Isonville (Elliott County), Kentucky
Year of Award
Grant or Fellowship
Folk & Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship
Known for her stick roosters, horses, possums, and other animals, Minnie Adkins is often referred to as a folk artist, but she prefers to be known as a woodcarver.
"When I came up in Elliott County (Kentucky),” explained Adkins, “we did everything for ourselves: grew our own food, raised our animals, made our clothes. All of the men carried pocketknives, and if a child wanted something to play with, they, or somebody else, had to make it. My older brother Edgar made things out of wood like pop guns from elderberry stalks, bows and arrows, sling shots, spool tractors, pawpaw whistles, and so on. From about five on, I wanted a knife to make me some toys, but Mam and Pap wouldn't let me have one for fear I'd cut myself. But when I was around 10, my Uncle Bill Watson loaned me his knife, and I started making the kind of toys Edgar had been making. Before long I was a better hand to whittle than Edgar, and he'd ask me to make things for him and I would.”
Although she will first rough out some of her pieces with a chain saw or bandsaw, Adkins does almost all of her carving with a pocketknife. She typically uses basswood (or linwood as it's sometimes called), and maple for her trademark "stick roosters." Though basswood and maple are her main materials, she will use whatever is available and has made carvings from sycamore, cedar, pine, poplar, and driftwood. She sometimes leaves the pieces as natural wood, but typically paints them with brightly colored acrylic paint. Besides her pocketknife and saws, she occasionally uses a power drill and a power sander.
Adkins’ lifelong learning plans include a trip to the Art Museum of West Virginia University in Morgantown, where her work is a part of the permanent collection. “I take inspiration and get ideas from [other Appalachian artists’] work and the work of what I'd call ‘trained artists.’ You learn in a different way from looking at a piece in person instead of a book or magazine.” She also hopes to attend the Appalachian Family Folk Gathering at the Hindman Settlement School in Hindman, Kentucky. ”At Folk Week, you're surrounded by craftspeople, storytellers, musicians, artists of all kinds, and I always get energy and encouragement from being there and, even though I've lived here almost all my life, I learn new things about Eastern Kentucky and its history.” Adkins will restock her art supplies of wood, paint, and brushes in addition to equipment like a new bandsaw and lightweight chainsaw, and maybe some upgrades to her workshop. She also hopes to provide support to Minnie Adkins Day, an annual July arts festival that takes place in Sandy Hook which provides a market for Eastern Kentucky artists.