Oral History Interview with Garry Barker Part II

Kentucky Historical Society


Transcript Index

Search This Index
Go X

0:07 - Craft Fairs / Kentucky Guild

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: art fair; Berea (KY); Berea Craft Festival; craft fair; Guild Train; Jury process; Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen; Rockefeller Foundation; Southern Highland Guild

11:44 - Appalachia craft culture / Writing a book

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: Appalachia; basketry; Berea College; economy; loom; Loyola Jones; missionary; quilt; University of Tennessee Press; Walter Hyleck; War on Poverty; weaving; wood workers

24:03 - Art and commerce / Handmade vs. manufacturing

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: Churchill Weavers; New York Gift Show; Rude Osolnik; Southern Highland Guild

38:19 - Marketing workshops / KY Guild / Making a living creating art

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen; Rude Osolnik; workshops


WILLIHNGANZ: Do you think the swing, sort of, in support away from supporting the arts is basically just a temporary pendulum effect or…?

BARKER: I hope so. I don’t know the hardest thing to do is to keep an event or an organization going. People come, used to come to me all the time and said, ‘Why can’t we make the fair in Asheville or the one in Berea like it used to be?’ And I said, ‘Well used to be the craft fair in Berea was the only good one between Cincinnati and Asheville.’ I mean we were it and we’d draw 16,000 people. Well, heck, we went out and we helped everybody else start a fair. So now there’s a pretty good craft fair just about every where, anywhere you want to go. And what we’ve done is diluted the audience and, and you can generate all this excitement when it’s totally new. A new organization and a new event, but I don’t know about the when we started the Berea Craft Festival in ‘82 which was tied into the World’s Fair in Knoxville, one of the media people here in Lexington called me and said, ‘So what else is new, you’re gonna have a crafts fair in Berea.’ Well, it’s not I’m gonna have to work on this. It’s easier to get an initial response than it is to get an ongoing response. It’s a lot easier to raise money for a new program, a new project, a new event than it is to keep it going 5 years later. That’s where the hard work comes in…it’s, it’s a different, it wasn’t exactly funding but from a market standpoint when I was at Berea College it was selling. We weren’t developing new products or fast enough to keep selling more and more to the same customers. So basically what I did was go out and I got new customers. So here I, you know, I hit this part of the country and shipped to Japan, France and all. It will work for a while. Those morning talk shows that they used to have on local television.


BARKER: Did a lot for the community in arts.

WILLIHNGANZ: There’s still a fair number of those still around, I mean there’s no reason we can’t use them to promote [unintelligible].

BARKER: I…all my years in promotion, and after I left Fleming County, a few people come and say, ‘Well you should help them set up and promote this festival or that one.’ I said, ‘No. I don’t want to get run out of town.’ But you have to work so far ahead. I keep running into…everybody wants to promote this year and if you really doing a good job, you’re promoting next year, and the year after, and all. Everything ought to be on the road and I think sometimes organizations run into that. And then you wear people out. You get that same handful and it’s, I’m sure it’s true everywhere. I’m on tourism committee and other stuff at home and it’s, it’s…you have these same handful of people wind up doing the work year in and year out, and they get tired, and they’ll start looking for an easier way to do it and…maybe don’t put the effort into it that they did at one stage. I know, over the years periodically I would just get frustrated and resign from everything. Chamber of Commerce, school, I’m going to take two years off . Let me out of here. And then what? Over the years and I’m making, probably making some teachers mad, but craft fairs local events did so much to draw people into the arts because they’re not intimating. It…and this always, you know, I’d go speak to these groups and…about coming to one of the fairs in Berea and they’d say, ‘I don’t like art.’ I’d say ‘Guarantee you’ll find something you like. You’ll like the blacksmith, you’ll like somebody splitting shingles, you’ll like all of it.’ And inevitably I was right, and you drew all these people in a totally nonintimidating situation and it was a whole lot easier to do. We used to take one whole day and devote it to schools. Of course, schools had gasoline and money and they would send upwards of 3,000 kids. I guess on Friday that was kid’s day. You sort of batten down the hatches…

WILLIHNGANZ: For which show did you do this?

BARKER: For the Kentucky Guild Fairs.

WILLIHNGANZ: The Guild Fairs early?

BARKER: I don’t know how long we kept doing that. But again you run into the problem with the schools start running into transportation problems, and everybody’s budget got so tight.

WILLIHNGANZ: So, you were, you were there after they did the train?


