Deep-rooted folk craft heritage, a National Register of Historic Places district dotted with galleries and a UNESCO-acknowledged art scene place Paducah, Kentucky firmly on the tourist map. Factor in affordable entertainment, convenient parking and direct access to international artisans, and youíve got a formula thatís perfect for frugal travel. Architecture enthusiasts will also find lots to love about the areaís commitment to building preservation. Here are just a few of the highlights to consider during a trip to this creative city.
Exhibits: The National Quilt Museum located on Jefferson Street near the Farmersí Market features stunning creations from a wide array of fabric artists. While you will definitely see traditional designs incorporated into the exhibit space, itís important to know ahead of time that these are not your grandmotherís quilts. In fact, itís fair to say they have nothing to do with anything you would ever place on your bed and everything to do with smashing the mental mold most people possess about quilting as an art form. Youíll see everything from forest scenes and aviation murals to bird portraits and classic literature tribute pieces. Ticket prices are $11 for adults and $5 for students.
While youíre in that part of town, make your way to the riverfront flood wall murals, a collection of more than 50 works of outdoor art featuring scenes and elements from Paducahís history. This is one of the most impressive outdoor art displays Iíve ever seen for a town this size, and itís free for the public to enjoy. Take your time, and stroll the length of the collection as you enjoy an ice cream or other fun treat from the downtown area.
Once you finish there, head up Broadway to the gazebo and catch a live demonstration from one of a number of artists who work there daily. This space is the gathering area for the Art a la Carte program, which provides free, fully-equipped art carts for artists to use as they perform their technique and showcase their finished products. Itís a great way to get to know the artist personally, and break down the barrier that galleries sometimes provide for those who arenít comfortable shopping in a more formal art setting.
Across the street is the Yeiser Art Center, which offers rotating exhibits throughout the year featuring various artists and mediums. Prices range from free to $5, and can include anything from a juried photography exhibit or fiber arts collection to a solo show.
After youíve greeted the downtown area, head to the LowerTown Arts District, an area encompassing 26 blocks of galleries and residences listed on the National Register for Historic Places. Youíll find everything from a leather artist who makes props for the Hollywood movie industry to visiting sculptors from Europe and a whole lot in between. The live-in gallery spaces allow you to enjoy the exhibits for free as you shop for something that might make a great addition to your home or office space. Fun finds include the Pinecone Art Gallery and Studio, and Gallery 5.
Education: Interested in developing your hidden creative talents? Paducah also offers a strong educational scene. For example, the Paducah School of Art and Design doesnít just offer programming for degree candidates. Travelers interested in learning more about a particular art form can schedule ahead to participate in any of the institutionís two Ė five day workshops. Topics include anything from sculpture and ceramics to photography and jewelry design. Developed for those with a serious interest only, prices can be several hundred dollars. However, if youíre needing to tweak your craft in order to take your finished products to the next level, this can be a cost-effective strategy.
If an afternoon workshop is more your speed, head to Ephemera. The brainchild of owner Kristen Williams, Ephemera offers workshop space available to traveling art instructors along with various supplies so that vacationers can train for a short time with someone skilled in a particular art form. Lessons can include anything from needle felting and mixed media, to stained glass and figure drawing. Workshop prices start at $20 and go up from there, depending on material costs.
Appetites: There are a number of eateries worth checking out while youíre passing through Paducah. With the downtown streets boasting everything from confections and coffee shops to steak houses and trendy wood-fired pizza establishments, travelers certainly wonít go hungry. A fun lunch option is Kirchoffís. A fifth-generation German bakery and deli, this venue is decorated with a funky, loft-style vibe and features a variety of satisfying sandwiches, soups and salads. For the vegetarian in your travel group, they make a hearty vegan falafel wrap, a hummus and veggie sandwich on homemade bread and a sized-for-sharing breaded eggplant thatís hearty enough for meat eaters to enjoy. The majority of their menu offerings ring in at less than $6.
Those who prefer a meatier experience should make their way to Stearnes, a local landmark decorated in retro green and serving basic Kentucky barbecue on toasted bread. Rather than drown the bread in grease, these people keep the focus strictly on the flavor of the meat and sauce. With a per-sandwich price tag of $2.75, the venue is definitely priced for the penny-pinching vacationer. The restaurantís barbecue sauce is available for purchase by the liter, for those who want to take a bit of Kentucky home in their suitcase.
Want to grab a morning coffee before hitting the galleries? Head to Etcetera in the LowerTown Arts District. Featuring baked goods and gourmet coffee for a fraction of what youíll pay at a franchise, the coffee shop offers free Wi-Fi, shaded outdoor seating thatís pet friendly, a meditative garden labyrinth and tabletops decorated with works of modern art. Etcetera also hosts open microphone events on Friday evenings.
Performances: For those in the mood for a more formal live performance, the Carson Center presents everything from Broadway hits and well-known singers to traveling dance companies and other indie acts. Located downtown near plenty of free parking, the venue provides a great opportunity to grab dinner at a nice restaurant and then stroll around the corner to see an act youíd normally have to be in a major city to experience. Past performers include Blue Man Group, Crosby Stills and Nash, Jerry Seinfeld and others. Average ticket prices range from $35 to $65, although certain childrenís performances can be seen for as little as $15 per ticket.
Maiden Alley Cinema offers an option for film buffs by featuring indie films and other performances downtown. Tickets are $7.25 for adults and $4.75 for students. If locally-produced plays are more your scene, the Market House Theater offers a range of scripts throughout the year, including productions like Young Frankenstein, To Kill a Mockingbird and Steel Magnolias, all accessible for roughly $20. Family series performances ring in a bit lower and range from $12 to $14.