Knox heritage lives through art

Ruth Cross displays her intricate, hand-woven baskets.
Photo by Tasha Stewart Ruth Cross displays her intricate, hand-woven baskets.

Two local artists came together at an art showcase with one major goal in mind: preserve Knox County’s heritage.

Ruth Cross and Bobby Joe Turner put their artwork on display at the Barbourville Visitor Center. Cross brought several of her hand-woven baskets and Turner’s display included his Native American craft and woodwork. Both were present during the showcase to discuss their respective crafts and how they connect to the local area.

Although their individual crafts are different, the two artists have many similarities in their stories. Cross and Turner have traced their family roots back to this area. As a result, both feel a special connection to the Appalachian region and are adamant to preserve the memory of the place they call home. This is what fueled the passion behind their work.

Cross embraces her Appalachian roots by incorporating native plants into her baskets such as sweetgrass, grapevine and cattails. She also ingeniously created handles for her baskets out of quilting hoops, tying local quilting traditions into her own craft.

Along with his jewelry, canes and knives, Turner preserves the area through his paintings. His artwork beautifully depicts different areas around Knox County, including Cranes Nest Branch Road where a special connection exists between his craft and the land.

Photo by Tasha Stewart Bobby Joe Turner ready to talk about his Native American crafts, woodwork and his scenic paintings.
Photo by Tasha Stewart
Bobby Joe Turner ready to talk about his Native American crafts, woodwork and his scenic paintings.

“I try to stay within as much tradition as I can,” said Turner who embraces the beauty that has surrounded his family for many generations. “That’s the reason I moved up here with my kids and my wife.”

While both agree preserving local heritage is very important, they also state their crafts keep them connected to their own wellbeing.

“Through my life I’ve sampled all kinds of different crafts. But when I found baskets, that was my niche,” said Cross. “I don’t want to spend my life catering to what’s going to make me some money. I’m going to have to do some of that but I’d rather spend a week making one [basket] that’s worthy of being in the Smithsonian.”

“It’s good for the mind,” agreed Turner.

Their artwork will be on display through July 28 at the Visitor Center. Everyone in the community is encouraged to stop by and view the culturally rich pieces.