WILLIHNGANZ: And then you took over as president and you built up the membership during those years?

BARKER: Quite a bit.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now can you remember any numbers in terms of how many people?

BARKER: I think probably in terms of exhibiting members, I might have to go look at my book . I’m thinking there were, there were…maybe 150 exhibiting members when I started, and upwards of six or seven hundred.

WILLIHNGANZ: You had 700 exhibiting members? Wow!

BARKER: And I may be wrong, that may be the total membership, cause you can join and not be an exhibiting member. I know there was a huge growth. I don’t take any credit for it…the times…this was still…overflow from the ‘60s when everybody wanted to be a leather worker or a candle maker or a, you know, back to the earth kind of thing. And then we basically…the good market recruited an awful lot of people…when I came back to Berea in1970 the interstate had just been opened and the only craft jobs in town were Churchill Weavers, Berea College, and then [unintelligible] opened one on the interstate. Now I think they say there’s forty. Warren Mays who makes the dulcimers and makes furniture came to Berea to a craft fair. He was living in Ohio somewhere and he said, ‘I’m gonna move here.’ And that’s the way a lot of it happens. But, I put a lot of emphasis on…encouraging people. I spent a lot of time talking and traveling, encouraging people to apply. Of course, any guild, any organization that has that standard process is…opens itself up to all kinds of controversy because, you know, one hundred people apply, we take four. That means we just made ninety-six people incredibly mad. And I know I went to Bowling Green one year and…and to speak to a group. There are like twenty people around a big table at the library. Every one of ‘em said, ‘I’m so and so, you rejected me two years ago.’ And everybody at the table, and I said, ‘Why don’t you start your own, and sure enough the Southern Kentucky Guild of Arts and Crafts came out that; and some of ‘em actually made it into the Guild.

WILLIHNGANZ: I haven’t heard of the Southern Kentucky Guild.

BARKER: I’m not sure it still exists. I don’t know if you’re gonna interview…Ginny Petty or not.

WILLIHNGANZ: I don’t believe I’m scheduled at this point.

BARKER: She was part of it back then. She’s in Berea now. But, there was all of a sudden a market. When, when I took over the Guild, everybody loved the craft fair but they didn’t see it as a place to sell. And I’m like you, why not? And a really good friend, a jeweler from Louisville, she said, ‘I don’t bring my good stuff up to the fair. Got to bring cheap stuff.’ And I said, ‘You know, bring your best.’ I’m gonna start promoting the fact that…you can buy stuff at this fair, and I know I spend a lot of effort into the advertising, the press releases saying you can buy it straight from the person who made it. And they said buying stuff is not a real great [unintelligible], you’re gonna charge them to get in and then you’re gonna ask them to buy something. I said, ‘Yeah. It works other places.’ And I think it started working here. That’s still hard to get through. A lot of people think that’s a Berea phenomenon--it’s not. It happens lots of places. In Kentucky though, it’s hard to fight that Berea reputation--the history. Now that the new Artisans’ Center there…it, it’s hard to…get that kind of reception anywhere else. That history goes back 150 years. It’s the main route back north and south. You can do the same show in Maysville or somewhere and it would not work that way. Both because the traffic’s not there, and the reception’s not there, the appreciation’s not there. Nothing against Maysville, it’s just cause those people come to Berea looking for what we had to sell like they come to Morehead looking for folk art. Now that was created, the art was there but the market wasn’t, and it…over the years going back to the ‘30s all through the southern Appalachian region…this big market was created. It…there’d been fusses with historians and…sociologists over the years about…David Whisnant wrote a book about how the missionaries corrupted the craft at places like Berea College. Transformed it from what was local into something that was acceptable worldwide--and it’s true. Pretty much from Berea down to Gatlinburg and Asheville, they with some help from the government…from the Rockefeller Foundation…they actually created the Southern Highland Guild. All these programs they’d set up…their own stores, their own quality control, and they made a market for high quality items--just didn’t offer anything else.

WILLIHNGANZ: Didn’t they actually build on a base of existing art culture that was inherent in the Appalachian culture?

