbers are incredible it’s……and the great thing in that we did here that nobody else was able to pull off, you can do it now without leaving the state unless you don’t want to. With the Kentucky Market in Louisville, with the fairs, the shops. One thing we did have going for us……I took over the Kentucky Guild just as we opened the shop in Lexington, The Guild Gallery. And I had to change managers early on which was difficult, but we were lucky and we got the wonderful France Brock, who was there for years. As long as she was there, the shop was profitable, great showcase, great second office. It’s…it’s like a lot of things. When I was at Berea we opened second, we bought a business, we took over a store in the Civic Center, and did it with no money, no budget, and had it going……wonderfully well until our manager took a job somewhere else. And then small business like that, one person can make all the difference, and I think it was closed sometime after I left. But the…the people over the years are now the most wonderful thing. When I went…my first day on the job in Asheville, I didn’t know where Asheville was. I got a map and took my ‘62 Ford Falcon and headed south, and this was way before interstates. They were starting to build ‘em, but I beat the front end out of about two vehicles driving up Highway 25. But I got down there and I went to work, and I said, ‘Well, what do you want me to do?’ And Bob Gray said, and handed me a book and said, ‘Read this.’ I said, ‘I’ve just spent four years reading books. I don’t feel like reading anymore.’ He said, ‘You’re gonna read this one.’ And it is called Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands by Allen Eaton. It’s the classic book about the region and the crafts. But what was so wonderful in 1965, is a good half the people he wrote about…and this book came out in the ‘30s…a good half those people were still around. So, I read about ‘em the first couple days, and then over the next 6 months, started meeting people like Flynn Douglas, uh…all these others…Sadrack Maystill chair maker. The nine states worth of really traditional crafts people that…that sort of laid the foundation for everything that’s going on now.

WILLIHNGANZ: Tell me a little about Homer Ledford.

