By LISA BICKNELL
CV&T News Editor
Last week, Ravenna artist Tim Hall was presented the prestigious Governor’s Artist Award for 2018-19 by the Kentucky Arts Council.
He was the only recipient of the artist award, which recognized him for his exquisite wood carvings of birds, flowers and other wildlife.
Many in Estill County may not be aware of Hall’s reputation as an artist, but his work is sold all over the world and has been presented to many visiting dignitaries.
Hall doesn’t seem particularly impressed by the award itself. He seems more in awe of how the good Lord has worked everything out for him to support himself as an artist for the past 38 years.
Hall’s career began after his work as a frame carpenter fizzled in the late seventies when interest rates skyrocketed to 20 percent.
He remembers the infamous winter of 1977-78, when temperatures didn’t rise above freezing for most of January. During that time, he spent a lot of time carving and “piddling” in his workshop.
Eventually, Hall became a member of the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen. He was invited to the first ever Kentucky Crafted market at the Kentucky Horse Park in 1982. He’s been to every one since.
It didn’t cost anything to participate at the time, or he probably wouldn’t have gone, he said. But he decided he’d give it a shot. After he arrived, he asked where they wanted him to set up. He was told “right by the front door.”
Hall sold almost everything he took and made about $1,700 dollars, which to him, seemed more like $17,000 at the time.
After selling a piece for more than he’d make in a week of “slinging a hammer,” he knew he was on to something.
“I feel like the Lord worked out the circumstances,” he said.
Hall also gives a lot of credit to former first lady of Kentucky, Phyllis George Brown.
Also a former Miss America, Brown played an enormous role in the early 1980’s in supporting and promoting Kentucky crafts men and women. She helped establish the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation in 1980, now known the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.
While her husband John Y. Brown was campaigning for governor, she spent many hours visiting obscure artists hidden away in small towns and communities.
One of those artists was Tim Hall. He is one of 46 artists featured in a book she entitled Kentucky Crafts.
Brown was a collector of Hall’s work herself, but she also gave his pieces to such well-known individuals as Ed McMahon and Andy Williams.
In addition, she invited him to set up a table and sell his work at her Derby parties at Cave Hill, the Brown’s private residence in Lexington. Kenny Rogers and Larry Hagman are among the well-known personalities who purchased his pieces many years ago.
Hall was even invited to meet former first lady Laura Bush after she selected some of his work to hang on a White House Christmas tree. He remembers her as being a very kind and gracious lady.
Hall’s work has been presented to many visiting dignitaries from all over the world. Martha Layne Collins gave one of his carvings to some Japanese visitors who were interested in building a Toyota plant in Georgetown. Queen Elizabeth II was also a recipient of his work.
Hall was later invited to be an arts ambassador to Japan and demonstrate his wood carving techniques. He didn’t particularly want to go, but he needed the money.
“It was kinda funny,” he recalls, when some Japanese fellows visited his shop in Ravenna prior to the trip, where they measured the height of his workbench and the homemade “jig” he had fashioned to hold the wood in place while he worked.
When Hall arrived in Japan, they had duplicated those items and had them ready for him to demonstrate his craft.
He stayed there for about three weeks and sold about $5,000 worth of carvings.
Hall said, “They were so nice to me.”
While Hall’s craft has led him to travel to some pretty exciting locations, the small sagging shed behind his modest white house on Elm Street is where the real work takes place.
Hall has lived on the same block for all of his 64 years.
He truly seeks to live words from the Bible that say, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands,…”
He also prays every day that the Lord will lead him and guide him.
The “myth of being self-employed,” is that he only works a few hours a day and has plenty of free time. Hall is very self-disciplined and focused on his work, but he says he has to be, because he and his wife “have this habit of eating every day.”
Hall’s daily routine begins with preparing breakfast and checking emails, then he heads to his shop around 8 or 8:30. Besides breaking for lunch and talking a walk around the neighborhood or “the trail up the mountain,” he often works until 6 or 6:30 in the evening.
He doesn’t keep a lot of his pieces, because, he says, “I can’t afford my work.” He invests one to three weeks of his life in most pieces, sometimes more.
Hall is married to Joyce Hall, who works at New Reflections hair salon. They have two daughters: Tina, who lives in Berea, and Mary, who lives in Irvine.
Sitting in his crowded workshop, surrounded by his tools and piles of dusty wood, as well as mementos from his long and illustrious career as a gifted artist, Tim Hall speaks of “the abundant life” he’s been blessed to live.
He says, “I almost feel guilty for as good a life as I’ve had.”
Cutline: This block of wood reveals a little about Tim’s process of creating life-like replicas of birds and flowers.
First, he sketches a profile in a piece of bass wood then cuts out the basic shape with a band saw. He roughs it out with his grandfather’s draw knife, then he sands it smooth. He draws out the feather pattern, then relief carves it, and sands it smooth again. He uses a wood-burning tool to etch the feather details in further, then he painstakingly paints the object in colors as close to nature’s as possible. Tim also paints on canvas on occasion.
Cutline: Tim’s love of nature extends beyond his work, though, to recreation. He enjoys traveling out west, where the gentle-natured and soft-spoken man sometimes turns into a bear hunter. He says he and his wife don’t buy a lot of meat but eat the game that he kills.