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The driftwood, metals, bones and shells Willie Rascoe collects in the woods and along the lakes and rivers of western Kentucky mean more to him than their face value.
“All these elements of life are natural God-given elements of life,” the Hopkinsville artist said.
His work is on exhibit at Elizabethtown Community Technical College’s Morrison Gallery until Wednesday.
Rascoe, a folk art sculptor, uses those elements to create his pieces, allowing the material to guide him to what they need to become. He described the process as a “spiritual flow.”
“I mostly just feel through my pieces as I go,” Rascoe, 62, said.
The various elements speak to him in that sense, rather than Rascoe randomly putting them together.
“It’s got to be just right,” he said.
Creating a piece, Rascoe said, takes quite a bit of time because it involves a lot of mental work in addition to physical labor, such as carving and woodwork.
“It’s a slow process, which is good because I don’t like to rush,” Rascoe said, explaining he doesn’t want to shortchange any of the creations by not giving it the time it needs and deserves.
Though he grew up on a farm and did not come from an artistic background, Rascoe remembers being affected by a story he saw in Ebony magazine. The story featured an artist who sculpted work from old automobile parts.
“That was really inspiring to me,” he said.
Before his life as an artist, Rascoe was drafted for two years and served with the 82nd Airborne Division.
“I jumped out of planes; I couldn’t wait until they landed,” Rascoe said, laughing.
At one point while he was still in the service, he was walking through Nashville International Airport and saw art exhibited in glass cases. He recalled wondering what it would take to be part of that exhibit.
After his military service, Rascoe pursued and earned an associate of arts degree at Hopkinsville Community College.
“I said, ‘I would like to do something unique and different,’” he said of his artistic goals.
In 1974, he created his first sculpture. It was about 10 inches high, he said.
Rascoe’s first exhibit was in 1982, but it did not come without some self-assessment.
“I had to convince myself, ‘Should I exhibit? Am I good enough?’” Rascoe said.
Those questions seemed to be answered when he received an award for that exhibit.
Since then, he has created numerous works depicting animals, masks, people and abstracts.
Rascoe said he believes he has a responsibility to share the gift God gave him. Art, he said, is something everyone can have an opinion about.
“Artwork is universal,” he said. “It sparks the mind.”
Rascoe’s work also has been sparking lots of recognition.
Last year Rascoe won an award from the Tanne Foundation, an arts organization in Boston. His work has been exhibited in France and Thailand as well as the Kentucky Folklife Festival in Frankfort, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville and the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead.
Additionally, his work is among those in the permanent collection of the Kentucky Folk Art Center and the Kentucky History Center.
The ECTC exhibit, and a workshop Rascoe will hold Wednesday, are made possible through funding by ECTC’s Office of Cultural Diversity and Fine Arts Committee.
Then there’s Nashville International Airport, which, in December 2007, showcased the work of the Kentucky artist.
“My day came,” Rascoe said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.