New mural an effort to overcome a disaster and a near-miss

October 6, 2015
Sergio Odeith, a Portuguese mural artist, began work Monday on a 30-by-70-foot mural of jazz great Louis Armstrong and his trumpet on the side of Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane. Photos by Tom Eblen

Sergio Odeith, a Portuguese mural artist, began work Monday on a 30-by-70-foot mural of jazz great Louis Armstrong on the side of Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane. Photos by Tom Eblen


Jazz great Louis Armstrong played at a private party at the old Phoenix Hotel in 1961 and, according to some people’s memories, he might have performed at the Lyric Theatre in its heyday.

Now, a larger-than-life Satchmo is starting a more public and permanent gig between those two historic venues.

Portuguese artist Sergio Odeith began work Tuesday on a photo-realistic mural of Armstrong and his trumpet on the 30-foot by 70-foot south wall of Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane.

Odeith is here as part of the fifth annual PRHBTN festival, which brings renowned street artists from all over the world to Lexington to create spray-painted murals.

This is Odeith’s second trip to PRHBTN. He returned because a mural of running horses that he painted on a Bryan Avenue building in November 2013 was accidently painted over in June.

Entrepreneur Griffin VanMeter’s North Limestone Community Development Corp. had contributed $2,500 toward the first mural on a building now occupied by Kentucky for Kentucky, another VanMeter venture, which sells Kentucky-themed merchandise.

But on June 9, as VanMeter was in Louisville to speak about “community place-making” and the value of public art, contractors he had hired to prime the wall beside Odeith’s mural for another piece of art painted over it instead.

“A picture of that mural was in my slide show as it was, unbeknownst to me, being covered up,” he said. “We just had this kind of ‘Oh crap’ moment.”

VanMeter quickly emailed an apology to Odeith and offered to bring him back to Lexington for another commission.

“He was really cool about it,” VanMeter said. “He was like, ‘These things happen.'”

But as Odeith returned Friday to paint a mural of singer Billie Holiday on a wall of the Limestone Street building that houses the Institute 193 art gallery and the French restaurant Le Deauville, the building’s owner backed out.

“These murals are almost like tattoos,” VanMeter said. “They have to really speak to you, because you live with them for a long time.”

That set off a desperate search for another available wall. VanMeter posted pleas on Facebook and contacted Lexington mural artist Dani Greene. She suggested the wall at Lighthouse Ministries, a social service agency, and approached its executive director, Tay Henderson, on VanMeter’s behalf.

Because that wall is bigger and more horizontal, Odeith decided the Billie Holiday image wouldn’t work. He suggested an image of Armstrong and his trumpet instead.

“I was elated,” said Henderson, who has operated Lighthouse Ministries from the building for 12 years. “He’s a world-renowned artist and he’s such a nice guy. I love his idea. I think it will help bring the community together.”

During a break from painting, Odeith, 39, said the Armstrong image will create a positive tone for people who come to Lighthouse Ministries for food and help rebuilding their lives. He said the image will include the title of Amstrong’s famous song, What a Wonderful World, and a message of love and encouragement.

“Like the Lincoln mural, I think this piece could really become an iconic image for Lexington,” VanMeter said.

Kentucky for Kentucky is paying about $10,000 toward the mural’s cost, including paint, lift machines, Odeith’s travel costs and artist’s fee. It is also making a $1,000 donation to Lighthouse Ministries.

VanMeter said he hopes to have a dedication ceremony for the mural early next week, as Odeith is finishing it. He was supposed to have begun Saturday, but bad weather, the search for a new wall and prep work delayed the start until Tuesday.

Odeith must leave town by next Wednesday; he has two commissions scheduled in Charleston, S.C., and one in Portugal, VanMeter said.

Despite his first mural being painted over, and almost not having a wall for his second, Odeith said he loves Lexington and was happy to return.

“I’ve been telling to Griffin and all the people that he was missing me,” he said. “So he found a way to bring me back.”




If You Go


What: Fifth edition of the popular street art festival


MrDheo and Pariz One: Chase Brewing Co., 266 Jefferson St.

Odeith: Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane, Oct. 6-12.

Sheryo & The Yok: Oneness Boutique, 431 Jersey St. Oct. 6-10. Parking lot party 5-8 p.m. Oct. 7.

Hitnes: LexPark Garage, 350 Short St., Oct. 9-12.


Featuring Jon Dose and Jamples: 9:30 p.m. Oct. 9. Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. $5.


Live painting by area artists, food and beverage and other events: Noon-9 p.m. Oct. 10, Lexington Distillery District, Manchester Street.

More info:

CentrePit wrap will have photos of Lexington scenes and characters

October 3, 2015

How can Lexington hide CentrePit from Breeders’ Cup visitors later this month?

Well, it can’t. The colossal hole is 40 feet deep, a city block square and has two tower cranes poking out of it.

But the creative team at Cornett advertising is working furiously to make sure visitors see something more interesting than a stalled development.

Clay Gibson and Tim Jones have been gathering photos from the Lexington Herald-Leader, the University of Kentucky and other archives. About 150 of those images will be assembled into a fabric mural that will wrap the CentrePointe fence.

In addition to hiding the weed-rimmed pit, the mural will offer a visual diary of Lexington’s history, culture and characters, along with Randy Steward’s giant hand-lettered words: “Lexington, Kentucky, Horse Capital of the World”.

Lynn Imaging’s Monster Color will print the 7-foot-tall mural in 25-foot sections, for a total of 1,335 feet around the block’s perimeter along Main, Upper, Vine and Limestone streets.

The Webb Companies, which has been trying to build the mixed-use CentrePointe project since 2008 and recently turned it over to another developer, gave permission for the project.

“We want to reflect on who we were, who we are now and maybe who we want to be,” said Kip Cornett, president of Cornett and organizer of the Breeders’ Cup Festival. “For out-of-town visitors, it will show there’s a little spice to this town.”

Sure, there will be the typical landscape, horse racing and basketball photos. But the mural also will have pictures of people such as Keeneland odds-maker Mike Battaglia, the great jockey Eddie Arcaro and the Triple Crown winner Secretariat.

There are photos of University of Kentucky basketball greats, including a joint portrait of coaches Adolph Rupp and Paul “Bear” Bryant during that golden era when both the basketball and football teams were national powers.

Semi-historical moments include the first Camry rolling off Toyota’s Georgetown assembly line and the recently restored Skuller’s clock on Main Street after it was blown down by a storm in the 1970s.

There is a picture of Anita Madden, Lexington’s former queen of over-the-top parties. And one of the real queen: Elizabeth II of Great Britain, on the first of her many trips to Central Kentucky.

There are photos of other famous visitors, too: Presidents Kennedy, Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon; actors Judy Garland, Gregory Peck, Pat Boone and Elizabeth Taylor; writer Hunter S. Thompson speaking at UK; and Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his muscles for students at Bryan Station High School.

There are photos of long-gone buildings that once defined Lexington’s skyline: Union Station, the Ben Ali Theatre, Stoll Field and the old Lexington Roller Mills factory that stood where Triangle Park is now.

Historic moment photos include the 2003 ice storm, the castle on fire, Vietnam war protesters marching down Main Street and Prohibition-era policemen pouring bourbon down the drain — an unthinkable act in modern Lexington.

Team Cornett has been searching for just the right images of famous and colorful characters such as first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, jockey Isaac Murphy, artist Henry Faulkner, sports announcer Cawood Ledford, actor Jim Varney, madam Belle Brezing and Carlos “Little Enis” Toadvine, the “world’s greatest left-handed upside down guitar player.”

More recent figures in the photographs include longtime philharmonic conductor George Zack, sportscaster Tom Hammond, former Gov. Martha Layne Collins, blues guitarist T.D. Young and Crank & Boom ice cream entrepreneur Toa Green.

There are modern scenes from restaurants, the farmer’s market, craft breweries, Cup of Common Wealth coffee shop and the urban agriculture non-profit Foodchain. And don’t be surprised to see a Parkette po-boy or Charlie’s fish sandwich.

