Best of Show artist from last year’s Arts on the Green (AOG) Kim Mahlbacher.

Experience Kim Mahlbacher’s Whimsical, Award-Winning Artwork

Picture a little girl perched on a soft, colorful hand-stitched quilt reading her favorite book. Surrounding her are some of the animals from the stories, having come to life right before her eyes.

You have just conjured up “Imagined Real,” the Best of Show artwork from last year’s Arts on the Green (AOG) winner Kim Mahlbacher. So real is her artwork that you would think the girl and her companions will strike up a conversation with you.

Mahlbacher has a deep love of nature that stems from her childhood in Anchorage, Kentucky, where she grew up on a farm. With that she combines a passion for wool to create alluring creatures that appear to have stepped right out of the pages of a fairy tale. She described being chosen as the 2023 Best of Show winner for the juried art and craft festival as being “overwhelmed, overjoyed, and extremely honored and humbled to have my piece chosen amongst the works of so many incredible artists who were showing at Arts on the Green.”

Last year’s show brought in over 80 artists, including a dozen from Oldham County, 20-plus from out of state, and 50 from across the state. Art was represented in the following categories: painting, drawing, wood, sculpture, fiber, 2D mixed media, 3D mixed media, jewelry, metal/blacksmithing, glass, photography, consumables, ceramics, and digital art.

AOG will be held on June 8 and 9, 2024, at The Maples Park in Crestwood. Organized by the Arts Association of Oldham County (AAOC), it gives artists an opportunity to display and sell handcrafted items and vie for monetary awards, ribbons and the coveted Best of Show designation.

The AAOC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission involves promoting the arts in Oldham County. This is done in a variety of ways including monthly art exhibits and competitive shows including student shows, art-themed international travel tours, as well as arts education programs and classes. Three $5,000 scholarships are awarded to graduating seniors from Oldham County Schools, and the AAOC works closely with the Kentucky Arts Council, Fund for the Arts and the Louisville Art Association. The AAOC operates Gallery 104 on historic Main Street in La Grange.

The AAOC is partnering with the Louisville Food Truck Association to provide 15 food trucks daily. West Sixth Brewing and Wildside Winery will be participating, and there will be free shuttle buses to transport attendees to and from The Maples Park, as well as designated public parking sites. Handicap parking and transport will be available on-site, as will artist parking. There will be a full lineup of local entrainment, children’s activities, and students from the Oldham County Schools Arts Center will have an Emerging Artists booth featuring local student artwork. Attendees can vote for their favorite student piece and the winner will receive a People’s Choice Award.

A panel of eight judges critiqued and scored the artwork for AOG, choosing who they thought was the best in each category, and best overall. One of the judges, Leah Tenney, a fiber artist herself, said the show “included many wonderful entries across all categories. There were eight individual pieces nominated for Best of Show, and the judging team gave special consideration to each one.”

While all of the nominees showed a high level of skill and design, Tenney said Mahlbacher’s piece stood out with an extraordinary level of creativity and craftsmanship. “Her piece communicated a rich story, full of emotion and whimsy, transporting the viewer to their own childhood memories of the magic of imagination,” Tenney said.

Mahlbacher said her handcrafted artwork “encompasses woodland creatures, fairies and animal fairies, animals wild and domestic, gentle nativities, and the garden. I try to reflect my love of nature in each piece, and to capture a whimsical, joy-filled spirit where there’s a gentle smile, a mischievous wink or imaginations from childhood. I’m of Irish descent.”

Mahlbacher said the piece was inspired by her 4-year-old granddaughter, Anna, who “loves books and making up stories about her animals and dolls – dear beyond words.”

Working primarily in fiber and wool, needle felting, and wet felting for the clothing on the pieces, she describes her work as “art which comes to life with imagination, because all the pieces are posable. They can be changed to express moments in time. I try to impart a gentleness in each piece. All have little smiles.”

While she does not raise her own sheep, she is a Kentucky Proud member and buys all her wool with curls from Kentucky breeders of Cotswold and Shetland sheep. Her wool roving comes from Ireland.

Tenney said Mahlbacher’s “dedication to her craft also stood out. Not only does she excel in needle felting, her sculptural work is entirely handmade, from the posable armature supporting each figure, the hand-dyed wool, the realistic design of both animal and human figures, the handmade garments often embellished with embroidery and found objects, to the narrative she creates. Every step is done with care, skill and meaning.”

To learn her craft, Mahlbacher said she took a three-day class with Silke Sordy, a German-born doll artist who creates fantasy worlds with needle-felted dolls resembling gnomes.

In addition, Mahlbacher took a three-day class with a fiber felting artist from Ohio, Megan Nedds. Nedds sculpts animal figures, and in her classes, students learn how to felt a variety of animals, including their own pets in certain classes.

Felting can be slow and detailed, and Mahlbacher is also self-taught. “I have no other formal artistic training and no degree in art,” she said.

She volunteered for three years while in high school with a veterinarian, Dr. Gerry Meyer, DVM, who founded Pewee Valley Veterinary Center. “This helped me with an understanding of animal structure,” she said. “I’ve also always had animals in my life.”

Mahlbacher said she has “always loved art and animals. I wanted to go to UC Berkeley art school to study after high school, but my dad said, ‘Starving artist,’ so I complied.”

Instead, she attended the University of Louisville to earn a degree to become a registered nurse. After she retired and was left with an empty nest, she returned to her love of art.

She is also skilled in papier-mâché, pen and ink, pencil, quilting, and polymer clay. Mahlbacher incorporates polymer clay into some of her pieces for parts such as hooves.
She has exhibited alongside her peers in such shows as the St. James Court Art Show, Louisville Artisans Guild Fine Arts Show, and WinterFair 2023. She is a member of the AAOC, Gallery 104, Kentucky Crafted, Louisville Artisans Guild, Louisville Area Fiber and Textile Artists, and the Professional Doll Makers Art Guild.

Organizers try to maintain a high quality of artwork for AOG. Tenney said last year’s show “was full of high-quality work across all genres and styles. The artists were so engaging and willing to share their stories and inspirations. Nearly every booth held a creative surprise, and the judging team was very impressed with the skill and creativity we saw.”

For more information about Arts on the Green, contact the director at, call 502-487-0379, or visit

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