Folks in Letcher County, KY are mighty proud of Kenny Baker, and all the music he made over his life. Kenny spent more than two dozen years playing fiddle with Bill Monroe, and several more performing with Josh Graves after leaving the Blue Grass Boys. He was a proud Kentuckian himself, and Monroe always announced him in the band as, “Kenny Baker, from Kentucky.”
So when the city of Jenkins, located in Letcher County, decided to paint a mural on the side of City Hall, the community made it clear to the designers that they wanted to see Kenny represented, along with another famous hometown son, country singer and songwriter, Gary Stewart.
Baker had lived there in Jenkins after his return from WWII, and worked in the coal mines there which supported much of the local population until he was picked up by country singer Don Gibson in 1953. Just three years later he was fiddling with Monroe, who was then carrying both he and Bobby Hicks on twin fiddles. Throughout the ’60s he would alternate stints with Monroe with time working the mines, something he did up until he left Monroe for good in 1984.
The entire mural cover more than 2,000 square feet on the side of the building, done in a style that artist Lacy Hale describes as “magical realism.” In other words, they are painting a scene that could be real, though it is imagined from old photos of town. Specifically, part of the wall depicts the old Whittaker Music Store which used to be open in town, and Kenny’s Master Fiddler album is displayed in the re-imagined store window, along with one from Gary Stewart.
Funding for the mural was arranged through Appalshop in nearby Whitesburg, a cultural preservation society, who obtained a grant through the Our Town project of the National Endowment for the Arts. They also helped set up community meetings to get feedback from residents about this mural, and another already completed and mounted in town.
Hale, who is painting the mural working with Pam Meade, told us that the first mural was painted in the studio on panels, and then erected in town, but that working outdoors on this one is a bit more rewarding.
“This one is really neat since people can see it going up, and stop to ask questions, and interact with us while we work. We’ve had art students from the high school come out and help us paint.”
She tells us that they are nearly finished with the detail work, and then have to apply an isolation coat and a layer of varnish to protect the mural from ultraviolet light and potential vandalism. They hope to be able to get these final tasks accomplished soon, before really bad weather sets in.
Mayor Todd Depriest says that a grand unveiling will take place once everything is completed, and everyone is invited to visit them in Jenkins and enjoy the finished product.
We’re sure that Kenny would be proud to occupy a space on the side of City Hall in the old home town.