Basket Making in South Central Kentucky

The Mammoth Cave region of Kentucky has one of the richest heritages of basket making anywhere in the country. It began during the pioneer era when settlers brought their knowledge of the craft from elsewhere, then adapted it to work with locally available materials like white oak and willow. Back then, baskets were made for necessity – people needed something to carry and gather things in.

During the 20th Century, Kentucky craftsmen and women continued to make baskets for their own use, but they also began catering to the tastes of travelers who motored along 31W – then the main thoroughfare between Louisville and Nashville - and who would frequently stop to buy souvenirs at the tourist-stands that lined the route. Later, after I-65 opened (taking away traffic from the smaller roads), basket makers began attending the craft fairs that were becoming popular.

Basket making styles changed accordingly. Initially, baskets were built to be sturdy for use around the farm.  Now they are made to look good and are intricately crafted into a wide variety of shapes and sizes. 

Today, Kentucky is home to some of the finest basket makers in the U.S., many of whom participated in this project – like Leona Waddell, who was first taught to make baskets by her mother during the Depression, and Michael Childress, an eighth-generation basket maker.  Others, like Paul Rich and Beth Hester, learned as adults, inspired by the artistry of the craft.

In this program you can hear many of these individuals talking about the history of the craft, how it has changed and what makes a South Central Kentucky basket special.  Listen to it here

Produced by
Rachel Hopkin, Graduate Assistant, Folk Studies Program, Western Kentucky University

Broadcast on
WKU Public Radio on Saturday, April 2 at 2 p.m. Central Time, 3 p.m. Eastern Time