BARKER: Homer is the most wonderful person to ever lived. The kindest, the gentlest… he, he …grew up in east Tennessee and was not healthy. Of course, if you ever saw him, he was what, 6’ 4’ and weighed about 80 pounds . He always joked if he turned sideways he’d disappear. I met Homer at the first craft fair I went to in 1965. I walked in the door and I heard a banjo, and said that sounds like home. So, I headed that way and there was Homer from Winchester. Incredible craftsman, woodworker……I guess he made most of his money from selling dulcimers, other instruments that he made; some he invented and choose to. He came to Berea for a couple years and went to Eastern, and graduated and taught industrial arts for maybe 10 years, and then just……made his living after that selling his own work; and put together the musical groups and played all over, literally all over the world, just for fun. He never did consider himself as much a musician…he was a good one…but he was more, more of a craftsperson. We, I think the second year I know Homer, we were in Asheville and he had a old fretless banjo. I can’t, I’m not a music person, my fingers don’t relate to strings, but I wanted that banjo . And Homer wanted an electric typewriter. I happened to have one of those so we traded. I traded him an old electric typewriter for his new banjo, bought a book; it didn’t do me a bit of good. About two years later, a neighbor there in Asheville saw the banjo and just went nuts over it, and he kept…he came to the house every day to play the banjo. He finally tried to buy it and I said, ‘You know what I really need is an electric typewriter’. So, I traded the banjo back for a new portable typewriter. So, it went full circle, but……Homer and I crossed paths for forty years. He…he would show up, he and his band, at the Fleming/Mason RECC annual meeting…entertain the crowd or……you’d run into him in Louisville or wherever you happened to go, Homer might just be there and he always was the same person. Unflappable, loving, …he was…he was truly one of the best friends I ever had. And I know, I’m getting old enough to where I keep trying too much or talking too much about best friends. One of the arguments that used to pop up a lot is that the Kentucky Guild was just for craftsmen. The artists were left out…but there were a bunch of artists. The ones we had were good ones, and……recently there was a lot of publicity about Wallace Kelly from Lebanon who passed away in the ‘80s. And one of his old home movies has been selected to go into the Smithsonian. It’s gotten a lot of press and, but Wallace was one of those……classic artists. When I met him he already had white hair and mustache and straw hat, very traditionally did wood cuts……block prints, paintings, and he was just the most wonderful source of advice, …that a young…you know 25 years old, when I first met him. A little impulsive and rash, and Wallace, if I could find him, I’d love to have a…he probably wrote me ten or fifteen big three and four page single spaced letters. After the first one, I asked for them. The first one was volunteered. People, I remember one of his lines…was that he never expected to sell a painting at the crafts fair in Berea, because people wouldn’t spend $300 if they didn’t have their interior decorator with ‘em… …which was real perceptive. But we had great crafts people and some great artist. Jim Foose here in Lexington was on the board for years, tremendous recognition [unintelligible] at Berea College. We did one of those early things that you never knew, I think the trademark of the Kentucky Guild, at least when I was there, …we never hesitated to rush in where angels fear to tread. So any thing that came up, we tried it and……Island Creek Coal was building a new office here in Lexington, and somebody from Atlanta came to see me and said is there any art in Kentucky, graphic, you know, flat wall art, sculptures. And we had an old Datsun pickup. We hit the road and I think it must have been the late ‘70s dollars something in the neighborhood of $16,000 worth of paintings and sculptures [unintelligible] from Jim Foose, Jim Cantrell. I mean just……we gathered stuff, I drove all over the state, gathering things up for them and to this day, I don’t know what ever became of that collection when they moved out. It was out on Harrodsburg Road. I know they’re no longer there, but I don’t know what they did with the artworks. So, we were in one of those early……designer programs, and we actually set up a program trying to do that very same thing on a formal basis. It never worked . We were never able to go to any architects or interior……design people and talk ‘em into it. The ones who did were when they came to us and asked for that help, and what we had with tremendous knowledge of who did what, where. And that’s pretty much……what it was and then……somebody, well the Arts Council gave me an award one of the early service awards and I said, that’s when, how do you do all this. I said mostly it’s not that I have all these great ideas, it’s just every opportunity that pops up I grab it and……I probably don’t deserve any credit for thinking of stuff, but we……if it got dangled, we took it and did it. Most of the time it worked, not always. We did the first……decorator’s showcase where we went in and actually…student at Berea College and I redid and painted the room and then decorated it. One of those……kind of things but the big misconception…everybody, every job I’ve ever been in, they call from outside the area and……they want me to load up and bring ‘em ten or twelve craftspeople to demonstrate during their one day event…and …no they won’t pay or even pay expenses. I said sometimes I think they think I’ve got like a stable, a barn…you know, I’ve got a potter and a weaver, which never was quite the case. And it’s one of those things where I lobbied for years real hard……most of you don’t work for free. Why do you expect the artists to do it? So we’ve had lots of advocacy, and a lot of work done all across the state along those lines over the last four years, and it sure is a different world now. As far as all that goes, the respect what I saw the first 5 years I worked at North Carolina, was this tremendous professional respect for being a craftsman. And then when I came home to Kentucky, it just it was different. It was crafts were something for housewives. It was just not considered significant. If you made your living playing with mud or out in the woodshop, that it was more of a hobby or a homemaker’s kind of thing. And I didn’t do it. I was part of it but I think we totally changed that image the last 35 years. The state deserves a lot of credit. All the arts organizations that have worked so hard have pretty much all had that in mind I think. That was the goal. I know……years ago we had a young potter who was renting the studio space from Churchill Weavers in Berea, and he needed a pickup truck with a camper on it to go to craft shows and deliver stuff, and the bank wouldn’t give him a loan because he didn’t have a job. So I went to the bank and talked to them and they said if he had orders, firm orders for $2,000 worth of pots then we could loan him $2,000 to buy a truck. So I gave him an order , I said I don’t care if you ever fill it or not. If you do then its fine, we’ll pay you, if you don’t; you still got your loan. And I think now, you probably could go in and borrow that money on your own. Swaying the business community and the government around the idea of seeing the arts of any kind as a viable profession has been a big project, but I think it’s succeeded. I don’t think that’s an issue any more. Probably somebody asked me……not too long ago of a new board of directors or something or other, and they said, ‘What’s the best experience you’ve ever had being on a board?’ And here in Kentucky, bar none, that has been working with the Kentucky School of Craft, …up in Hindman. We, Dr. Hughes, Ed Hughes, was president of Hazard Community College…called me and he put this group together. We had the first advisory meeting in Lexington, and they’re, these are national level people, and before we had the meeting we had during dinner, he said, ‘What should I expect?’ I said, ‘You know we’re all pretty egotistical people, probably the first hour or two we’ll all spend telling you how great we are, what all we’ve done, all this good stuff.’ I said, ‘Maybe toward the end, or maybe tomorrow, we’ll get around to doing what it is you want.’ And boy was I wrong. They pretty well said we’ve got ‘X’ number of dollars and a blank sheet if. If you had this much money and a free hand, how would you design a school craft? And really by the end of the next day, …it was all, it was wonderful. It was set up. We sat there, all of us. We wanted a school to learn skills, learn design, learn some appreciation for the history. We didn’t want it to be a formal university where you could go learn how to do something and how to sell it.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now what school was this for?