BARKER: It’s there but it never had been seen as a way to make money. Until the ‘30s, late ‘20s early ‘30s. Almost everybody’s well if you’re gonna survive, you had to be a pretty good artisan, I know it’s like my granddaddy was a blacksmith, a leather worker, built furniture. He just did it for himself. He didn’t do it to sell. I think probably the big quilt explosion, and is the best example of practical. Those early quilts were just to sleep under, but even then you couldn’t keep…people like my grandmother from wanting to be creative and do special quilts. And they didn’t know it, and they were laughed at if you told them they were doing art; and argued with you that they were not, but they were. So, yeah, it’s always been there in the culture. I think one of the things I said when we started working on the…Kentucky School of Crafts, and they wanted a statement about which are the traditional Appalachian crafts. And I said, ‘You know they’re really not any.’ There is a tradition of doing crafts, working with the hands and using the materials that’s here. As far as actual medium or technique, there’s not really. Edsel Martin from North Carolina was one of my best friends from the first day I walked in down there in the ‘60s--dulcimer maker--and he said near as he could tell the dulcimer dated all the way back to the Bible to Nebuchadnezzarr. Cornshuck dolls came from Czechoslavakia. I think we did invent the fiddle. But we had a lot of wood, so we’re strong in woodwork, leather, clay. I know at one stage when I was director of the Guild; I think it was Walter Hyleck at Berea College was on the board, he said we want to meet an excellent standard. We want to compare ourselves not to Tennessee or to a national standard. I said, ‘I don’t know what it is.’ And I know I spent a lot of time looking. Like a year later, made a report and I said, ‘You know we set the national standards in some areas: our woodworkers, our oak there, whatever you call native, basket makers, corn shuck, that kind of things. We’re the best. Some of us are the best in pottery or wood. But you know we actually are setting the national standards in some of these places simply because we’ve been doing it forever. And in the traditional way, one of the big transition, a lot of families in the mountains, a lot of the people, they were really good at making one thing. And if you said be creative they make the same thing. It was made well, it was handed down through the family and it sold.’ So they didn’t really see any reason to mess with it. And there’s not as much of that left anymore…but it wasn’t. There were little flashes of creativity everywhere…that I think these…missionaries got a hold of in the late ‘20s and marketed it. The weaving is the one that’s usually cited. The early coverlets were ragged. You had to be able to tear them apart and wash them in the creek and they weren’t being made to be sold. So when Berea College started marketing for ‘em, sending them to New England…they came up with a precise loom that would weave them tight. And then they gave them away or you could buy a pattern 50 cents or loom for $5, and they went all over the region spreading them. And it so happened that their patterns…their weaving instructor at the time was Norwegian so we have this tremendous kind of Danish influence on the weaving.

WILLIHNGANZ: How interesting, never heard that story. When did this happen?

BARKER: Late ‘20s. Well actually, Berea hired this lady in 1902 who was Swedish and…they had started their weaving program 1893. 1902 they hired this lady. We found…Lester Pross found for me, one year when I was at Berea, the gold medals that we had won at the World’s Fair in 1902 or 1904 somewhere along in there. They’d been in storage in the art building from somewhere. We got them out long enough to take a picture of them for a magazine cover. But you know the whole idea back then was you swapped coverlets for a college education, and that’s how Berea got into it. And then they brought her in and she designed this new…the old looms were half as big as this room and they, took about eighteen people to move one, and they came in, she came in with…a small precise loom and she would go around--went around the region teaching people how to weave, and giving them the pattern. Or Berea College would build you one for 5 bucks.

WILLIHNGANZ: Wow! That was just to promote weavers.

BARKER: Yeah, it was part of that old…thing of helping people help themselves. It was part of that whole missionary spirit. I was in a meeting once when…Charles Counts, the potter, was in Georgia; I think he passed away in Africa. He asked President Hutchins at Berea College why the college had maintained this crafts program all these years even though it costs them money. And Dr. Hutchins kind of blinked and stumbled around and he finally said that because it’s a good thing to do. And there were a whole lot of people that did that because it was a good thing to do. The, all the early efforts in the mountains were through sort of institutions. Either schools, or missionary churches, or just community groups…when the Southern Highland Guild was first formed an individual couldn’t belong. It was craft centers only, and that didn’t last too long, but that was the theory back then, and it defined the community within fifty miles. And you market as a group. Sort of the co-op thing. And…Kentucky had at Pine Mountain, Hindman, Berea, there were a bunch of settlement schools, twenty some settlement schools scattered through the region from Berea on to Asheville… [unintelligible] to start with. I worked; I think it was nine years on a book , a sequel to Allen Eaton’s. Mine’s called, The Handcraft Revival in Southern Appalachia 1930-1990. And I never would have finished it except that I’d been threatening to write it for years, and…Loyal Jones at Berea College came to me one day and said you’ve helped four of my students do term papers, research papers on the craft movement. Said we’ll give you $1,000 grant to get you started if you’ll agree to write a book. Well, I took the grant and I started and then every year they’d call and say, ‘How’s…what kind of progress are you making?’ I’d write another chapter and send it to him real quick. And finally got the thing together…was originally supposed to be published by the University of Kentucky but then I’d changed jobs and went back to work at Berea. They tried to run it through the University anyway; it wound up coming out of the University of Tennessee. But tried to go back and try a lot of just update of what happened since Eaton’s book came out.

