Cecilia woman considered Kentucky craft luminary

Submitted Leona Waddell works on a basket at her home in Cecilia. Her craftsmanship is being exhibited as part of an upcoming statewide show by the Kentucky Craft History and Education Association.

A noted basket maker from Cecilia is exhibiting as part of the Kentucky Craft History and Education Association exhibit called “Kentucky Craft Luminaries: Sharing the Stories.”

Leona Waddell, a 2012 recipient of the Kentucky Governor’s Folk Heritage Award, will have some of her baskets in the display.

The exhibit represents the works and stories of 24 of some of the state’s most recognized craft artists representing basketry, cornshuck flowers, furniture, weaving, quilting, surface design, pottery, glass, wooden folk art, woodcarving, jewelry and stringed instruments.

KCHEA is partnering with the Lexington Public Library to present the exhibit, which runs March 11 to May 10 at the Central Library Gallery, 140 E. Main St. in Lexington.

Waddell said she was born into a family of basket makers in 1928 and took up the craft as a child in Hart County.

“I’ve been making baskets on and off since I was about 9-years-old, helping my mom to start out,” she said.

Her family lived on a farm and often traded baskets for groceries and clothing in a barter economy of the Great Depression. After starting her own family, she sold baskets to tourist stands along Dixie Highway and later sold baskets to a broker, which were marketed in upscale stores in New York.

She worked at various jobs, including as a seamstress and cook, and returned to weaving baskets when she retired in 1997, In 2001, she helped found the Mammoth Cave Basket Makers Guild to preserve and promote traditional basket making of the region.

The exhibiting artists are a sample of the more than 90 individuals interviewed over the last 12 years as part of KCHEA’s Craft Luminary Project. The video interviews, which also include organization leaders and public officials, focus on their contributions to Kentucky’s craft movement. A video presentation featuring a sampling of this oral history will be presented in conjunction with the exhibit. Many of the interviews were conducted in artists’ studios, show examples of their completed works.

With this exhibit, KCHEA is striving to take the lead in documenting the state’s craft history, bringing the stories to life and making them accessible to the public in an educational format.

Schools are invited to attend and will be provided an Educator’s Guide that provide teachers with pre-visit, on-site and post-visit activities that are standards-based and grade appropriate. The Educator’s Guide is available at kchea.org/craft_luminary_exhibit/educators_guide.

This is the third presentation of this exhibit, with some significant additions. The first was at LexArts with a 2016 Program Grant providing initial money and support from UBS, and numerous private contributors. In 2018, the show was featured at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville.

For more information, including a complete list of exhibiting artists or to schedule a group visit, send an email to info@kchea.org. Additional information can be found at kchea.org/craft_luminary_exhibit.

(2) comments


She is also a 2016 NEA National Heritage Fellow and the recipient of the 2012 Kentucky Governor’s Award in the Arts Folk Heritage Award. Her work has been featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Basketry Organization.


I am so glad that Leona is getting the recognition she deserves. In 2004 I worked with the Kentucky Folklife Center to bring her to the college for a presentation. The now-defunct KFC hoped to bring attention to her work and to the important tradition of white oak basketweaving in this area, particularly in Hart County.

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