Recognizing A Lifetime of Artistic Achievement

The following is excerpted and edited from the original article appearing in a recent issue of Quarterly Review, NBO’s highly-regarded print magazine, available to members only.
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Quick-witted, nimble fingered and a true National Treasure, Leona Waddell was awarded one of the first NBO lifetime Achievement Awards at Arrowmont School of Arts and Design in October, 2013. Waddell also received the 2012 Governor’s Award in the Arts from the state of Kentucky.

Meeting Leona for the first time was a treat as she attended the Biennial conference and held court everyday on the screened porch of the staff house at Arrowmont. Sometimes her proud family were with her, but there were many times when they were not, as she cavalierly and meticulously wove her baskets and shaped and sized splints with her pocket knife. Several board members and other folks that would pass by asked questions concerning her life history and prowess as a basketmaker. Leona spryly replied, keeping everyone enraptured by her stories and recollections.

 “Leona’s baskets are not only the mark of her hand but also her life story. She is not only the best maker locally, but is one of the best basketmakers in the country”–Beth Hester

Leona is one of 16 children who came from humble beginnings in Hart County, Kentucky. The family lived in conditions that we only see in third world countries today and worked in the traditional white oak, flat ribbed, style of basketry and started by “filling in” as a child at the feet of her mother. Her parents, Henry L. and Ella Mae Puckett Trulock, as well as the children, made utilitarian baskets that were sold to cover the basket needs of the family. Leona says, “folks sent my mother clothing and she responded with a return shipment of baskets and that way the children always had clothes to wear”.

Mrs. Waddell married at 18 to Elza Waddell and they had three sons and two daughters. Her humble beginnings gave her a strong work ethic and a keen eye for detail.

“Leona has made many friends over the years”, says her son-in-law Sam Peters. Dr. James Middleton in Munfordville, Kentucky has been a firm supporter of the basketmakers of Hart, County, Kentucky. His doctor’s office walls are adorned with past blue ribbon award winning baskets from the County Fair. Beth Hester and Scott Gilbert in Allen County, Kentucky have been good friends and trusted resources for advice and direction.

Leona’s basketmaking started with market baskets and then developed to making egg baskets. When her husband died in 1979 her basketmaking was done more on a regular basis. Over the years she worked on her baskets on and off and had various jobs including being a seamstress and the head baker in the public school system and her cooking is legendary, particularly her biscuits and pies.

Leona Waddell holds a partially completed White oak ribbed basket

Click here to see a video presentation of Leona’s work presented at the 2013 NBO Conference.