“For locals, it’s a good reminder, a good history lesson,” said Gibson, the young designer assembling the mural. “Especially for people of my generation who don’t know all these nuggets.”

The Breeders’ Cup Festival is paying for the mural from its sign budget, Cornett said. He didn’t know the exact cost, but said Monster Color is printing it at a discount. His goal is to have it up by Oct. 18.

The mural will be sturdy enough to stay up long after the Breeders’ Cup ends Oct. 31. That’s good, since there is no telling how long CentrePit will continue to be a blot on Lexington’s landscape.

This is a draft of several long sections of the mural that will wrap the fence on the CentrePointe block in time for the Breeders' Cup Festival. Each row of images will be 54 inches high as part of a 7-foot-high wrap that will be 1,335 feet long. Image courtesy of Cornett

This is a draft of several long sections of the mural that will wrap the fence on the CentrePointe block in time for the Breeders’ Cup Festival. Each row of images will be 54 inches high as part of a 7-foot-high wrap that will be 1,335 feet long. Image courtesy of Cornett

Writers Crystal Wilkinston, Ronald Davis reopen Wild Fig Books

September 8, 2015
Writers Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis are reopening their Wild Fig Books in a renovated turn-of-the-century house on North Limestone after closing an earlier store in Meadowthorpe. Photo by Tom Eblen |

Writers Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis are reopening Wild Fig Books on North Limestone after closing an earlier store in Meadowthorpe. Photos by Tom Eblen


Writers, partners and book-lovers Crystal Wilkinson and Ronald Davis struggled to run Wild Fig Books in the Meadowthorpe Shopping Center for nearly four years before they shut the doors for good in February.

“There was such an outpouring when we closed,” said Wilkinson, who also is Appalachian Writer in Residence at Berea College. “People were so upset.”

But those people were thrilled when they heard Wild Fig Books & Coffee was opening this week in a renovated turn-of-the-century cottage at 726 North Limestone.

Still, some friends wonder if Wilkinson and Davis have lost their minds. In a retail landscape dominated by, e-readers and chain stores, few business niches are tougher these days than the independent bookstore.

“We get these earnest looks,” Wilkinson said. “People cup our hands and say, ‘You are so brave!’ We just roll our eyes.”

Wilkinson and Davis hope things will be different this time, thanks to a new business format and location.

150901WildFig-TE023The first Wild Fig was a reincarnation of Morgan Adams Books, a used bookstore Mary Morgan ran for more than 20 years on Leestown Road. The couple bought her store in June 2011 as other shops and websites were becoming competitors. The big blow came when the chain Half-Price Books opened a second Lexington location.

The old Wild Fig had a stock of about 20,000 mostly used books, which it bought from customers. Davis said the new store, a much smaller space, will have maybe 4,000 books, most of them new literary titles.

The new store also will have a coffee bar run by their daughter, Delainia Wilkinson, who has worked four years for Pat Gerhard at Third Street Stuff & Coffee.

“We’re going to be a very niche market here,” Wilkinson said, more along the lines of the successful Morris Book Shop in Chevy Chase. “We’re going to have what I call a literary boutique — books, clothing items or bags that have literary themes. We’re not going to try to compete with the big-box stores.”

Davis said that while the Leestown Road location was convenient to their home in Meadowthorpe, many customers told them they lived in the redeveloping neighborhoods along North Limestone.

“So, after about three years of that, we said, apparently we need to be somewhere near Limestone,” he said.

Soon after the first Wild Fig closed, they began talking with entrepreneur and marketing executive Griffin VanMeter about an old house he had just bought to renovate and lease at the corner of North Limestone and Eddie Street.

150901WildFig-TE007The couple thinks the neighborhood is a good fit for their ambitions. For the past seven years, Al’s Bar down the street has been home to Holler Poets, a popular monthly series of readings organized by poet Eric Sutherland.

“There’s already sort of a literary community,” Wilkinson said. “So many of our art and literary friends are either over here or clamoring to get over here. There’s a happening.”

Wilkinson is already planning readings, literary classes and public discussions that could be held at various places in the neighborhood. “We know we won’t necessarily have the space, so we’ll have to collaborate, which is also exciting,” she said.

Davis just published a book of poetry and art, Caul & Response (Argus House Press, $18). Wilkinson is a widely published poet and short-story writer who was among the founders of the Affrilachian Poets group. In March, the University Press of Kentucky will publish her first novel, The Birds of Opulence.

One decision the couple faced when resurrecting Wild Fig was whether to change the name, which is taken from a 1983 poem, “Wild Figs and Secret Places,” by the reclusive Lexington writer Gayl Jones, one of Wilkinson’s favorites.

Because the old store and new one will be so different, they considered other names. Playing off the North Limestone area’s new moniker, NoLi, Davis suggested calling it NoLiBrary. But, after much debate, they stuck with Wild Fig.

“We’re artists who own a business, and we’re trying to figure out how to make that work,” Wilkinson said, noting that writers have a natural affection for bookstores. “We couldn’t imagine ourselves, as much as we like ice cream, having the same passion for owning an ice cream parlor or a tire-changing place or a laundromat, although we probably would make more money.”

Sculptor seeks more statues of notable Kentucky women, minorities

July 25, 2015
Sculptor Amanda Matthews and her husband, sculptor Brad Connell, operate Prometheus Foundry on their farm outside Lexington. They posed in their studio with a commissioned statue of early Kentucky aviator Solomon Van Meter, the inventor of the backpack parachute, and a personal sculpture Matthews is creating.  Photo by Tom Eblen

Sculptor Amanda Matthews and her husband, sculptor Brad Connell, operate Prometheus Foundry on their farm outside Lexington. They posed in their studio with a commissioned statue of early Kentucky aviator Solomon Van Meter, the inventor of the backpack parachute, and a personal sculpture Matthews is creating. Photo by Tom Eblen


A bronze statue of Catherine Spalding, a Catholic nun who led the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in creating early schools, orphanages and hospitals in Kentucky, will be unveiled Sunday outside the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville.

It is the first public statue honoring a woman in Louisville, and one of only a few in Kentucky.

In the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort, there are no statues of women or minorities. There are statues of five white men there, although officials are discussing whether to evict Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

In 2010, Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Commission on Women announced a 10-year project to add two statues of women in the rotunda. The effort was to begin with a feasibility study.

But when Amanda Matthews checked on the progress of that study last year, she was disappointed. She decided to launch her own effort to show that statues of notable Kentucky women are feasible — and to start creating them.

Matthews, majority owner of Prometheus Foundry in Lexington, has formed the non-profit Artemis Initiative to sponsor creation of such statues for display in public spaces throughout the Commonwealth.

“Because of historical gender inequity, women’s history just doesn’t have the depth and breadth of men’s history,” Matthews said.

To help demonstrate feasibility, Matthews has created a model for a statue of education pioneer Nettie Depp. She was elected Barren County’s schools superintendent in 1913, seven years before women were allowed to vote.

Depp’s four years in office revolutionized that school system. She renovated schools and built new ones, created libraries, improved curricula and a tripled enrollment by aggressively enforcing truancy laws.

Sculptor Amanda Matthews' model for a statue of Nettie Depp. Photo by Tom Eblen

Sculptor Amanda Matthews’ model for a statue of Nettie Depp. Photo by Tom Eblen

She was one of 40 Kentucky women profiled in the film “Dreamers and Doers,” which Lexington filmmaker Michael Breeding produced this year for the Kentucky Commission on Women. It is now showing on Kentucky Educational Television.

Matthews said she chose Depp as her example because she had access to family photographs. Depp was her great-great aunt — a relationship she shares with actor Johnny Depp.

“But the entire idea behind the sculpture of Nettie Depp has very little to do with Nettie Depp,” Matthews said. “It has everything to do with me as a sculptor and us as a foundry showing people that it’s feasible to create statues of women.”

In studios at their small farm on Russell Cave Road, Matthews and her husband, sculptor Brad Connell, create their own work, cast other artists’ sculptures into finished bronzes and repair statues. They were recently in the news for restoring the bronze children on the James Lane Allen fountain in Gratz Park.