WILLIHNGANZ: Is it still in print?

BARKER: Yeah, the University of Tennessee press. Should have brought a copy.

WILLIHNGANZ: What’s the name of it?

BARKER: The Handicraft Revival in Southern Appalachia. It deals more with organizations and then the huge impact that the federal government had during those ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s. The federal government when the war on poverty started…the obvious solution to all these people who came into the region in the mist of the volunteers…was to…make and sell crafts. So there was incredible amounts of money poured into different communities. About every community had a community center and they would quilt and they would sell things…and they had a big impact in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky--not as much in North Carolina. They already pretty well had it. I know people kept calling me…trying to get me to come to work for these craft organizations ‘66 or’67, and I said, ‘I don’t have any experience, I’ve only been here a year.’ And they said, ‘Well, that’s a year’s more experience than anybody else has got.’ It was kind of new to all of us and the market literally exploded in ‘67, ‘66, ‘67, ‘68. First year I worked in Asheville our total sales from four stores and two craft fairs was around $400,000, and two years later it was over a million. And I mean, but we got discovered by the national media. We were selling to Brentano’s in New York. I think I sold them 60 dulcimers one year, and then…we just had to, you know, we were the actually…I’m not going to even say who said it but it was in a meeting a couple years ago when we were talking about the crafts, and one of the people whose been around for a long time said, ‘You know if you look back at oh, say from the ‘60s, early ‘60s on the one thing about Appalachia that’s consistently been reported as a good thing is the whole craft world--the craft movement.’ You had the Rockefeller lady come in West Virginia and get all the press and Phyllis did it here.

WILLIHNGANZ: When did the Rockefeller lady come in?

BARKER: Sharon Rockefeller…the West Virginia senator’s wife. This would have been late ‘60s early ‘70s…helped a group called Cabin Quilts get started, which is, to my knowledge, is still going. Cabin Creek, West Virginia, is better known, is where Jerry West grew up but, basketball player, but…I mean she got lots of national press for the West Virginia quilting kinds of projects. And the quilting is, in some communities, always been sort of a co-op thing anyway. A lot of people would come together and quilt on the same piece. How many quilts are a world unto themselves? That whole culture is…unbelievable. It’s, the whole idea of making quilts is probably the most sustained artistic effort in the history of the world . I’m not sure. In Appalachia, it is. Oh, and didn’t necessarily have to be a community thing. You didn’t have a quilting bee. As a matter of fact, I never say a quilting bee actually happened. I slept under quilt frames for 17 years, waiting for them to fall on me. But…

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, I’m always fascinated by the…intersection between commerce and art, and…you look at the compromises that we make to go from being an individual artist where you create a single piece to…manufacture.

BARKER: And one thing that’s, you know, good news/bad news thing about what’s happened in Kentucky, is for a long time we worked real hard this big push about go into business, sell wholesale, go to the New York gift show, take lots of orders, and this dates back to the late ‘60s too. The federal government came in and they find …now I had a real good wood workshop where my brother helps me…they want to give me $100,000 for us to train twelve more people. The problem is I’m not a manager, I’m a woodworker and you give me all that money and I sign a thing saying I’ll employ ‘em all at minimum wage, ten-16 weeks. You can’t learn how to be a woodworker in sixteen weeks for one thing, and then they funded several agency…small businesses out of business by doing that. We sort of did the same thing here. I don’t know how many people over the last twenty-five years have…gotten all excited and they’ve come to the New York gift show with us. They take all these orders and business explodes and they’re riding the top of this crest for two or three years, and then somewhere along the line one morning they wake up and say this is not fun. I got into this because I enjoyed being a weaver or potter and I’m not having any fun any more. And most of them quit or cut back, it can go both ways. Roy Overcast, a potter in Nashville worked for the Arts Council. I ran into him one day and instead of his old Nissan truck he’s driving a Mercedes and I said, ‘What happened Roy?’ He said, ‘Cracker Barrel.’ He started doing spongeware pottery for Cracker Barrel just cranking it out.


