FRANKFORT — Recipients of the 2015 Governor’s Awards in the Arts, the state’s highest honors in the arts, will each receive a hand-carved wooden rooster created by 1998 Governor’s Award Individual Artist recipient and nationally renowned folk artist Minnie Adkins, of Isonville.
The Governor’s Awards in the Arts are coordinated by the Kentucky Arts Council and honor those who have made significant contributions and achievements in the arts throughout the Commonwealth. Each year, the arts council commissions an artist to create a piece of original artwork to be presented to the recipients during the awards ceremony.
“I often look at a piece of wood and try to see what’s in there wanting to get out. I’m not trying to make a fox or bear or rooster or horse exactly how they appear — we have cameras for that. I’m trying to get the likeness of the thing in a simple way that makes you want to look at it and maybe see something you haven’t seen before,” Adkins said. “And I like bright colors. I hope these roosters brighten the lives of the artists and others who work in the arts that receive them.”
Adkins grew up in Elliott County and was influenced early in life by the men she saw whittling. As soon as her parents gave her a knife, she started making objects to play with and to give as gifts: slingshots, popguns, whistles and small wooden animals.
“I started carving as a child because I wanted toys to play with and somehow knew if I had a sharp knife, I could make them,” Adkins said. “It’s still like that in a way — I want to make things that will bring the people who have them enjoyment and satisfaction.”
In 1968 she, her husband, Garland, and only child Michael moved to Fairborn, Ohio, living there for 15 years. During that time, Adkins continued to carve, making hand-sized figures and giving them away or selling them for small change. In 1973, she brought some of her carvings to the Worldwide Avon Collectors Show in Dayton. Her work was praised and sold rapidly, and her participation was noted in the Worldwide Avon Collectors Magazine.
Returning to Kentucky in 1983, Adkins began selling her work at a craft gallery in Morehead, where it was noticed by folk art dealer Larry Hackley. Hackley introduced Adkins’ work to collectors and galleries outside Kentucky, and in 1985, several of her carvings were included in the permanent collection of the Kentucky Folk Art Center.
Adkins’ work featured prominently in the 1989 book “O’ Appalachia: Artists of the Southern Mountains” by Emmy Award-winning screenwriter Millard Lampbell and his wife, Ramona.
In 1992, Adkins was honored as the first recipient of the Centre College Norton Award for outstanding achievement in the arts in Kentucky. In 1993, she and Garland organized the Day in the Country Folk Art Festival at their Isonville farm. The festival remains an annual event and is now sponsored by the Kentucky Folk Art Center and held at the Morehead Conference Center. It has grown to be one of the nation’s largest folk art fairs.
Other awards include a Distinguished Artist Award from the Folk Art Society of America, an Appalachian Treasure Award, a Governor’s Award in the Arts and an honorary doctorate from Morehead State University.
Following Garland’s death in 1997, Adkins stopped making art briefly, but resumed in 1998.
In 1999, she married Herman Peters, a construction contractor living in Ohio. Peters, a skilled welder, relocated to Isonville and collaborated with Adkins on a number of now highly sought after metal animal sculptures. Peters died in 2008.
The Kentucky General Assembly honored Adkins in 2014, declaring the third Saturday of each July as Minnie Adkins Day. The day is celebrated in Sandy Hook with a folk art show and music.
“Minnie Adkins has been a longtime fixture in the landscape of Kentucky art and craft,” said arts council executive director Lori Meadows. “She is a standard bearer of the highest order for our state arts community, and we have so much gratitude for the time and talent she has invested in creating these unique awards for our honorees.”
The 2015 Governor’s Awards in the Arts will be presented at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 22, in the Capitol Rotunda, with a public reception to follow on the mezzanine. For more information about the awards ceremony, visit the arts council’s Governor’s Awards in the Arts web page.
The Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, fosters environments for Kentuckians to value, participate in and benefit from the arts. Kentucky Arts Council funding is provided by the Kentucky General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts. The arts council, along with the NEA, is celebrating 50 years of service in 2015, which the arts council is recognizing as the Year of the Arts in Kentucky.