“Foundry work is a very male-dominated industry,” Matthews said. “It has not been without its challenges to be a female owner of a foundry.”

The Artemis Initiative, named for the goddess of ancient Greek mythology, has formed a board of directors and received non-profit tax status. Matthews said she soon hopes to get state approval to begin fundraising.

The organization’s goal is to fund proposals for creating public art in Kentucky that “elevates the status of women, children, minorities, nature and animals.” Matthews believes that public art creates conversations and that a broader representation in that art will lead to improvements in Kentucky society.

“So many under-represented groups of people have contributed to the rich history of Kentucky,” she said.

Kentucky has only a few public statues of notable women. Among them: Alice Lloyd, on the Knott County campus of the college named for her; riverboat pilot Mary B. Greene on the Riverwalk in Covington; Mary Draper Ingles, a pioneer woman who escaped Native American captivity, outside the Boone County Public Library in Burlington; and educator Elizabeth Rogers in a Berea park.

There are many Kentucky artists capable of producing this work. For example, there are two noted Louisville sculptors: Ed Hamilton, famous for his statues of great African Americans; and Raymond Graf, who created the Spalding and Lloyd statues.

Matthews emphasizes that she isn’t pushing for a memorial to her relative; it is just an example of what can be done.

“My involvement has only been to say that there are people in Kentucky, like myself, and there are businesses in Kentucky, like Prometheus Foundry, who can absolutely make this happen.”

Saved 75 years ago, Duncan Tavern celebrates with quilt exhibit

July 21, 2015
Kathy Stammerman's 2012 national champion quilt is displayed on a table at Duncan Tavern beneath a portrait of Julia Spencer Ardery, who spearheaded a drive to save the circa 1788 building from demolition in 1940 to make it a museum and headquarters for the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Photo by Tom Eblen

Kathy Stammerman’s 2012 national champion quilt is displayed on a table at Duncan Tavern beneath a portrait of Julia Spencer Ardery, who spearheaded a drive to save the circa 1788 building from demolition in 1940 to make it a museum and headquarters for the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Photo by Tom Eblen


PARIS — It almost became one of those all-too-common Kentucky stories: an historic building abused and neglected for so long that most people thought it would make a better parking lot.

Fortunately, Duncan Tavern had a different fate.

The former inn, built in 1788, and an adjoining 1803 house were rescued from the wrecking ball in 1940 by Julia Spencer Ardery and an enterprising group of ladies. It became a museum, genealogy library and headquarters of the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

The DAR is celebrating the 75th anniversary of that accomplishment, as well as the national organization’s 125th anniversary, with a show of 65 antique and modern Kentucky quilts at Duncan Tavern Historic Center through Sept. 9.

“Some of the stories of our quilts are unbelievable,” said Donna Hughes, who oversees the building, where the exhibit opened in April. “This has been a main attraction for us, and very successful.”

The quilts, which range from modern pieces to a family heirloom stitched in 1844, were loaned by members of the 85 DAR chapters across the state.

This is a detail of a log cabin pattern quilt made by Patricia Conway of Shepherdsville from horse competition ribbons she won, mostly in the 1960s. It is part of an exhibit of 65 Kentucky quilts at Duncan Tavern. Photo by Tom Eblen

This is a detail of a log cabin pattern quilt made by Patricia Conway of Shepherdsville from horse competition ribbons she won, mostly in the 1960s. It is part of an exhibit of 65 Kentucky quilts at Duncan Tavern. Photo by Tom Eblen

“This is one of my favorite quilts,” said Kay Thomas, the DAR’s state curator, as she pointed to one made by Patricia Conway of Shepherdsville from ribbons she won at horse competitions in the 1960s.

“I’ve seen some quilts like this that were, well, tacky,” Thomas said. “But she has done a beautiful job.”

One purpose of the quilt exhibit is to draw attention to Duncan Tavern, which has a remarkable story.

Joseph Duncan built a cabin on the site in 1784, two years after receiving the land as a grant for his service in the Revolutionary War.

By 1788, four years before Kentucky became a state, he had built the biggest house in Paris, which was then called Hopewell. It had three stories and 20 rooms, including a ballroom. The walls were made of limestone at a time when almost every other building in town was made of logs.

Duncan saw a business opportunity in his location on the public square. In 1795, he turned the house into a tavern and inn called The Goddess of Liberty. Patrons included pioneers Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton.

About 1800, Duncan left his wife, Anne, and six young children to make a trip back to Virginia. “We have no record of him after he left here,” Hughes said.

With her husband vanished, Anne Duncan leased the tavern and had an adjoining house built for herself and her children, who all became educated and successful. Son Joseph Duncan Jr. moved to Illinois, where he became the state’s sixth governor (1834-1838) after serving four terms in Congress.

The inn later became a “respectable” boarding house. But by the 1930s, it was a shabby tenement that housed 13 families. The limestone had been covered with stucco and painted barn red. Paris officials condemned the building and planned to demolish it, until Ardery stepped in.

She convinced city officials to sell the property for $1, then she raised money for a seven-year restoration. The DAR furnished the tavern with donated and loaned Kentucky antiques. As other historic homes in the region were demolished, mantles and other fine woodwork was salvaged and incorporated into the tavern’s interior.

The DAR restored the adjoining Anne Duncan House in 1955, and the log-and-clapboard structure was faced with limestone. (That’s something preservationists would never do now, but it matched.)

A banquet room was added behind the tavern, and a cellar was dug out to create a large genealogy library. It is named for Bourbon County author John Fox Jr., the first American novelist to write a million-seller, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come. The library contains his desk and other artifacts.

“We had a gentleman here this morning from Idaho,” Hughes said. “He was tracing his family line and it ended up being right here in Bourbon County.”

If you go

Duncan Tavern Quilt Exhibit

Where: Duncan Tavern Historic Center, 323 High St., Paris

When: Tours at 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday through Sept. 9

Cost: $10 adults; reduced rates for seniors, DAR members, children and military

More information: or (859) 987-1788

A crazy quilt from 1889 is part of a display of 65 antique and modern quilts from across Kentucky on display until Sept. 8 at Duncan Tavern in Paris.  Photo by Tom Eblen

A crazy quilt from 1889 is part of a display of 65 antique and modern quilts from across Kentucky on display through Sept. 9 at Duncan Tavern in Paris. Photo by Tom Eblen

Kay Thomas, left, Betty Willmott, center, and Donna Hughes helped organize a show of 65 antique and modern quilts from across Kentucky to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the restoration of circa 1788 Duncan Tavern as a museum and headquarters of the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. They are shown in the tavern's second floor hallway.  Photo by Tom Eblen

Kay Thomas, left, Betty Willmott, center, and Donna Hughes helped organize a show of 65 antique and modern quilts from across Kentucky to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the restoration of circa 1788 Duncan Tavern as a museum and headquarters of the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. They are shown in the tavern’s second floor hallway. Photo by Tom Eblen

Quilts are displayed with early Kentucky antique furniture at Duncan Tavern, a circa 1788 building that since 1940 has been a museum and headquarters of the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The quilt show, which runs through Sept. 8, celebrates the 75th anniversary of the tavern's renovation and the 125th anniversary of the DAR's founding. Photo by Tom Eblen

Quilts are displayed with early Kentucky antique furniture at Duncan Tavern, a circa 1788 building that since 1940 has been a museum and headquarters of the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The quilt show, which runs through Sept. 8, celebrates the 75th anniversary of the tavern’s renovation and the 125th anniversary of the DAR’s founding. Photo by Tom Eblen

Quilts are displayed with early Kentucky antique furniture at Duncan Tavern, a circa 1788 building that since 1940 has been a museum and headquarters of the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The quilt show, which runs through Sept. 8, celebrates the 75th anniversary of the tavern's renovation and the 125th anniversary of the DAR's founding. Photo by Tom Eblen

Quilts are displayed with early Kentucky antique furniture at Duncan Tavern, a circa 1788 building that since 1940 has been a museum and headquarters of the Kentucky Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The quilt show, which runs through Sept. 9, celebrates the 75th anniversary of the tavern’s renovation and the 125th anniversary of the DAR’s founding. Photo by Tom Eblen

Now that we’re talking about statues, who else should we honor?