BARKER: It was for the Kentucky School of Crafts.


BARKER: At Hindman and we had the building, we had the money to build it.

WILLIHNGANZ: What year would that have been?

BARKER: Middle ‘90s……I’d have to look at something to get the exact date. First, we had to start at the Appalachian Center…Artisan Center there at Hindman and the school came along later. Tim Glotzbach was the director……I don’t, at some stage, I said, ‘Tim you all don’t need me on the board anymore, you’re doing great.’ And quit traveling to the meetings. I don’t know the status of it now. But the original plan, if anybody ever wants a great plan for the perfect crafts school, we drew it up .

WILLIHNGANZ: What made it the great plan?

BARKER: It, it was put together by people who had experience and both we had professors that taught art. We had people who ran national craft markets. We had people who had their own businesses. The ones like me who’d been administrators for years trying to help other people sell it. There’s always been a problem if you go get a degree in art, fine arts whatever and on the university level, the idea of actually selling your work seemed totally foreign, so you would graduate with your MFA whatever. You can go teach or you could try to make a living selling your work, in which case you had no experience whatsoever in knowing how to price, how to sell it, how to run the business side of it, or you had business. This is one of the problems organizations had during the late ‘60s, early ‘70s when there were so many arts organizations being formed, trying to figure out who to hire to run it. You hire an artist and you lose the management experience, you hire a manager who might or might not understand what artists are doing. And I think, probably 20 years ago, 25 years ago, the first time I ever heard the expression trying to herd cats, came during a meeting in Frankfort and somebody asked me about being an arts administrator and I said it’s like trying to herd cats. You have to allow for everybody going their own way , most of the time. And then try to give them a common goal. But well, we started out; we didn’t want a college of crafts or university of crafts. We wanted a school because college implied degree levels. We wanted it to be open to people who might not have all the qualifications. People who lived in eastern Kentucky wanted to learn how to be a woodworker so they wouldn’t have to go through the normal qualification process. And would have the option…they could come and learn how to be a woodworker. They could come and enroll in the community college and earn an associate’s degree, and then go on to UK, or Morehead, or somewhere, if they wanted to. We wanted them to have that flexibility. We wanted them to learn about the business side of it, how to run a studio, how to buy and how to sell, how to keep track of it. And to that effect the Artisan Center there has actually a sort of an incubator space where graduates of the school would move into that space, run their business there with a lot of help.

WILLIHNGANZ: This is the Artisans Center in Hindman?