BARKER: And he told me his annual sales, and I’m like, you can’t make that much. He said:’Oh, I’ve got twelve-fifteen people working.’ Yeah, it can just happen. In theory, like when the Southern Highland Guild started out they actually expected some of those centers to become commercial businesses. They’re a couple of woodworking companies there in Asheville, build commercial furniture who started out as a small family operation. They were members of the Guild and at some stage they voluntarily pulled out because they said we’re no longer doing handmade work. What, and then the Churchill’s, started Churchill Weavers.

WILLIHNGANZ: Yeah, how do you determine what’s handmade work? Cause I’ve talked to Richard Bellando about setting up those machines and throwing those shuttles at phenomenal speeds and you know, is that manufacturing or is that art?

BARKER: The Churchill’s were rejected by the traditional craft world for years. Where Churchill Weavers finally got accepted into it, well for one thing again the government got into it. When TVA built all the lakes in Tennessee, they also had a mandate to create employment, so they looked at the craft world, and they created Southern Highlanders, Inc., which is a co-op. People bought shares in the stock and they had a shop in the Rockefeller Center in New York, one in Washington, D.C., one on the Virginia Skyline Company. Of course, TVA’s funding all this. The Southern Highland Guild would not allow Churchill Weavers to be a member. TVA was happy to have them, and then along about the late ‘40s, TVA’s money was running out and they merged those two organizations which is how Churchill Weavers got into the Guild with the new fangled looms as Churchill used to call ‘em. To Churchill Weavers credit, what set them apart for all those years was the quality level. The quality and the materials were well above any other commercial weaving operation that you’re gonna see. The probably…the tougher example…I don’t know if you’re familiar with Stuart and Nye Silver Shop in Asheville, Stewart and I was a jeweler in Asheville in the ‘20s and he started making this dogwood, initially dogwood jewelry, hammered out of silver with a little, and his partner was a Ralph Morris, and they started a little business there on the edge of Asheville. Stuart and Nye died somewhere along the line. Ralph Morris turned it into a huge business. I have no idea what the volume is now, but they got a room twice as big as this one full of tables and little anvils and little people standing there hammering out patterns that Stuart and Nye designed back in the late ‘20s. It’s a tough call as to whether that’s. When I was on the board of the Southern Highland Guild, we had…I remember looking over policies and it saying that…you can’t have more than 25% of the products displayed in your booth that can be commercially produced or manufactured, and I said, ‘Why are we allowing any?’ And they said you put the jewelers all out of business if you eliminated the commercial parts that they use and then…

WILLIHNGANZ: Twenty-five percent of their creation can…

BARKER: Yeah, their product had to be of their own.

WILLIHNGANZ: Of their own…

BARKER: Yeah, their own work. A jeweler. You’re not gonna make the earring clasps and a lot of that stuff, but one woodwork carver was carving a hound dog and then make a mold. That process has improved dramatically over the last twenty years, and then he’d cast them out of clay, and…the compromise they finally came up with afterwards…I was even shocked that its happening, is that you had to identify it as reproduction, not as an original, cause I guess a lot of…

WILLIHNGANZ: At what point do you have to identify it as a reproduction?

BARKER: If it is, I guess. That area’s getting real vague. The big production pottery studios use mold, or giggers or some enhanced production method. One person can’t make that much stuff.

WILLIHNGANZ: Yeah, Louisville pottery uses stuff like that.

BARKER: And Hadley pottery used to be a member of the Guild. Well, they actually helped start it. And they, I think, pulled themselves out when they realized that they were much more of a commercial operation, more of a manufacturing.

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, that’s interesting, I didn’t know that.

BARKER: It’s real hard to tell where one stops and the other ends. And I worked for years trying to write it down for different organizations, and it’s, I think, the definition we had in Asheville as to how, what kind of machinery was allowed. And we, you know…I think we defined it as work made by hand with hand tools, or hand controlled machine tools to the extent that the use of that machine tool does not detract from the final appearance of the product. Best example, I can come up with is the wood, bird carvers; we had two of them there in Asheville. One used hatchets, chopped out a block and then he’d carve it; the other, Edsell Martin, was almost as much an artist with a band saw as he was with a pocket knife. He could take his band saw and you…I would have bought the bird when he got through with the saw, then he’d take his knife and finish it. And, and you question, ‘Does it really add any value to this piece of art that he used a hatchet or if he used a band saw?’

