KFP Documents the 24th annual White Oak Basket Contest at the Hart County Fair

On Saturday July 3rd, the Kentucky Folklife Program continued its tradition of documenting the 24th annual White Oak Basket Contest at the Hart County Fair. 

The White Oak Basket Contest began in 1998 when  Dr. James Middleton, a Hart county resident and physician, was approached by local attorney Charlie Williams who suggested there be a contest during the Hart County Fair. Though there were a mere handful of baskets entered the first year, the contest has, over the years, been responsible for helping to showcase Hart County’s rich basketry tradition and artisans.

The content was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic so while the 2021 turnout was smaller, in comparison to previous years, the group was excited to be meeting again. After a time of fellowship, Dr. James Middleton opened with a brief history of the contest, followed by recounting basketry events that had occurred since the summer 2019 contest. Janice Fern Armes sang the meeting’s annual Gospel tune, this year’s being “John the Revelator,” after which Dr. Middleton announced this year’s winners.

In addition to recognizing the year’s winners, Dr. Middleton and the Mammoth Cave Basket Makers Guild paid tribute to a handful of Hart County’s most beloved basket makers, the first of whom was Leona Waddell. Leona, who turned 93 this year, was a 2016 National Heritage Fellow and, has served as a master artist in the Kentucky Arts Council’s NEA-supported Master Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, demonstrated at festivals and community events, and consistently wins multiple prizes at the annual Hart County Fair basket competition, including this year’s “First Place” in the White Oak Basket class and “Best of Show.”

Tributes were also paid to Guild members who have passed away include Willard Glass, Clevie Childress, Douglas Paul Rich, and, most notably and recently, master Mark Childress. Mark had been a close friend to Kentucky Folklife Program direct Brent Bjorkman, who gave a eulogy after Dr. Middleton’s own tribute.

Leona Waddell with her basket that won her 1st Place in the Split Whit Oak Decorate Baskets class. Photo courtesy of Scott Gilbert.
Sam Davis, left, with Dr. Middleton, right, showing off Sam’s baskets that won 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the Non-Native Bought Material class. Photo courtesy of Scott Gilbert.

Janice Fern Armes, first place winner of the Non-Split White Oak Native Material Hand Processed Without The Use of Kits category. Photo courtesy of Scott Gilbert.

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