July 14, 2015

Mayor Jim Gray has asked the city's Arts Review Board to study, take comments and make recommendations about this 1911 statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and an 1887 statue of John C. Breckinridge outside the old Fayette County Courthouse. Photo by Tom Eblen

Mayor Jim Gray has asked the city’s Arts Review Board to study, take comments and make recommendations about this 1911 statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and an 1887 statue of John C. Breckinridge outside the old Fayette County Courthouse. Photo by Tom Eblen


One consensus that seemed to emerge from last week’s public forum on local Confederate statues and symbols of slavery was that Lexington’s history should be presented in a more accurate and complete way.

Mayor Jim Gray opened the forum organized by the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning by announcing he had asked the city’s Arts Review Board to study, gather comments and make recommendations about the placement and presentation of two controversial statues and an historical marker about slavery outside the old Fayette County Courthouse.

The statues are of Confederate Gens. John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, also a former U.S. vice president, who lived in Lexington. The statues were erected in 1911 and 1887, respectively, at the behest of Confederate memorial groups with considerable funding from taxpayers. The slavery marker was erected in 2003 and paid for by Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity.

Several people spoke against the statues at the forum, saying they should be moved or removed. But I thought the wisest comments came from panelist Yvonne Giles, who knows more about and has done more to promote black history in Lexington than perhaps anyone.

“Rather than spending money moving statues, create new ones that tell the rest of the story,” Giles said. “African Americans were crucial to the development of Lexington.”

“We wouldn’t be talking about it if it weren’t for those monuments,” she added. “Public art creates conversations.”

Giles named a couple of black Lexingtonians worth memorializing, and I can think of several more. I also can think of several great women from Lexington history — and white men who did not fight for the Confederacy.

What other people from Lexington’s history do you think are worth honoring and remembering? Comment on this column online, or send me an email.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s keep the nominations to people who are no longer living. In fact, I like the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission’s rule that people honored with monuments should have been dead for at least 40 years so their place in history can be more accurately assessed.

Here are some names I would suggest:

William Wells Brown (1814-1884) the first black American to publish a novel, a travelogue, a song book and a play. He also wrote three volumes of black history, including the first about black military service in the Civil War. He then became a physician, and he did all of this after escaping slavery. Brown said he was born in Lexington, but new research shows he probably came from Montgomery County.

Lewis Hayden (1811-1889) was born into slavery in Lexington, escaped and settled in Boston, where he became a famous activist against slavery. After the Civil War, he also worked for black education and women’s suffrage. Like Brown, his dramatic life story would make a great movie.

Mary E. Britton (1855-1925) was Lexington’s first and, for many years, only licensed black female doctor. Educated at Berea College, she also was a journalist and influential civil rights and women’s rights activist.

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge (1872-1920) was a social reformer from Lexington whose many causes included women’s suffrage, juvenile justice reform, tuberculosis treatment, job training, parks and recreation.

Laura Clay (1849-1941) of Lexington was another nationally known advocate for women’s suffrage and equal rights. At the 1920 Democratic National Convention, she became the first women nominated for president by a major political party.

Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866-1945) was the first Kentuckian to win a Nobel Prize, in 1933 for medicine. More than that, he was one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century because of his research into genetics and embryology and his approach to scientific experimentation. And, by the way, he was the Confederate general’s nephew.

I can think of several others, but that’s a good start. Send me your ideas. If I get enough good ones, I’ll write about them.

Statues of bronze and stone are not the only ways to memorialize notable people with public art. One of my favorite additions to the downtown skyline is Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra’s colorful 2013 mural of Abraham Lincoln on the back wall of the Kentucky Theatre.

Kentuckians of all genders and races have made important contributions, not only to this city and state but to civilization. It is important to remember them not just because of what they did, but for the examples they provide for what is possible.

History shouldn’t be erased, but made more accurate and complete

July 4, 2015
The statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan outside the old Fayette County Courthouse was erected in 1911 as part of a well-organized Confederate memorial movement. Photo by Tom Eblen |

The statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan was erected in front of the old Fayette County Courthouse in 1911 at the behest of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Taxpayers paid $7,500 of the $15,000 cost after private fundraising efforts fell short. Photo by Tom Eblen


I went to see Gone With The Wind last week at the Kentucky Theatre, the same place where I saw it the first time almost five decades ago.

The 1939 movie is a classic, and quite entertaining. As a credible account of history, though, it is laughable. Given modern views about racial equality, parts of it are downright offensive.

What I knew this time, but not the first, was that Gone With The Wind was the ultimate expression of how the Civil War’s losers fought long and hard to win the battle for collective memory.

By spinning history and erecting hundreds of monuments across the South, Confederate veterans, their descendants and sympathizers sought to sanitize, romanticize and mythologize the rebel legacy. It became a noble “lost cause” of gallant cavaliers, Southern belles, moonlight and magnolias.

Most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves but fought out of loyalty to their state. But the ugly fact is that the Confederacy’s main goals were to preserve an economy based on slavery and a society grounded in white supremacy.

As Robert Penn Warren, the grandson of a Confederate veteran, wrote in his great 1961 essay, The Legacy of the Civil War, “When one is happy in forgetfulness, facts get forgotten.”

As desegregation and civil rights began roiling America in the 1940s, many Southern whites embraced Confederate symbolism again, with a nasty twist. They added the battle flag on their state flags, flew it from public buildings and waved it in defiance.

Over the next half-century, discrimination was outlawed and racism became less socially acceptable. Confederate symbolism became more benign — at least to white people. Many now see the rebel flag as a symbol of “heritage not hate” and of regional pride and identity.

Besides, since so many outsiders look down on Southerners, we like being rebels, with or without a cause.

But the racist massacre at a Charleston, S.C., church has forced us to confront the fact that the Confederate flag has been tainted by racism as surely as the ancient swastika was by Nazism.

We also are re-evaluating the propriety of state-sanctioned monuments to the Confederacy. Should they stay, or should they go? It’s a complicated question.

A CNN/ORC poll surveyed 1,017 Americans last week and found that 57 percent see the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride, 33 percent see it as a symbol of racism and 5 percent see it as both. But there was a stark racial divide: while 66 percent of whites think it symbolizes pride, only 17 percent of blacks see it that way.

Interestingly, though, a majority of both blacks and whites said they were against renaming streets and highways that honor Confederate leaders.

That finding is pertinent to Kentucky, a divided slave state that remained in the union but embraced Confederate identity after the war, amid decades of racist violence.

What should be done with the Jefferson Davis statue in the state Capitol rotunda? Move it to a museum.

The physical heart of state government should be a place to honor Kentuckians of the past whose lives and ideals set examples for the future. There are many more worthy of that honor than the Confederate president.

What about the statues beside the old Fayette County courthouse of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate raider, and John C. Breckinridge, a former U.S. vice president who became a Confederate general and secretary of war?

The Davis statue, placed in the Capitol in 1936, and Morgan statue, placed on what was then the courthouse lawn in 1911, have similar histories: they were erected at the behest of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Breckinridge’s statue went up in 1887. State taxpayers subsidized the cost of all three statues.

The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning will host a free public forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss these issues. Mayor Jim Gray is to be among the speakers.

To me, these two monuments present a more complicated situation than the Davis statue. The old courthouse is no longer a seat of government, but a space used to commemorate Lexington’s history. For better or worse, those men, their statues and the forces that put them there are significant parts of that history.

This is what I would do: leave Morgan where he is, but rewrite the historical marker to say that some thought he was a hero while others considered him a terrorist. And explain that this statue played a big role in the influential Confederate memorial movement.

As for Breckinridge, I would move him to the back of the old courthouse lawn. That is where, in 2003, a long-overdue historical marker was placed to explain that one-fourth of Lexington’s residents were held in bondage by 1860, and this was the spot where slaves were publicly whipped.