WILLIHNGANZ: There’s that guy on television, the woodworker. I’ve forgotten what he calls himself, the woodworker, something like that who uses traditional tools from the colonial period and he has a, you know, a little bench thing that he sort of sits on that’s a vise. And then he has something like with a fly wheel that he pushed with his foot, that was a band saw, yeah, I mean it’s a band saw just like anybody uses, except it wasn’t’ electric.

BARKER: Oh, what is the first year we did the Berea Craft Festival? Rudy Osolnik invited his friend with a, I’m gonna mess up the name, I keep wanting to say Bodger, it’s like in England the early lathes, you had to, you hooked it to a tree and the whiplash of that tree would turn your block.


BARKER: But again, does that make that chair rung a better rung that if I flipped on an electric switch or is it the skill of my hands controlling that chisel, and it’s a question that’s been going on at least since 1965. I spent the first winter I worked in Asheville trying to write down guidelines with a lot of help for their whole admissions procedure. Some of the stuff’s still being used.

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, wood turners all use electric doing stuff.

BARKER: Oh yeah. Potters mostly use electric wheels.

WILLIHNGANZ: Potter, right.

BARKER: I still go by that definition is: if all the machine does is eliminate the drudgery…I don’t object to it. The area where it’s hardest to explain is weaving. Course I’ve never understood why anybody would want to sit there and throw that shuttle back and forth.

WILLIHNGANZ: I can’t imagine doing that.

BARKER: I mean, at least, at Churchill you used your feet . I’m not sure actually that throwing that shuttle back and forth has any artistic value. I might get shot for saying that. But it always seemed like a lot of work for me for what you got out of it.

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, you know I thought that until I was talking to Linda Fifield. I don’t know if you know her or not. I’m watching her do beading which I always thought ceased being artistic in the second grade, and…what she does is pretty amazing stuff.

BARKER: It is.

WILLIHNGANZ: It’s incredibly repetitive stuff that she could sit day after day after day after, and do over and over.

BARKER: And I think there’s some areas that that’s…you’ve got to like to be in, to doing that repetition.

WILLIHNGANZ: Oh yeah. You really have to…

BARKER: And you just mentioned the other thing. You know, you think you outgrow the second grade. Ever time in the craft world, and I’ve been in it, I was in it for 40 years. That you sit down and you try to put in writing what is and is not a craft, and you say we will not accept crochet…well if the right person crochets, it’s art. We will not accept painted objects, at the next meeting they accept this lady from Knoxville that paints creek stones because she’s a great artist and she just happens to paint on creek stones. You know, 99% of that stuff is junk, but you get this artist who…so now I’m…the way I once looked at it. You don’t exclude anything because the right person gets their hands on it, it’s gonna become art whether you approve of the…of it or not. Now I’m not real sure if anybody’s ever gone and glued corn to a board and make a rooster that’s gonna convince me that it’s art.

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, I think you haven’t seen the right stuff. I’ve seen some corn art that I thought was stunning.

BARKER: Okay, but that’ my whole point, it’s just …

WILLIHNGANZ: But you’re right. Things that you don’t think…my wife and I recently bought our first and only piece of marquetry which is basically a piece of wood cut together. And, you know, I’ve seen these kits and things that I’ve always thought, ‘This is ridiculous, this is like paint by number stuff.’ Then this guy, when it’s done right, it’s stunning.

BARKER: I worked with a man, a Mr. Bater, William Bater in Asheville, who had…was German. And he grew up apprenticed to a maquetry artist, and I don’t even know where you can find a piece of his anymore. Probably in museums…and it was incredible. Now I haven’t seen anybody as good as him since then, but you would have had to have a lifetime involvement in it to ever do what he did. He did this mountain landscape…little detail so small that…I don’t have the patience or the eyesight to be a really good person for all that. My, my…everybody, always the first question I get everywhere is what craft or art do you do and I didn’t, I just appreciate and market them . I was an art major for maybe a month, and again I’m one of those people who don’t know when to stop. So I’ll fix…I’ll have a real good thing going. Then I’ll mess it up somewhere down the road even if it’s carving a bar of soap. So, so I’ve never really gotten into, oh…I used to like doing some woodworking, but…I’m more of a carpenter or was…than I was a woodworker.

