…I never intended or thought of my carvings as art when I was doing them over the first forty-five years. They were really more like the doodling one does when talking on the phone or listening to a dull speaker. Oh, I enjoyed doing most of them and many of them had a special meaning to me, but I never had much thought or intent of gaining any money or notoriety from them. They were done just primarily for the fun of doing them, and in some cases to somehow try to preserve a memory or image of some favorite item. Others just seemed interesting enough to want to make them. …Trucks and farm equipment have always been, and still are, my favorites to make. I enjoy making most anything, but they are what I like to do best.
From, Thoughts as I Prepare for: A Rural Life: The Art of Lavern Kelley,” catalogue, Lavern Kelley: A Rural Life, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, 1989
Kelley began carving at age seven when he was given a pocketknife. He created art the rest of his life, despite considerable hardships. Kelley did not formally exhibit his work in galleries until he was in his late 50s. At that time he began to show his wood sculpture at Cooperstown’s Gallery 53, a non-profit arts center founded by Sydney Waller with Ann Gabler. Kelley’s reputation blossomed, earning commissions and recognition: the NYS Council on the Arts awarded a Folk Artist in Residence grant to Mr. Kelley in 1986. He exhibited regularly and served on folk art panels. His advocates include the renowned Keno brothers.
When Lavern Kelley was alive nothing pleased him more than to share his work with the public. He regularly presented carving demonstrations including at The Farmers Museum.
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