At the Main Street entrance to Cheapside park, where Breckinridge now stands, I would erect a significant memorial to those slaves and the abolitionists who fought for their freedom. It also should explain that Cheapside was once one of the South’s leading slave markets.

History should not be erased or forgotten, because it holds important lessons for the present and future. But we owe it to ourselves to make the retelling of that history accurate and complete.

  • If you go
  • What: Forum on race, Lexington’s history with slavery and Confederate statuary and symbolsWhen: 6-8 p.m. July 7
  • Where: Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, 251 W. Second St.
  •  More information: or (859) 254-4175

Restored Gratz Park ‘kids’ return to James Lane Allen fountain

June 24, 2015

After a seven-month, $57,000 restoration, the bronze boy and girl who have graced the Gratz Park fountain since 1933 returned to their granite perches Wednesday.

Amanda Matthews and Brad Connell of Prometheus Foundry in Lexington did a major conservation of the statues, which have been damaged and improperly repaired many times.

“Everything went great with the repair,” Matthews said. “They should be good for another 100 years.”

A crane lifted the granite base and statues back into place, and Connell reattached a restored plaque stating that the fountain was a gift to the children of Lexington from author James Lane Allen.

The city and the Gratz Park Neighborhood Association financed conservation of the statues and reconstruction of the fountain, which had many structural and plumbing problems. The fountain, which cost $154,800 to rebuild, is expected to reopen in early July.

Amanda Matthews of Prometheus Foundary, right, and Rick Deaton of American Industrial Contractors discussed how to reattach the girl's statue in the James Lane Allen fountain at Gratz Park on Wednesday. The statues, erected in 1933 with a legacy left by Lexington author James Lane Allen, received a seven-month, $57,000 restoration at Prometheus over the winter.  Photo by Tom Eblen |

Amanda Matthews of Prometheus Foundary, right, and Rick Deaton of American Industrial Contractors discussed how to reattach the girl’s statue in the James Lane Allen fountain at Gratz Park. Photos by Tom Eblen


Brad Connell, left, Amanda Matthews and Keith Spears of Prometheus Foundary on Wednesday replaced the refurbished plaque to author James Lane Allen on the Gratz Park fountain, which is nearing completion of a $211,840 restoration. Photo by Tom Eblen |

Brad Connell, left, Amanda Matthews and Keith Spears of Prometheus Foundary replaced the refurbished plaque to author James Lane Allen.

Amanda Matthews, left, and Brad Connell, right, of Prometheus Foundary reattach the refurbished statue of the boy on the fountain at Gratz Park, which is nearing completion of a seven-month restoration. The fountain, built in 1933 with a legacy from Lexington-born author James Lane Allen, includes statues of a boy and girl symbolizing the wonder of youth. Allen donated money for the fountain in honor of the children of Lexington. At center is Mike Franz, operations manager of American Industrial Contractors. Photo by Tom Eblen |

Amanda Matthews, left, and Brad Connell, right, reattach the refurbished statue of the boy on the fountain.

Staff members of Prometheus Foundry and American Industrial Contractors reattach the refurbished boy's statue on the James Lane Allen fountain in Gratz Park. Left to right are Mike Franz, Brad Connell, Amanda Matthews and Keith Spears. The fountain and statues, erected in 1933 with a legacy gift from author James Lane Allen, have received a seven-month restoration paid for by the city and the Gratz Park Neighborhood Association.  Photo by Tom Eblen |

Staff members of Prometheus Foundry and American Industrial Contractors reattach the refurbished boy’s statue on the James Lane Allen fountain in Gratz Park. Left to right are Mike Franz, Brad Connell, Amanda Matthews and Keith Spears.

Mike Franz and Amanda Matthews helped reposition the girl's statue on the Gratz Park fountain Wednesday after Matthews and her partner, Brad Connell, restored the circa 1933 bronze statues.  The restored fountain is to reopen in early July.  Photo by Tom Eblen |

Mike Franz and Amanda Matthews helped reposition the girl’s statue on the Gratz Park fountain.

Amanda Matthews of Prometheus Foundry inspected the girl's statue after it was reattached to the James Lane Allen fountain in Gratz Park on Wednesday. Matthews and her partner, Brad Connell, of Prometheus Foundry, restored the bronze statues, which had been damaged and "repaired" several times since being installed in 1933.  Photo by Tom Eblen |

Amanda Matthews of Prometheus Foundry inspected the girl’s statue after it was reattached.

Anthony Williams, project manager with the City's Parks and Recreation Department, and Amanda Matthews of Prometheus Foundry inspected the reinstalled statues of the boy and girl on the James Lane Allen fountain in Gratz Park on Wednesday. Matthews and her partner, Brad Connell, removed the statues in November for refurbishing. They were erected in 1933 as part of a legacy gift to the children of Lexington from author James Lane Allen.  Photo by Tom Eblen |

Anthony Williams, project manager with the City’s Parks and Recreation Department, and Amanda Matthews of Prometheus Foundry inspected the reinstalled statues of the boy and girl on the James Lane Allen fountain in Gratz Park.

Move Jefferson Davis’ statue from state Capitol to a museum

June 23, 2015

The young, white thug who sat for an hour in a prayer meeting at a South Carolina church, then pulled a gun and murdered nine black worshipers, touted his racism by posting a picture of himself online holding the Confederate flag.

His heinous act has had one positive effect: It has forced conservative Southern politicians to rethink state-supported veneration of the Confederacy.

This is long overdue, and Kentucky leaders should join them by moving Jefferson Davis’ 15-foot marble statue from the Capitol rotunda to a museum.

Others have tried before and failed. Now, the idea is gaining rapid support from, among others, prominent Republicans including Sen. Mitch McConnell, state Senate President Robert Stivers and gubernatorial nominee Matt Bevin.

Attorney General Jack Conway, the Democratic nominee for governor, said Tuesday that he would have to think about it — a hesitation he might soon regret.

jeffdavisAcross the South, Confederate symbolism is suddenly under siege. The Confederate battle flag’s days on the South Carolina capital lawn appear numbered, and some Mississippi leaders are talking about removing the emblem from their state flag.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered the battle flag removed from a license plate produced for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Texas can refuse to allow the flag on its license plates.

Walmart and Sears announced that they will stop selling Confederate flag merchandise.

Since 1936, a statue of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy, has had a place of honor in Kentucky’s Capitol, along with four other Kentuckians: his nemesis, Abraham Lincoln; statesman Henry Clay; pioneer physician Ephraim McDowell; and Vice President Alben Barkley.

Davis’ statue was put there at the urging of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In 1934, legislators appropriated $5,000 of taxpayer money to help pay for it. That sum is now worth about $89,000.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans campaigned for decades to erect memorials to their Confederate ancestors, including the statue of Gen. John Hunt Morgan on Lexington’s old courthouse square. They were more interested in history than white supremacy.

But the same cannot be said for the people behind many official displays of the Confederate flag around the South. Most of those flags appeared a half-century ago as acts of defiance against the civil rights movement. Intent is key, and their intent was racist.

Their sentiments live on in the underground white supremacy movement, which is bigger than most politicians want to admit. It is why the Confederate flag continues to be embraced by people such as the South Carolina murderer, whose name I will not dignify by publishing.

But let’s get back to Jefferson Davis.

A Mississippi planter’s son, he was born in Kentucky, near the Christian-Todd county line, where a 351-foot obelisk that’s now part of the state park system was dedicated to his memory in 1924. He went to prep school near Springfield and attended Transylvania University before graduating from West Point.

When Mississippi seceded from the union in 1861, Davis resigned his U.S. Senate seat and led a war against the country he had sworn to defend.

Late in life, Davis claimed that the Civil War had never really been about slavery, a ridiculous argument that some Confederate apologists still try to make.

The central issue of Southern secession was the preservation of slavery and the economic system that depended on it. It was about denying black people basic human rights because of a belief that they were inferior. Davis was the man in charge of that effort, and he doesn’t deserve our honor today.

Some people would say that moving Davis’ statue out of the Capitol is an attempt to rewrite history. That isn’t so.