WILLIHNGANZ: But, you facilitated people being able to…

BARKER: Facilitated a lot and…oh, about 6 months ago, I ran into a chair maker I’d known for years and he said, ‘Hey, when you gonna come back and help us out?’ And I said, ‘I spent 40 years going around Kentucky and the region thinking I was teaching people how to market their work, and run a business, and…a lot of people blame me for the fact that they’re in business . But I said, ‘You know, I’d never really owned one and…in October, we’ll have owned the newspaper for two years.’ I said, ‘Now you need me to come back and teach you a business workshop. Now that I really know.’

WILLIHNGANZ: What’s the difference? What would you teach them now? Hold on a second, plane go by here it’s gonna record my sound. That’s what I need somebody [unintelligible] …

BARKER: Now, I would teach them that if you don’t have the business skills to match the creative skills, you’re probably wasting your time and you’re not gonna last. I never had to really deal with the, I mean all the laws and the rules and the tax withholding things. And I knew it was there, but I never had to do it. And always we had, you know, we had when I worked at the college, we had bookkeeping department did all that. And if I needed to buy something I’d call the purchasing office. And if I had to pay a bill, I’d call the accounting office. I’m all those now. And …

WILLIHNGANZ: The Guild actually originated workshops in business procedures?

BARKER: It did, and we started that when I was there…we did some of it. We tried to do a series of workshops every year, and I insisted that if we did three, and we did them different in Berea than we did them in Bardstown, so one of the three has to deal with business. And…I think the first year, of course, this is a whole different era, printing was a big problem back then. This is, it sounds ridiculous now, but I had a printer come up from the University of Tennessee Press, and designer who it was good working with…just he was both an artist and a technician. He could bridge the gap there…come and teach people how to get a business card printed. And we were really shocked how many people didn’t know, or what went into it, and how little they knew about the whole printing process. But, yeah, they’re doing, they’re going at it on a much bigger scale now with booth design, product development, pricing. But the first annual meeting I went to of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, one of the speakers…who came, was on how to price your work. I’m trying to remember…what was his name? Shell, whose a print maker from New England somewhere and everybody I, that’s the hardest part of…of the business side of…if your making things and selling them is, you can try to figure out all that what it cost you. Honey, if you’re printing a newspaper…and your bank account comes up $10,000 short, it probably costs you $10,000 more to do it than we took in, and that’s a good sign you need to do something or is. When Jim Cantrell used to do pottery, we’d sort of eyeball it and price it and I don’t, I know everybody had a theory that he’d sort of look at it and if you’ve been in business a while, you’d say that’s $25. If it sells too fast, it’s priced too cheap, so you raise it up to 30 or keep raising it until it stops. Or if it won’t sell, you keep lowering it until its starts. But there’s better ways of doing it than that. And in the art world it’ll bring what you can get for it, and one of the…unfortunately a lot of people have a hard time learning that. People used to come in and they’d say why, you know, Rudy Osolnik gets $300 for a little bowl like that. I said in 40 or 50 years, if you’re a famous as he is, you can too. And they’d say, ‘Mine’s just as good.’ And I said, ‘Might be in 40 or 50 years. Come back and you’ll be able to get the same prices he got.’ But it, it, it’s this in the art world, selling art work is this horrible combination of technical, creativity, and then your image has to be. If nobody knows how you are…you’re gonna have a hard time selling. If you’ve done a good job of selling yourself, which is hard to do. And I know we did a lot of work on that over the years of trying to help people present package, the more people know about you, the more likely they are to buy that piece. For God’s sake, when you go to a show, don’t hide behind the booth. You’ve got to sit out there and talk to them whether you feel like it or not, or hire somebody to do it. You know, it, you have to be all these different things, and then…we’ve had that running battle over the years with the wholesale. Do you sell wholesale or do you sell retail? And to me, it all depends on your personality. If you don’t like dealing with people, and if you’re honest, totally honest, you better not get out there in the public because somebody will come by and make a stupid comment about your work and you’ll chew them out. If you don’t like dealing with ‘em, you’re better off selling wholesale to other stores. If you like people, well then you can come to a nice compromise there. And unlike most people in organizations, I’ve been a big encourager of people selling from their studio. A lot of organizations didn’t want people to do that because they figured it was competition themselves. And I said, ‘Yeah, whoever does the best job will get the business anyway.’ And…I think, you know…the probably…like Sarah Culbreth and Jeff of Tater Knob in Berea have a good combination. They’ve got their studio. It’s open to the public with a shop. They do a select handful of shows a year. They sell wholesale to a handful of selected…businesses, and the way it was described to me forty-five years ago, forty-some years ago, was…a price person has to have a production line that pays the bills. You know, there’s stuff if you’re good at making mugs and they sell good, spend a week throwing mugs make 200 of them. When you sell all them you’ll have the electricity paid for and the groceries bought. Then you can do art. You can do what you want to do. And which might sell and it might not sell, it might set there five years, or it might be the first thing you sell the next show you go to. But there’s a certain…it would be nice…to be able to do nothing except what you wanted to. I can almost relate to it from the writing world, where when I first started writing…you know, I had writer’s markup. I went to a workshop. All this, and I’m trying to write what this publication was, what that one was. I write your brochures for you, I write your catalog for you, just trying to get it to where I’d have some time to write fiction .

