Welcome To Harlan
Welcome to Harlan presents the work of two Appalachian artists, Stef Ratliff and Lacy Hale, as well as promotional artwork and card deck by Louisville-based artist Danny Seim for the Harlan County Beer Company, a new micro-brewery coming to Harlan's downtown district. Opening the Harlan County Beer Company is part of an effort to revitalize Harlan's local economy and direct tourism to the area, giving local entrepreneurs more opportunity to invest in the city and grow its wealth.
Nestled in the heart of the Appalachian mountains, the town of Harlan, Kentucky is best known for its decades-long history of labor uprisings and strife. The city was the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1973 documentary, Harlan County, USA, which follows miners and their families striking against the Duke Power Company in an effort to secure safer working conditions and fair wages. Despite being in a region of abundant natural resources—the coal from Appalachia's mountains have powered much of America for over a century—the region and its residents have been left behind the rest of the country in many ways, leaving many communities impoverished and saddled with the public health consequences of mining and mountaintop removal. Yet, the rich artistic and cultural traditions of the region have remained alive and well, with bluegrass and honky-tonk continuing to be a staple of American music, and many visual artists and craftspeople carving out their place in America's art scene.
Stef Ratliff, also known as KYARTRAT, is a multimedia artist from Pike County, Kentucky, whose diverse array of work celebrates the culture and people of her hometown with a mix of humor and grit. Ratliff's art ranges from painting to ceramics to assemblage, taking much inspiration from honky-tonk music, Americana and folk art. Ratliff's work also represents an unusually dynamic perspective of Eastern Kentucky's sociopolitical makeup. In her seven foot long painting, Honky-Tonkin, a sticker baring the phrase “Frenemies of Coal” can be seen on a bar wall in the scene, hinting at Appalachia's complicated relationship with the coal industry, which has become tied up in their regional and political identity. Also included in the show are assembled jockey silks, brandishing Black Lives Matter fists and Pride rainbows, indicating the presence of more left-leaning politics permeating a traditionally deep-red region of the country. In that same vain, Lacy Hale, a muralist, painter and print-maker from Whitesburg, Kentucky coined the slogan “No Hate In My Holler” in 2017, and created a block print with the phrase, which is also included in this show. The phrase has become a go-to for signs in racial justice protests in the area recently, indicating the emergence of a more progressive community in an area that is predominantly white, working-class, and conservative.
Welcome to Harlan seeks to bring a piece of Kentucky culture to the more metropolitan city of Louisville, and to raise awareness of Harlan's history and future.