A Q&A with a True Appalachian

Doug Adams is quite a familiar name within the Appalachian region. He is locally famous for his one-of-a-kind artwork that can be found throughout the small city of Whitesburg and in many of our homes. People of this region may be surprised to know that Adams is not just a hometown artist – he is well known throughout the country, having many pieces of art displayed in a variety of colleges, galleries, and states.

We had to privilege to talk to Doug about his childhood, career in art, and hopes for the future. Keep reading to discover more about the man behind the artwork.


Q: How was you’re life growing up?

A: “Well, I was born during the Depression, and looking back on it, I didn’t realize at the time how hard life was. But we worked through it, like everyone had to. There were times that were more difficult, but all and all, that’s all you can do – work through it. We didn’t have electricity, we only had well water, but we were happy; we raised our gardens and played in the mountains.”


Q: What are some of your memories growing up in the Mountains?

A: “The thing I remember most thinking back on childhood is always being outside and exploring in the mountains. I grew up near Isom – it wasn’t like Pine Mountains, but we had some decent hills.”


Q: How does life when you were young differ from life today?

A: “Prices weren’t as high. It was very different from today; of course we were limited in what you could have because of refrigeration and that sort of thing. I can remember when I was a kid, they’d take big rolls of bologna and hang them from the ceiling.”


Q: What did your parents do for a living?

A: “My father worked for Kentucky Power Company during the Depression, then he was State Representative for a couple of terms, and he had a store he ran on the side. My mother was a teacher, and my father also taught school when I was real young, I can’t remember my age, but he didn’t teach very long.”


Q: What was your school like?

A: “I went to a one-room school, and the nice thing about a one-room school is that you’d learn from the older kids at the same time your teacher would work with you; like the information is constantly flowing.”


Q: What kind of things did you do has a teenager?

A: “There wasn’t a whole lot to do, honestly. When you lived out in a rural area, it was very difficult to find a friend your age who had a car; and besides, my parents wouldn’t let me go anyway. But we has a basketball court we’d play on, and we’d play a lot of crochet, and horseshoes. We pretty much entertained ourselves in place rather than having to go out.”


Q: Do you remember when you saw your first TV, Radio, or learned how to drive a car?

A: “Dad always had a car, because he had to transport himself back and fourth to Hazard where we worked. The first radio I used was a battery radio we had when I was small, probably four or five years old, and the battery – that’s the thing that impressed me – they were as large has a trash can. One man couldn’t carry but one of them at a time, they were that heavy. We could get the Grand Ole Opry, I remember that, on Saturday nights, and everybody would come into our home and listen to the Grand Ole Opry for a couple of hours.”


Q: What are some major advancements you’ve witnessed with your life?

A: “Well, television was exciting; and getting lights where you could flip a switch or pull a string and they’d come on was exciting. Having running water in the house was nice, so you didn’t have to go to the well and draw it up and carry it in, you know. There were a lot of things that were exciting.”


Q: Why did you choose art as your career?

A: “Well, I didn’t grow up thinking about art as a career, because nobody talked much of the value of art. It was always, “Oh, that’s a pretty picture” or “I like that”, but having no idea why. When I went to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. We didn’t have counselors or career planning sessions like students have today, where you get ideas of what you’d like to be. I had very little knowledge of what the world was like outside of the mountains, because our communication was not too good. So I just went to college and started running around with a bunch of art majors and first thing I know, I said, “Well that’s as good as any”. I thought I might be a doctor at one time, but I got interested in art, and I’m glad I did, and I think I get more enjoyment out of doing paintings then I ever would taking out a gallbladder.”


Q: Why have you continued making art for so long?

A: “It’s always challenging, because you’re improving all the time. You run into problems that cause trouble for you because you don’t know exactly how to get what you see in your mind onto a canvas or into a sculpture. It’s always challenging to learn new things and develop new ideas- for instance, I never did much sculpturing until the last ten years, and now it’s my main media.”


Q: Where do you currently live?

A: “I live in downtown Whitesburg in the Baker Apartments, but I sill have my farm and home down in Morehead where my wife lives. I taught at Morehead State University for fifteen years, so the property I own is down there. My original house actually burned down in 1994, but I’ve rebuilt another one since then.”


Q: Have you lived anywhere besides Letcher or Morehead?

A: “Oh yeah, I’ve lived in Ohio, Mississippi, Nashville, Memphis, Florida, South Carolina, and of course Kentucky all within the last fifteen years.”


Q: You’re currently working as the art teacher at Letcher County Central, how did you get this job?

A: “Well at the time, I was doing my own artwork – that’s how I was making a living – and I was in Miami for an art show, and when I came back to Morehead, my house had burned down. I had no more artwork, nothing else to sell and make a living off of. All my prints and originals were gone, so I decided I’d start teaching. First I went to Florida to work, then South Carolina, then Nashville, then the coast of Mississippi, and now I’m here.”


Q: What is your family like? Do you have children or grandchildren?

A: “I have a wife, and I have a daughter who’s an attorney, and I have a grandson. He’s fifteen years old now, and he’s lived with me all his life. He’s really more like a son to me rather than a grandson, but that’s my little family.”


Q: People have always looked badly on our region, why do you think that is?

A: “We’ve always been stereotyped, and we’ve been clannish, and that’s very typical to happen to an area like this where our main jobs for a long time was coal. People have always seen us as a little backwards, and they still do, and we are. I can say this because I grew up here, and when I was growing up, we never had the experiences that teenagers have now, you know, taking vacations every weekend and going on educational excursions out of the region. Children these days have a much broader knowledge and more exposure of the rest of the world than people of my time ever did.”


Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: “At my age, the future is right on me. But, I don’t know, I’m just going to do what I do, you know. I’ve got a good reputation and I want to keep working on that, and try to help kids here as much as I can – give back a little bit to Letcher County, because it’s given me a whole lot.”

This interview was coproduced with LCC student Michael Blair

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