WILLIHNGANZ: I understand, yeah, there’s a real conflict. There’s so many different strategies that I hear. There are guys who have a day job, and then they do their creative work, and they sell what they can. There are other people who’ve told me…the artists have told me, it’s really a phase in the career. So you start out and you do anything you can to sell, and then as your reputation gets in and you get enough work out there you start to build an audience for your work, then you can start to focus more and more. Somebody said, ‘You know, I don’t bother by going to shows because I can’t afford the travel, and I don’t want the time setting up a booth and getting everything organized, and then knocking it down three days later and taking it home. It’s just too crazy and…

BARKER: And it’s a personality thing too. If somebody told me I had to go back to a New York Gift Show and set up a booth--sit there for six days, twelve hours a day, and then tear it all down, pack it up and ship it all home, I think I’d just be [unintelligible]. I don’t ever want to do that again.

WILLIHNGANZ: I understand, I understand.

BARKER: But it’s, it’s like at a certain stage and it may come, well, it doesn’t come too late either. Rudy Osolnik wasn’t really all that well known nationally and internationally until he was passed his 65 and he worked another twenty years. So the recognition can come some time though. With me, the writing world, I think well now…that now that it’s sort of here I think what difference does it make?

WILLIHNGANZ: Now, that’s my plan. I’m 62, I got three years to get discovered and then twenty years to work.

BARKER: Yeah, it is, it’s like…I had a call…two days ago from Mitchell Tolle in Berea. The artist there whose a very good friend of mine, whose had to change some of my opinions about arts marketing, but…actually what he called about was he wanted to know if I’d still write some copy for him and I said, ‘If it were anybody else, the answer’s no, but for you yeah, I’ll do it.’ But Mitchell, a lot of artists don’t like him because he’s so financially successful and he sells a lot of prints. And he and I had this running argument since he was 20 years old, twenty-one years old, when he first came to Berea. We wouldn’t let him sell his massed produced offset prints at the fairs. My first book came out, I don’t know where he found it but Mitchell came, popped through the door carrying that book. Grinning ear to ear, and he said what if this was the only copy of this book you could sell. I said, ‘I know what you’re getting at, I understand.’


BARKER: Oh, it was. But it is, and it’s always a…some organizations have gotten so wrapped up in dealing with those issues that they’ve kind of forget, they get so wrapped up in policy and that kind of stuff that they forget what it is they’re there to do. Which is to, when…Rudy Osolnik and Richard Bellando called me and they wanted to start the Berea Craft Festival, I went to meet with them at breakfast one day and here you’d think that this thing is not an organization. I mean we owned it, …and I said, ‘What, what do you want?’ And I said, ‘Yeah I want everybody to have fun. I’m tired of these deadly serious things. I want an event where, I want the exhibitors to come, have fun, and make money. Usually they’re tied together. I don’t want it to be…too complicated, let’s have music, let’s have a party.’ And we did, which is, I think the ultimate. That’s what the whole group of us had learned from however many years it had been, going to fairs in Asheville and Berea, in Louisville and Cincinnati. If you’re having fun and you’re selling something, three or four days are not nearly as long…so you can…and I think that’s where the early Guild fairs had the advantage over everybody. People would start showing up from all over the country a week before. Of course, this was in the days, a little bit of the hippie days left over. I think half of them were, or how they heard about it. They just came drifting in and they’d stay with somebody, or sleep in the woods, and it was just a happening…and it sort of…had that personality all its own and pretty much went its own way. I’m not sure anybody could have controlled it. But I miss; I miss that sometime now with the professionalism that we worked so hard to get. We worked so hard to become professionals that we forget to have fun sometimes.

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, a lot of fun talking with you and I think we probably should call it a day.

[End of Interview Part II]