Davis’ statue should be prominently displayed in a state museum along with other relics of Kentucky’s complex and controversial past. He should be remembered, and his story should be studied in the context of his era.

If nothing else, Davis provides a great lesson for current and future Kentucky leaders, and that lesson is this: Doing what is politically and economically expedient but morally questionable can leave you on the wrong side of history.

Museums honor history. The Capitol rotunda — the very center of our state government — should honor those whose accomplishments and ideals we value.

State rules limit statues in the rotunda to people who have been dead for at least 40 years, according to David Buchta, the state curator of historic properties. That’s a good rule, because it gives time for famous people’s worth to be seen in perspective.

Moving Davis’ statue to a museum would make room for at least one other Kentuckian more worthy of our honor. I can think of several candidates, and some of them are of a different race or gender than the five white guys there now.

Would a better flag boost Kentuckians’ pride in their state?

June 20, 2015



Kentucky needs many things: better health, more education, less poverty, less political corruption, a more-prosperous middle class, a less-polluted environment.

And a better state flag. I have thought that for years, but I’ve always considered flag design a trivial issue in a state with so many bigger challenges.

Ben Sollee changed my mind.

If you don’t know Sollee, he is an enormously talented singer, songwriter and cellist (yes, a cellist) whose unique style of folksy, bluesy, socially conscious music has attracted an international following. He also is a proud Kentuckian.

Ben Sollee. Photo by Tom Eblen

Ben Sollee. Photo by Tom Eblen

Sollee performed in Frankfort this month at the Kentucky Historical Society’s annual Boone Day festivities. I sat on stage and interviewed him between songs about his Kentucky roots and how they influence his art.

Kentuckians have a lot to be proud of, Sollee said, but they don’t express that pride as much as do residents of some other U.S. states and Canadian provinces. He thinks part of the problem is our flag.

“When I travel and I see people in British Columbia or Colorado or California, they are proud of where they’re from,” he said. “And they wear it all over. Everyone’s sporting the state flag, the state image, the state logo.

“We don’t have that in Kentucky,” he added. “Our state flag is not adopted on a cultural level. We need a better state flag!”

Two men wearing antique clothing and shaking hands in the middle of a blue flag, surrounded by goldenrod weed and a lot of words just doesn’t cut it graphically.

The handshake guys make a fine official seal. “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” is a great motto for a commonwealth, which is a more noble thing to be than a mere state. Goldenrod is pretty,  even if it does make me sneeze. But all thrown together, these things make a boring flag.

“Sitting here at the Kentucky History Center, I understand that’s a bit of blasphemy,” Sollee said, although his comments drew loud applause from the audience.

“There’s a lot of heritage behind that flag,” he added. “But there’s a lot of new heritage that’s not being represented by that flag. It’s a bad design, and it doesn’t communicate to a wide swath of people easily.”

I think Sollee is right, and so do flag design experts. Yes, there are experts who study the design, use and cultural significance of flags. They are called “vexillologists” and among the places they hang out is the North American Vexillological Association.

Last year, the association published “guiding principles” for good flag design. Kentucky’s flag violates most of them. It is what vexillologists call an S.O.B. — seal on a bedsheet.

When you see Kentucky’s flag flying at a distance, which is the way we usually see flags, it is blue with a vague golden blob in the middle, virtually indistinguishable from the flags of a half-dozen other states.

What state flags do the vexillologists like? Those of New Mexico, Texas, Maryland, Alaska, Colorado and Arizona, to name a few. They approach the quality of great national flags, such as the United States, Canada, Great Britain and South Africa. Even some cities, such as Chicago and Washington, have flags designed so well that residents embrace them.

With few exceptions, well-designed flags are simple, with two or three basic colors and meaningful symbolism that is easily recognized. They are distinctive, and they avoid seals and writing of any kind.

As Ted Kaye, author of the book Good Flag, Bad Flag, puts it: “A flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.”

When designing a flag, experts recommend starting with a rectangle 1 by 1½ inches. If a design doesn’t work in that small a space, it just doesn’t work.

“We could have a crowd-sourced campaign, which is to say let’s get the in-state artists to submit designs and have a competition,” Sollee suggested. “Let’s create a new piece of art that can be our state flag that we can all get behind and adopt.

“It would do wonders for people outside of Kentucky recognizing and visiting this place,” he said. “It would do wonders to have a banner that we could all wave around. I think it’s a small step that we could make big strides with. Let’s do it!”

Chattanooga offers good lessons for Lexington’s downtown

June 16, 2015
In one of Chattanooga's most ambitious recent adaptive reuse projects, a former movie theater was transformed into The Block. The theater's garage is now faced with a 5,000-square-foot climbing wall, one of the nation's largest. The $6.5 million project is one of many that has transformed downtown Chattanooga from decay into a popular destination for both residents and tourists. Photo by Tom Eblen |

A former movie theater has been transformed into The Block. The theater’s garage is now faced with a 5,000-square-foot climbing wall. The $6.5 million project is one of many that has transformed downtown Chattanooga from decay into a popular destination. Photos by Tom Eblen


Downtown has made a lot of progress in recent years. But when I travel to other cities in the region, I realize how much further and faster Lexington needs to go.

Each June, I meet more than a dozen friends from Lexington and Atlanta somewhere in between for a week of bicycling. We look for a place with scenic, bicycle-friendly rural roads, not far from an urban center with great restaurants and interesting places to visit after each day’s ride.

I was impressed two years ago with Asheville, N.C. I was even more impressed last year by Knoxville, Tenn., whose downtown has improved dramatically since I lived there in the 1980s. This year’s destination was Chattanooga.

Lookout Mountain has been a tourist attraction since the Civil War, but Chattanooga’s downtown was long known for industrial grime and urban decay. In the 1960s, it was one of America’s most-polluted cities.

Boy, has that changed. Outside magazine readers recently voted Chattanooga as America’s Best Town.

Since 2002, a $120 million effort called the 21st Century Waterfront Plan has transformed the city’s once-derelict riverfront into a local amenity and tourist destination. That, in turn, has attracted private construction, new business and jobs.

Chattanooga is a great example of the concept that smart public infrastructure investment attracts private capital. It’s the same idea behind Town Branch Commons, the proposed linear park through downtown Lexington.

The waterfront plan helped prompt Chattanooga’s Hunter Museum of American Art to invest in a $22 million expansion. The Hunter is an excellent museum, and its prominent spot on a downtown bluff makes it easy to visit, unlike Lexington’s good but well-hidden University of Kentucky and Headley-Whitney art museums.

The Hunter is one of Chattanooga’s many examples of historic buildings being restored and adapted for new uses. The original portion of the museum is housed in a 1905 Classic Revival mansion, which since 2005 has adjoined a beautiful piece of contemporary architecture.

Another example is the Walnut Street Bridge, a 2,376-foot steel truss span built in 1890 and closed to vehicular traffic in 1978. After 15 years of neglect, it was converted into a pedestrian bridge that has become a popular gathering place.

Like the Old Courthouse in Lexington, it might have been easier and cheaper to just tear down the bridge rather than restore it and find a creative new use for it. But it is obvious now that Chattanooga made the right choice.

Chattanooga’s most famous example of historic preservation and adaptive reuse is Terminal Station, the 1908 Beaux Arts train depot that in the 1970s was converted into the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a hotel and convention center.

The Choo Choo struggled over the years, but as surrounding old buildings have been converted into trendy restaurants and shops, the area is coming back to life. An $8 million project is underway to restore the rest of the old depot and create more commercial space.

One of Chattanooga’s newest adaptive-reuse projects is The Block, near the Tennessee Aquarium. The $6.5 million project transformed the old Bijou Theater into a fitness and climbing complex. The cinema’s renovated parking garage is now faced with a 5,000-square-foot climbing wall that is both an eye-catching piece of architecture and a popular tourist destination.

Some of Chattanooga’s most important new public infrastructure isn’t visible. In 2008, the city-owned electric utility defied the cable-company monopoly and installed a gigabit broadband system that has attracted high-tech jobs.