BARKER: Uh huh. The two are very tied together; actually it’s all tied into a huge plan for the whole town which involved a considerable renovation. And that first night, we were saying, ‘How will we know if we succeed?’ And I said, ‘Ask me in 20 years.’ The whole goal of Hindman and Knott County had was to create a community of artists where young…either graduates of the school or people from other places would move there, set up their studios, build ‘em a house, sort of build them a community of, of artists. And I don’t know……the way the state funding levels are right now, how much hope it has of succeeding as we designed it. But…

WILLIHNGANZ: One of the concerns that I see and hear expressed as I do these interviews is the……way in which community support has developed and focused on craft organizations and schools even, and the cooperation or lack of cooperation between various organizations.

BARKER: Unfortunately that’s nothing new. It’s……it; I don’t know how you get around it……or even just different parts of the state. When, when I first took the job as director of Kentucky Guild, the first thing I did was schedule meetings all around the state. I went to Murray, I went to Louisville, northern Kentucky, eastern Kentucky, just tried to meet people and find out what it is they thought it was and what they wanted. And …the cooperation we know worked closely with the Arts Council, with the Southern Highland Guild, the Ohio Designer Craftsmen and all these others. Uh…on a more local level, I think right now particularly more so than it used to be is strangely enough competition for funding and support is so tough that you’re asking the same people to support the opera or the craft organization, …the folk art center, …and may not be enough people to go around to actually do all that. You have these wonderful people who are interested in everything and love everything, support everything. But then as one of the, somebody told one of our vice presidents at Morehead, we just tried to them……a grant…donation to help build the Folk Art Center. He said, ‘Not everybody loves that stuff.’ Can you get into some of that? I think at least there’s communication now between the different organizations or attempts to get that kind of communication that’s come through the Arts Council, the Arts Kentucky.

WILLIHNGANZ: Marilyn Moosnick made an interesting point, do you know Marilyn?

BARKER: Oh, I’ve know Marilyn for years.

WILLIHNGANZ: Yeah, well she said that it developed differently in Lexington than in Louisville. And in Louisville you got large corporate support, and you got the Fund for the Arts. Huge big dollars. You got the opera, you got the orchestra, you got the Center for the Performing Arts, you got all these different programs going. In Lexington, it came not from the corporations but it came from the artists who formed these organizations like the Guild to basically market their, their things, and get recognition, and so the level of support has been quite different.

BARKER: It is and you know part of the difference is there’s nothing you can do about part of Louisville is much bigger corporate center than Lexington is. I know we got much involved……the one label I didn’t like when I went took the job in Berea was that it was a Berea Guild. So, we and we set out to spread it out. We got heavily involved in Lexington, and everything was happening. Marie Hochstrasser was president of our board for six years and……I don’t know how many trips I made back and forth with her…and I mean it didn’t matter if it was the Opera House, or the other art studios downtown. A lot of that came along after I’d left, but we were involved in a lot in the planning for trying to create some of that communication. I don’t know what the difference is……in terms of the support, but corporate support; I don’t know where it goes in Lexington.

WILLIHNGANZ: Oh, Marilyn’s point is she thinks that basically the corporate, the big corporate dollars in Lexington are focused really on the horse racing industry, and they take people to Hialeah to have parties, but they don’t invest locally in the arts.

