What is artist Lacy Hale‘s favorite artistic medium? Well, that depends. The ones she uses have different effects on her.   

She likes oil paint because it is thick, forgiving and flows, usually resulting in her being “engulfed in the paint and the subject.”   

She likes block printing because it is meditative with its combination of planning, patience and the meticulous carving away parts until there is a finished product.   

Whether it was growing up in Knott County, enrolling at the Pratt Institute in New York City, taking art classes at Morehead State University or creating everything from t-shirt print designs to giant public murals, Hale’s artwork celebrates her Appalachian roots while breaking down its stereotypes and widening its reach.   

"She Speaks and the Mountains Sing." 
Lacy Hale recently exhibited her artwork in New York City for an exhibition focusing on climate justice called “Like the Waters We Rise” in 2020. This work is called “She Speaks and the Mountains Sing.” 

With an early artistic talent and the encouraging suggestion from her high school art teacher, Hale decided to enroll and was accepted in New York City’s Pratt Institute, consistently touted as one of the top schools in the country for art and design. While she was there, she learned to respect and admire other cultures while being made to feel strange about her own.   

“I learned a lot there but also learned that as soon as folks heard me speak, they would often write me off. They would hear my accent and think that I was dumb,” she said. “It was hard to fight through some of that, but I was who I was, and I wasn’t going to change for them.”    

Even though her community helped raise money to send Hale to Pratt her first year, she returned home after two years due to expenses. She eventually decided to move to Morehead to be with her then-fiancé and now-husband Ben Spangler while he attended MSU to study English. She worked while taking some art classes to further her education in 2008 and 2009. Hale completed courses online and on-campus in studio art (admittedly, her favorite). She would attend guest speaker presentations brought to campus by the Department of Art and Design. She visited the Camden-Carroll Library to sit and quietly sketch the facility’s sculpture replicas.   

“I really enjoyed my time at Morehead. I took some really great classes with some really fantastic professors and learned a lot,” Hale said. “As a nontraditional student, the offerings at Morehead State were pretty wonderful.”   

Lacy Hale came up with the design and slogan "No Hate in My Holler" in response to a Neo-Nazi recruiting incident in Pikeville in 2017. 
Lacy Hale came up with the design and slogan “No Hate in My Holler” in response to a Neo-Nazi recruiting incident in Pikeville in 2017. 

When Hale’s father passed away and other priorities took precedent, Hale withdrew from MSU but not from her aspirations to be a full-time artist. In 2010, missing her hometown, she started getting into the idea of mural making and wanted to teach herself how to do an exterior mural.   

“I had done interior murals many times, but exterior murals require a lot more research and prep,” she said.   

After the necessary research and contacting the Appalachian Artisan Center (AAC) in Hindman, the county seat of Knott County, she created a design that honored Knott County’s creative community and collaborated with AAC to find a proper space to create her work.   

“I kind of fell in love with working the public, talking to folks, and using the opportunity as a way to educate communities about art,” she said.   

After the Hindman mural, more followed. She has since done several murals in Lexington, across the state and one in neighboring Virginia. Even though she has already completed three murals this year, with three more on the horizon (one potentially in Morehead), Hale is putting in plenty of work for her public creations.  

“The challenges to making large scale public art are to make sure that pieces are to scale and fit the spaces, that the substrate (brick, cement block, etc.) is properly primed and prepped to prolong the longevity of the works and the time and energy involved in creating the pieces,” she said. “It is manual labor and can be a lot of long hours in the sun climbing up and down scaffolding and working above your head.”   

Possum and Poke Mural in Harlan, Kentucky. 
Possum and Poke Mural in Harlan, Kentucky. 

While Hale’s art is primarily focused on aesthetic beauty, some of her work has had more potent messages. A resident of Whitesburg in Letcher County, Hale created a billboard design inspired by a 2017 incident when neo-Nazis were spotted recruiting in nearby Pikeville. It was more than design. It was a slogan: “No Hate in My Holler.”   

The slogan has become her most popular and prolific design, one that has ended up on everything from billboards to merchandise. For items she sells featuring the slogan, she donates at least 25% of proceeds to nonprofits working toward equality in the region. As of publication, she has been able to donate more than $5,000.   

She admits the slogan and how it has been received have resulted in a mix of emotions.   

“In one way, I’m incredibly encouraged that so many people have identified with the ‘No Hate in My Holler’ slogan,” she said. “But it is also disheartening that the phrase needs to be repeated and that there have been several resurgences in popularity and demand for it.”   

As Hale’s artwork continues to gain popularity and pop up in more public places, she hopes her work empowers people in the Appalachian region to dream bigger and do better.   

“Being from Eastern Kentucky and living in a very rural area for almost all of my life, I have seen the importance of creating the environment that you want to be part of.” she said. “If you want to see change and growth in your community, you have the power to make that happen. I believe that art is important and powerful and that artists can do so much good (for themselves and their communities) when we work together.”    

Tulip Popular Mural, Lexington, Kentucky. 
Tulip Popular Mural, Lexington, Kentucky. 

Lacy Hale’s artwork and merchandise can be viewed and purchased at www.lacyhale.com or www.etsy.com/shop/lacyface.   

To learn more about MSU art and design programs, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/art.