Chattanooga’s population is a little more than half that of Lexington (168,000 vs. 310,000), although its metro area is a bit larger (528,000 vs. 473,000). But Tennessee’s fourth-largest city offers Lexington some great examples of how public-private partnerships can invest wisely in infrastructure that can attract economic development.

Chattanooga set a clear vision: Clean up the environment; showcase natural amenities, such as the Tennessee River; preserve history and local culture; encourage outstanding contemporary architecture; make it easy for people to live and work downtown; promote outdoor activity; and invest in beauty and public art.

Meanwhile, back in Lexington, last week marked six months since the Webb Companies had two giant tower cranes installed at CentrePointe, where they have done nothing toward turning the block-square pit into an underground garage.

The Hunter Museum of American Art is a prominent downtown destination in Chattanooga, perched on a bluff above the Tennessee River. Originally located in Photo by Tom Eblen |

The Hunter Museum of American Art is a prominent downtown destination.

Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River, as seen from Lookout Mountain, with Chattanooga to the right. While Lookout Mountain has been a tourist attraction since after the Civil War, Chattanooga has made substantial improvements to its downtown in recent decades, making it popular with both residents and tourists.  Photo by Tom Eblen |

Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River, as seen from Lookout Mountain, with Chattanooga to the right. While Lookout Mountain has been a tourist attraction since after the Civil War, Chattanooga has made substantial improvements to its downtown in recent decades.

At age 81, renowned folk artist Minnie Adkins is busier than ever

May 9, 2015
Folk artist Minnie Adkins, 81, in her "museum" building beside her home in Elliott County.  Photos by Tom Eblen

Folk artist Minnie Adkins, 81, in her “museum” building in Elliott County. Photos by Tom Eblen


ISONVILLE — Minnie Adkins turned 81 in March, nine months after her second husband died. At a point in life when most people would be slowing down, the renowned Elliott County folk artist is busier than ever.

Adkins spent the long, snowy winter whittling and painting. Her work included 11 identical statues that will be presented next year to winners of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts, which she won in 1998.

She also made dozens of colorfully painted horses, pigs, possums, foxes and roosters — especially roosters. When I visited her last week, Adkins had a table filled with roosters, each whittled from a tree limb fork.

“As you can see, I ain’t lackin’ for roosters,” she said with a wry smile. “I never do have arthritis in my hands and I’ve whittled and whittled.”

Adkins will be in Lexington on Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for Gallery Hop at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, 251 West Second Street.

Adkins carved Bright Blue Rooster for a children's book she did with writer and folksinger Mike Norris.

Adkins carved Bright Blue Rooster for a children’s book she did with Mike Norris.

She will be showing a range of her life’s work, including dozens of figures she made for photographs in three children’s books she has done with writer and folksinger Mike Norris of Danville: Bright Blue Rooster (1997), Sonny the Monkey (2012) and Mommy Goose, which the University Press of Kentucky will publish next year.

After Gallery Hop, Adkins will get ready for the Day in the Country Folk Art Fair on June 6. Adkins started the fair at her home years ago, but it became so popular the Kentucky Folk Art Center moved it to Morehead. It is now one of America’s largest folk art fairs, with more than 50 artists from 10 states.

Then, on July 18, Elliott County will put on its second annual Minnie Adkins Day in Sandy Hook with art, crafts, food and music.

“We have a really good time at Minnie Day,” Adkins said. “Of course, I’ve just been to one Minnie Day. But it was really good.”

Adkins began whittling as a child, making toys for herself and gifts for her parents. She started selling pieces at Avon bottle shows in the early 1970s in Dayton, Ohio, where she and her first husband, Garland, had moved to find work.

“I was selling them for 50 cents or $1, and was I ever tickled when I sold a whole batch of them,” she said. “I thought I had hit the big time.”

After moving back home in 1983, she accompanied her husband to Morehead one day. While he filed for unemployment benefits, she went into a craft gallery to look around. She told the owner she made things like what he was selling, and he asked to see some of them.

Adkins has been selling work ever since with help from folk art champions such as Adrian Swain and Larry Hackley. Grandson Greg Adkins helps market her work now when he isn’t busy coaching basketball at Elliott County High School.

Adkins has been featured in several folk art books, including Ramona Lampell’s 1989 best-seller, O, Appalachia: Artists of the Southern Mountains.

“That’s really what got me recognized,” Adkins said. “People began to come here, folk art collectors from all over the country, to find me.”

Her work is in dozens of private collections and several museums, including the Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and New York City’s American Folk Art Museum. In Lexington, her work is sold at Ann Tower Gallery and Clark Art & Antiques.

Garland Adkins helped whittle until his death in 1997. Three years later, she married Herman Peters, a metal worker who made steel sculptures of her figures. He died last June.

Adkins lives on more than 100 acres along Right Fork Newcombe Creek, which she calls Peaceful Valley, within sight of her childhood farmhouse.

She often whittles in the easy chair in her living room, where the walls are filled with awards, including an honorary doctorate from Morehead State University, and pictures of her family, which includes a son, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Adkins has no idea how many pieces she has made: “It would be wild to even think.”

She has a workshop in her barn, as well as a little museum. In recent years, she has bought back many of her early pieces — or been given them by collectors and their families who have become friends.

Some of her biggest pieces portray Bible stories, such as Noah’s Ark, Daniel in the Lions’ Den and Adam and Eve. She also has done paintings, quilts and painted furniture. But her favorite things to make are whimsical animals.

“We always had all kinds of animals on the farm,” she said. “After I got to making pigs and horses and roosters, then I went into foxes and bears.”

Some of Adkins’ animals defy description, such as one she bought back from a collector a few years ago.

“The woman said when she come to my house I was whittling on this and she said, ‘What is that?'” Adkins recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know what it is and I don’t know who I’m making it for,’ so I called it a Who What.”

One of folk artist Minnie Adkins' biggest pieces has been this Noah's Ark set, which she sold years ago and recently bought back.

One of Adkins’ biggest pieces was Noah’s Ark, which she sold years ago and has bought back.

New crop of ‘community supported art’ on sale this week

April 21, 2015

Central Kentucky’s farmers are just getting their plants in the ground, but a new crop of local art is ready for harvest.

For the fifth season, the Lexington Art League is selling 30 CSA “shares” of “community supported art” using a similar model to what local farmers have been doing for years with “community supported agriculture”.

csaThe 30 shares will be on sale through Thursday for $400 each. Each share includes an original piece by nine local artists: ceramics, paintings, leatherwork, screenprints and photography.

This year’s artists are Brian and Sara Turner of Cricket Press, Matthew D. Cook of Borderstate, Elizabeth Foley, Lennon Michalski, Joe Molinaro, Nadezda Nikolova, Brandon C. Smith and Melisa Beth.

The artists were chosen by the league’s curator, Becky Alley. Each artist is paid $600 for their work. Since the program began, the league says its CSA program has sold 1,890 pieces of locally produced art, providing $37,800 in income for local artists.

“CSA is a celebration of local talent and an investment in the artists whose creativity and unique abilities distinguish and enrich our community,” said Stephanie Harris, the league’s executive director.

Shares can be purchased online at or by calling (859) 254-7024. Shares in future CSA “seasons” also are for sale.

The Lexington Art League, headquartered at Loudoun House in Castlewood Park, also sponsors the annual Woodland Art Fair each August.

Studying great art can help improve everyday observation skills

April 13, 2015

150330ArtPerception0088Gray Edelen, left, an art history student from Bardstown, talked with medical students Taylor Gilbert of Lexington, center, and Amanda Pursell of Louisville about Robert Tharsing’s 2011 painting “A Natural History of Kentucky”, which hangs in the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center. Photos by Tom Eblen


On a recent afternoon, small groups of University of Kentucky students huddled around paintings and sculptures on display at UK’s Chandler Medical Center.

As you might expect, some were art history majors. But they were there to help 17 medical students.

The medical students weren’t really there to learn about art, but to observe it — very closely — and then describe what they saw and what they thought it meant.