BARKER: Well and, well, hum, at the risk of, I’ll have to leave town when I’m through talking . I think you going back to part of what I was talking about a while ago when I, you know, respect for the profession. I think the attitude that we ran into years ago in Lexington, and I’m not even going to touch it now, but was that if I’m gonna support art, I want somebody good from Miami or New York or San Francisco. And I think there’s money for that, but if you got somebody equally good right here……there’s not that willingness to jump in. I don’t know if you don’t get as much social benefit from it or if you…if you’re gonna put that money in there you want to make a bigger splash or exactly what it is always a lot harder to get support and all than it is to bring something in. You read that and you get out in to even smaller communities and you start trying to raise money from businesses and individuals, you…the, the, the Morehead’s a small town, and you live there you getting solicited by the hospital, the university, the Folk Art Center, the uh…everybody is out trying to raise money in one little place. It’s amazing the do as well as they do, but then here I think, I think, well there’s some truth to it. And I’ll step on another toe, probably the president’s of the University of Kentucky. Hurts…probably it helps because if they bring in so much. It probably hurts because they take so much of the support that otherwise might be available to arts organizations. So it’s, it’s a touchy situation. I……the university itself does not. Well they sponsor lots of events. I don’t know……UK has never taken the leadership role that I know of in the arts, regional programs, statewide programs the way people at Berea and Murray have done over the years…as Morehead has done with the Folk Arts Center. And it may just be the difference in scale. And with the focus on research and…

WILLIHNGANZ: Still, it seems like there’s, you know, just a surprising lack of real integration between arts organization, and the Artisans Center goes up and it doesn’t seem to have much to do with what’s going on in Louisville, and it really should……I mean those should be part of an overall plan or movement.

BARKER: That’s a tough nut .

WILLIHNGANZ: It is, it is a tough nut, which is why I brought it to you.

BARKER: Yeah. Kentucky is a, is a state of small communities and……lots of people blame it on high school basketball. Fleming County hates Mason County and this. And, there’s some truth in that probably, way back. One of the most active arts communities in the state is down around Murray and Paducah. Paducah gets all this national attention. Most of Kentucky sees as far away, that who cares what happens down there that’s not. I, I being from eastern Kentucky, fought really hard in the ‘60s, ‘70s to get a lot of the effort, the support, the money into eastern Kentucky. I went so far as to draw a map one year for the Arts Council grants came out, and I……little dots on the map…they’re all clustered right here in Lexington and Louisville and there’s none over here except for Appalshop. There’s nothing happening in eastern Kentucky. Appleshop might be another good example, uh of…

WILLIHNGANZ: I’m unfamiliar with Appalshop.

BARKER: Appalshop, ooo, it goes way back, it think in the late ‘60s… in Whitesburg, Kentucky. It’s , it started out as a film co-op and they still…they produce a whole lot of movies about Appalachian region, do festivals at radio station. They also are great fundraisers. They get money from the National Endowment for the Arts. They get, you know, the Kentucky Arts Council. They’re so good that I think a lot of funding agencies say, ‘Well, we gave Appalshop this much. Why should I bother with these others?’ And they know how to ask for it. The Arts Council has spent a tremendous amount of effort over the last 20 years trying to get out into the smaller communities. Recruit people to apply for money, teach ‘em how, help them fill out the application and you’ll see it, you could see the results right now. I see much bigger spread. The problem with that bigger spread is you still operate with the same slice of money you start with so now you’ve spread it out. It’s good news, bad news. The good news is we’ve got a hundred applications; bad news is we still only have enough money to fund ten of ‘em. It, it’s…I don’t know…I’ve been going to Kentucky book fair since 1983, so maybe I know Marilyn Moosnick’s been involved in that and maybe some comparisons. I know the first one I went to there in the old library and archives buildings there were maybe fifty authors there. We sold, I think I sold a 150 books and signed [unintelligible] and I was blown away totally. It succeeded. It got bigger and bigger and bigger and, I think we still have the same market pool. It’s just 150 people now instead of 50. I think that one of the things that’s happened with some of the arts funding. And arts funding is the first thing that gets cut. School systems, locally, state…I don’t know, it’s awfully hard to convince oh, say the Kentucky House of Representatives or the Senate that there’s value to listen to music, draw pictures. It’s hard to test it objectively and, and the fact that students who are exposed to the arts almost universally score higher on all the standardized tests doesn’t seem to…register with some of…in some of the places.

[End of Interview Part I]