What We Do

ACEky artists structure a non-competitive, attentive atmosphere where each participant can develop clear standards for their own care-filled work. In the process of gaining knowledge and skills, we see participants become more self-reflective, and free to explore and discover.

Thinking Through Story

The stories we choose and make to share encourage the analogical thinking necessary for creating healthy relationships and for seeing oneself with compassion. We also see the inspiration participants experience through these stories turn into more hope-filled aspiration. 

The story of the Monarch butterfly provides a living analogy for the process of self-transformation.  For people locked in a cell or in an addiction, the story of growing wings takes on visceral meaning. We have seen the Phoenix legend of rebirth grip the imagination of those who can feel utterly lost to life.  The story of the mud-rooted lotus flower who rises to sunlight to bloom, is waterproof, returns to the water every night and lifts above it every morning invites a complex self-reflection that can only be described as meditative.

Cropped view of the hands of the sculptor shapes a clay plate while working at the master class for people with special needs. Stock photo

The Story of Spoil

Since 2016, when the first participant shed tears for herself upon hearing the story of strip-mine spoil, that story has been the bedrock of our collection.  Spoil is the stuff that comes from the ground with coal and gets left behind when the coal is carried away.

SPOIL Resized

For years, strip-mine spoil avalanched down mountainsides, destroyed homes, killed people and polluted water.  Spoil was seen as nothing but a problem until researchers finally revealed its miraculous power to grow trees faster than the woods.  The story of spoil as it is told in our sessions also includes the opportunity to reflect on the interconnectedness of one person’s experience with the lives of others to our culture and to the earth. 

We consistently see the spoil story generate increased self-compassion, self-understanding, and empathy among participants.  And, the clay we help gather from Eastern Kentucky strip-mine sites for participants to hand-shape will fire at nearly porcelain temperatures—another miracle covered up with misconceptions just waiting to spread its wings and take flight. Making art in response to such stories as these has yielded projects that extend the reach of incarcerated or recovering people beyond the confinement of jails and recovery centers.  The spoil-clay leaf mobiles project is a primary example.

The Spoil Clay Leaf Mobiles Project

This project originated in the heartbreak of men confined in the Kentucky River Regional Jail who were undergoing separation from their children.  Together with jail administrator Lonnie Brewer, the men in KRRJ Men’s Recovery Cell decided reach out to the young.



Through this project, participants will learn and share knowledge about the Appalachian Forest and its trees, the history of their region, and the culture that shapes their lives.

Hand-shaping spoil-clay leaves from patterns taken from native trees enables participants to create beauty and design function from materials at hand.  And, they will experience the self-respect that comes from exerting and sharing one’s best effort. 

We believe their efforts will be recognized among community members for what they are:  gifts from fellow community members who are trying, as we all are, to find their way in the world and to live in ways that are responsible to themselves and others.

Spoil-Clay Leaf Mobile Project

If your classroom or school system would like to participant,
please contact us.

Even though the spoil-clay project has been interrupted many times by COVID-19, participants tell us it continues to inspire them to live from and share their highest wisdom—and to committing to a lifetime of recovery.



  What this means to people who are intimately aware of their separation from community is beautiful. 


What their gifts can mean to the young is infinite in possibility for helping beautiful life stories come to be.  The re-creation of family and community relationships this project may bring about is the kind of difference that can enable participants and their communities to make and sustain change.


Moving Forward

2021 marked the year ACEky added people to our roster who are in lifetime recovery, and who have learned or relearned the value of art-making in their lives through participating in our sessions.
Hands of female artist holding messy dirty palette  with different paints and paintbrush in art studio. Lifestyle and hobby concept


Their presence among us as working artists also marks the fulfillment of an early aspiration we see as being a logical end for our wholistic approach–to help those we serve attain right livelihood. 


Help Support Our Work

If you are interested in volunteering for ACEky