The Last Time I Saw... Paducah

Take a weekend to explore the artists’ haven that is Paducah, Kentucky. It’s only a five-hour drive from Springfield, a straight shot down Highway 60.

When I was 10, my grandmother and great-grandmother loaded my sister and me into the 1963 Pontiac and headed out on a four-day, 930-mile joyride to Chattanooga and back. We didn’t stop often, but Bubba and Mama thought that the Indian burial grounds at Wickliffe, outside Paducah, would be interesting. I still remember those mounds. But Paducah? Not really. Recently, however, I took a return trip, and things have changed!

We buzzed to Paducah with the top down on a day made for buzzing anywhere in a convertible: The sun was gentle, the breeze light, and the sumac was beginning to turn. When we arrived, we headed straight toward the heart of the city, because civic leaders’ vision and foresight helped Paducah engineer its own renaissance, turning the “downtown doldrums” into a cultural oasis. We wanted to see the historic downtown and the LowerTown Arts District.

Paducah is a river town, but before we saw the Ohio River, we saw the colorful murals painted on the flood wall that tell the town’s history. Intrigued, we continued our exploration in this part of town, parked our car in the free public parking lot—we didn’t move it until we left!—and walked around. After browsing the murals, we strolled around and saw the Carson Center for the Performing Arts, Market House Museum, Paducah Railroad Museum, River Discovery Center, Farmers’ Market and abundant antique shops. We also found a bar serving Guinness on tap! At the National Quilt Museum, I saw quilts celebrating the World Equestrian Games, which were held in Kentucky that very weekend. Not a seamstress, I nevertheless walked awestruck amid past and present, which were intertwined by an early 20th-century Singer treadle sewing machine and the newest quilting innovation: art made from whole cloth rather than from multiple colorful pieces. Wow!

Next, we went to the LowerTown Arts District. Paducah’s artist relocation program encourages studio artists to renovate residences into combination living and studio spaces and galleries in this circa-1920s neighborhood. The artists, many of whom have migrated from other parts of the country, now live, create and display their art there, including whimsical yard sculptures, such as sheet metal giraffes, and restful gardens. I could have spent my 401(k) on jewelry, leather and other interesting pieces, but I’m going to wait until the second Saturday in December. Like Springfield’s First Friday Art Walks, the District has a Second Saturday tour, when all the artists are present with their works. December’s tour will feature an Affordable Art Sale!

I loved talking with Phil Phillips, a “dying breed,” he said, who makes intricate leather goods from the hide up. Freda Fairchild is a printmaker who also dabbles in jewelry making while she “sits around” in the evenings. Carol Gabany, who runs The Egg and I (a bed & breakfast), creates delicate objets d’art from eggs: emus’, ostriches’ and even banal chickens’ eggs.

Trip Planner

Need help planning your trip to Paducah? Here are some resources to get you started.

Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau
paducah.travel

LowerTown Arts District
lowertownartdistrict.com

Carson Center for the Performing Arts
thecarsoncenter.org

Market House Museum
markethousemuseum.com

Paducah Railroad Museum
paducahrr.org

River Discovery Center
riverdiscoverycenter.org

National Quilt Museum
quiltmuseum.org

Paducah Symphony Orchestra
paducahsymphony.org

The Egg & I Bed & Breakfast
eggandiarts.com/bandb.html

Fox Briar Inn
foxbriarinn.com/riverplace

Etcetera
etccoffee.com

Cynthia’s
cynthiasristorante.com

Max’s
maxsbrickoven.com

Kirchhoff’s Bakery & Deli
kirchhoffsbakery.net

Tribeca
tribecarestaurant.ne

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