In 2009 and 2011, the Kentucky Oral History Commission, administered by the Kentucky Historical Society awarded funding to support oral history documentation of specific aspects of the craft industry in eastern Kentucky. Amanda Fickey, the project's director highlights below this project and her Ph.D research. The interviews for this collection are housed at the University of Kentucky Nunn Center for Oral History and will abe available to the public in 2015. - SM
Since the mid-twentieth century, Central Appalachia’s regional economy has suffered due to decreases in extractive industries. As jobs have been lost, many individuals have turned to alternative economic practices, such as small-scale agriculture and craft production, to make ends. Such practices however, are not new. Woodland agricultural methods prevalent among Native American tribes and early European settlers were comprised of numerous economic activities. Though such activities may have lessened with the rise of industrialization and wage-labor throughout the region, small-scale craft and agricultural production continues to be important economic practices that allow people to make a living and remain in their homeplace.
My dissertation research, titled “Redefining development: Exploring alternative economic practices in Appalachia,” seeks to better understand the economic decisions that craft producers make in their everyday lives and the diverse practices that exist within the context of Eastern Kentucky’s craft industry. For example, some craft producers strive to own an individual studio, while others explore cooperative production and distribution methods. Craft organizations are diverse as well, relying on wage-labor, barter, and volunteerism.
Exploring both capitalist and non-capitalist practices allows us to broaden the sorts of economic activities might be recognized as development worthy. This project also seeks to better understand the work biographies of both craft producers and arts-related organizational leaders through oral history. With funding provided by the Kentucky Oral History Commission (Phase I Grant, 2009; Phase II Grant, 2011) I have conducted interviews with craft producers, arts-related organizational leaders, and state representatives associated with the Kentucky Craft Marketing Program. The study includes interviews from throughout the region of Eastern Kentucky as well as materials gathered from individuals at regionally and state-based arts organizations. Interviews are triangulated with archival and historical research.
This project is part of my much larger research agenda which seeks to find a new path forward for the Appalachian region. Having grown up the daughter of a coal miner in Letcher County, I have experienced, first hand, the difficulties of growing up in the mountains. My work, teaching, and service are dedicated to reimagining what is possible for the future of the region and redefining the ‘good life’. This requires exploring new development possibilities (including capitalist and non-capitalist practices) and reevaluating old growth-based economic development strategies.
I am personally interested in the use of language by policy makers and development practitioners to render economic development practices technical and devoid of contextual specificity. In 2011, my paper: “Rendering Regional Development Technical: An Examination of ‘Appalachia: A Report by the President’s Appalachian Regional Commission, 1964,’” received the Carl A. Ross Paper Award from the Appalachian Studies Association. Throughout this paper, I argue that policy documents produced by the Appalachian Regional Commission have often limited economic imaginings through the perpetuation of regional stereotypes and short-term, decontextualized strategies. In all of my research pertaining to development and anti-development, I seek to counter such approaches and aid in the creation of long-term strategies that address broader structural issues.
Furthermore, I think that to offer new economic strategies in the region we have to take into consideration political economy and ecology. For example, despite state and regional-based efforts to provide financial support for craft production, arts and development organizations must also take into account ecological concerns. Raw materials that crafters use (such as hardwoods) often face ecological threats which are rarely if ever recognized by arts-related organizations. In an effort to explore both economic and ecological concerns, I partnered with Dr. Lynne Rieske-Kinney, Department of Entomology at the University of Kentucky, to create an on-line database – specifically for craft producers – with images and information pertaining to ecological threats facing the Central Appalachian region.
Much work remains to be done. Further analysis of the craft industry must take place and new economic development practices, beyond resource extraction, are yet to be fully explored. In a region plagued with a history of resource extraction, which has resulted in diseases such as Black Lung and a significant increase in the number of infants born with birth defects near mountaintop removal sites(1), the search for new development strategies is both critical and urgent.
--- Amanda Fickey
Author Amanda Fickey is a PhD Candidate in the department of geography at the University of Kentucky. Amanda has authored papers in the Journal of Appalachian Studies, PRISM: A Journal of Regional Development, Geography Compass, and disClosure: A Journal of Social Theory. She is also the author of a new foreword in the paperback edition of The Handcraft Revival in Southern Appalachia, 1930-1990, available now from the University of Tennessee Press. To learn more about Amanda and her work, please visit her website: http://amandafickey.wordpress.com.
1. Ahern, M., M. Hendryx, J. Conley, E. Fedorko, A. Ducatman, and K. Zulling. 2011. “The association between mountaintop removal mining and birth defects among live births in central Appalachia, 1996-2006.” Environmental Research 111(6): 838-846.
1. Photographer: Amanda Fickey. Event: Kentucky Craft Market, 2012, Lexington, Kentucky. Artist/Organization: Bountiful Baskets by Jan.
2. Photographer: Amanda Fickey. Event: Kentucky Craft Market, 2012, Lexington, Kentucky. Artist/Organization: The Weavery
3. Photographer: Amanda Fickey. Event: Kentucky Craft Market, 2012, Lexington, Kentucky. Artist/Organization: http://www.jamisonbrumm.com/home.