Updated: Jan 23, 2019
By Guest Blogger Douglas Naselroad
In the remote little mountain town of Hindman, Kentucky, the Appalachian Artisan Center has stepped up. Our studios buzz with aspiring potters, blacksmiths and luthiers on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and most other days.
Our arts organization has historically focused on career development for regional artists and craftsmen, but has now fully joined the fight against the raging opioid epidemic. Our Culture of Recovery Program via the generous support of ArtPlace America allows us to take care of multiple groups of at-risk individuals. In a community largely abandoned by the coal industry, with few prospects of any real economic recovery, we stand out because of the impact of our work with individuals fighting substance abuse disorders.
Our studios, always places of growth and creative expression, have now taken on a new importance as they have become safe havens of healing. Individuals from the Hickory Hill Recovery Center and the Knott County Drug Court fighting addiction can now discover positive focus via the work of their own hands. They can opt to forge blades in fire, make fine art pottery, or build stringed musical instruments, and the feedback has been terrific.
...It's a big thing to somebody that's never done stuff like this...And being able to complete it the first time I try it—what else can I do? What else am I capable of doing if I just try?”
— Jordan Winchester
The simple joy of helping someone make something for the first time is always powerful, but when that someone is coming out of addiction, the impact is greater. And these individuals assist us in turn by volunteering countless hours to help build and maintain their program. And seeing this ongoing work, folks in our area are responding.
More than we expected, they tell that they understand the struggle.
Dan Estep, our blacksmith, works with an increasing number of students at his forge, creating fine Damascus steel blades, tools and decorative items from iron. Dan will tell anyone who asks that this rehabilitative instruction is the most important work that he has ever been privileged to do. No, we are not trained therapists; we are simply career artisans who believe that making art is therapeutic in itself.
At the ceramics studio, our Executive Director Jessica Evans is equally dedicated to introducing her craft to recovery program participants. Putting hands into clay until it is formed into heirloom-quality art happens pretty much every day there. Individuals in her class will tell you that the group study atmosphere helps them develop teamwork and other social skills while discovering a whole new part of themselves.
At the Appalachian School of Luthiery, my apprentices and I are engaged in the fabrication and repair of stringed musical instruments. And as an extra bonus, I get to host Songwriter’s Circle, a monthly radio show that serves as a venue for our budding songwriters to communicate their recovery experience to the regional community (via Appalshop’s Mountain Radio WMMT 88.7 on the fourth Wednesday of every month at 6:00 PM.)
And we will soon be employing many of our recovered apprentices at the Troublesome Creek Stringed Instrument Company, our new artisanal guitar manufacturing facility right here in Hindman.
The town is looking better all the time, and so are our people. We at the AAC are all incredibly privileged to be part of this vital work. Learn more at www.artisancenter.net and https://www.facebook.com/CultureofRecovery/
Douglas Naselroad is a master luthier at the Appalachian School of Luthiery. In 2016, the school was recognized with an ArtWorks Grant by the National Endowment for the Arts. The School’s Hindman Dulcimer Project also won the prestigious Governor’s Award in the Arts for folk heritage in 2016. He won the 2017 Homer Ledford award for excellence in luthiery. Most recently, he has been working on the Culture of Recovery Program under a grant from ArtPlace America.
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