The goal was to improve the medical students’ observation and communications skills to make them better at diagnosing patients’ illnesses.

“It’s good to learn how to see the bigger picture by looking at the details,” said Taylor Gilbert, a medical student from Lexington.

The exercise grew out of a presentation by Amy Herman, a lawyer and art historian who travels around speaking about what she calls “the art of perception.” In early February, Herman spoke to a packed classroom at UK’s College of Medicine.

Herman began this work more than 15 years ago when she was education director at the Frick Collection, an art museum in New York City. She had heard how art historians at Yale and the University of Texas worked with medical students to improve their perception skills, so she set up a similar program at the Frick for the nearby Cornell University medical school.

Amy Herman. Photo provided

Amy Herman. Photo provided

When a friend heard what Herman was doing, she suggested that these skills could help other professionals, too. Homicide detectives, for example. Herman contacted the New York Police Department and, within six months, she was training every newly promoted captain.

A Wall Street Journal reporter wrote about the program in 2005 and, Herman said, “My world exploded.” She left the Frick to start her own consulting business. In addition to medical students and New York cops, she now trains agents for the FBI, CIA and even Navy SEALs.

As Herman began showing slides of paintings to the UK medical students and asking them to describe them, she forbid the use of two words: obviously and clearly.

“We work and live in a complex world, and very little obvious and even less is clear,” she said. “No two people see anything the same way, and we have to understand and enrich our appreciation for that fact.”

Herman showed what appeared to be an abstract painting, but was really a picture of a cow. Few saw the cow until she brought attention to it. She then drew lessons from landscapes, still life paintings and portraits of “handsome women of the 18th century” that held subtle clues about their lives.

“Perception goes both ways,” she said. “How do patients perceive you when you walk into the room? Do you put them at ease? Is it easy to ask questions? Your patients may have an entirely different perspective than you do.”

Herman said people often make mistakes by trying to “solve” problems too quickly, before they have taken time to assess a situation.

“Before you decide what to think and what to do, you need to say out loud what the issue is,” she said, adding that some of those things may seem too obvious or be embarrassing to mention but can be vital details.

Herman showed a painting of an elderly, obese and naked woman sitting on a sofa. When asked to talk about it, an audience member began by describing the sofa’s upholstery.

“You need to say what you see and not dance around it,” Herman said. “I always tell police officers you will never get in trouble for saying what you see. Saying what you think is an entirely different story.

“Raise the issue, even if you can’t explain it,” she added. “Raise any inconsistency, because with more information somebody else may be able to answer the question for you. Also think about what’s missing. What should be there but isn’t?”

Herman said she recommends that child abuse investigators ask a child to smile. Seeing whether a child’s teeth are clean says a lot about the care they are receiving.

“Small details can provide volumes of information,” she said. “Body language and facial expression tell us a whole lot.”

When describing observations, choose words carefully to be precise. And don’t make assumptions. The three most important questions to ask when problem-solving: What do I know? What don’t I know? What more do I need to know?

“There are often things hiding in plain sight that you are consciously or unconsciously not seeing,” said Herman, who gave an embarrassing personal example.

Several years ago, while running in New York, she noticed a man in a wheelchair walking a puppy. She loves puppies, so she asked him if she could pet it. After playing with the puppy for several minutes, they parted. Within minutes, she realized that the man had looked familiar. It was Chuck Close, a famous artist she admired but had never met.

“He’s one of my favorite artists in the world, but I was so focused on his puppy that I didn’t even notice the man was a captive audience right in front of me,” she said. “Don’t miss what’s right in front of you.”

150330ArtPerception0095Christina Romano left, an art education major from Louisville, talked with medical students Katie Donaldson, center, of Independence, and Amy Chen of Davis, Calif., about Warren Seelig’s stainless steel and fabric mesh sculpture, “Gingko”.

Gardenside Plaza bus shelter being restored, 3 new ones coming

April 4, 2015

150405ArtInMotion0008The Gardenside bus shelter when it was new, circa 1960. Herald-Leader File Photo


The Gardenside Plaza bus shelter, with its 30-foot brick tower and sea-green neon letters, has been an Alexandria Drive landmark since 1959 — a bit of Miami Beach in Bluegrass suburbia.

In recent years, the mid-century modern shelter has looked pretty sad: burned-out letters, cracked concrete, dingy brick. But over the next few months, it will get a $41,700 makeover in one of Lexington’s most unusual historic preservation efforts.

The stainless steel letters spelling “Gardenside Plaza” were sent off for repair over the winter. They will soon be reinstalled with their neon lighting replaced by energy-efficient LEDs.

The white brick tower and its stainless steel crown will be cleaned and rewired. The concrete bench will be repaired and its angled roof patched and painted.

And there will be a new element: a period-appropriate ceramic mosaic mural on the back wall designed by Guy Kemper, a renowned local glass artist.

“I’m really excited about the partnerships that have come together for this,” said Yvette Hurt, founder of Art in Motion, a non-profit organization that since 2008 has worked with partners to build five Lextran bus shelters that are functional works of public art.

This is shaping up to be Art in Motion’s biggest year, with construction of three new shelters on Southland Drive, Leestown Road and Georgetown Street.

The Gardenside Neighborhood Association and Urban County Council member Peggy Henson approached Art in Motion about the Gardenside Plaza shelter in 2011.

Money for the restoration came from city “corridors” funding, Lextran, Gardenside Plaza owner Pierson-Trapp Co. and the philanthropic group Lexington Directions.

Art in Motion also is working with historian Karen Hudson at the University of Kentucky to compile an oral history of the shopping center and shelter. If you have memories to share, email:

Something built in the 1950s may not seem “historic” to many people. But high-quality mid-century modern architecture has gained a big following in recent years.

Architects say that, in many ways, it was the first American architectural style that took its inspiration from the future rather than the past.

Inspired by vacations in Miami Beach, Lexington developer David Trapp spent $8,500 in 1959 to build the sign and shelter for his shopping center. Public transportation was a big deal then.

“When the suburbs were opening up, women were basically trapped out there because most families, if they had a car, had only one,” Hudson said. “Women were the ones campaigning to get bus service” to new suburbs such as Gardenside, Meadowthorpe and Southland.

Between 1956 and 1972, as automobile registration in Fayette County more than quadrupled, the private bus company lost 36 percent of its paying passengers and went out of business. It was replaced by Lextran, a public agency, in 1973.

Public transportation is getting renewed interest because it is more environmentally friendly, reduces traffic congestion and is essential to many low-wage workers.

Hurt, an environmental lawyer, started Art in Motion as a volunteer project in 2006 because Lextran needed more bus shelters, she liked public art, and studies showed that transit systems that used public art in their facilities had higher ridership.

AIM built its first shelter, Bottlestop, using Ale-8-One bottles, on Versailles Road in 2008. Then came East End Artstop on Elm Tree Lane, Bluegrass shelter on Newtown Pike and Gardenstop on Euclid Avenue. AIM also helped the Columbia Heights Neighborhood Association with BankStop on the other end of Euclid.

AIM will begin work this month on Industrial Oasis, a shelter on Southland Drive in front of Good Foods Co-op. Contributors include Good Foods and shopping center owner Sanford Levy. It was designed by architect Adam Wiseman of Pohl Rosa Pohl and features steel work by sculptor John Darko.

When it is finished, work will begin on Chimneystop on Leestown Road at Townley shopping center with help from developer Dennis Anderson. Chimneystop was designed at UK by Justin Menke, Chad Riddle, Martin Steffen and Ryan Hargrove.

Marrillia Design & Construction will build both shelters, which will cost a total of $198,600. Funding comes from federal transportation grants, Lextran and partner donations.

Also this year, AIM will build a music-theme shelter on Georgetown Street at Lima Drive. It was designed by Gary Murphy of Prajna Design & Construction. Its $37,000 cost will come from city funds.

These shelters are designed to be functional, beautiful and durable. But Hurt said she has received some criticism about their cost.

“What I would argue is that we are creating work for local designers, craftsmen and firms that supply the materials,” she said. “Plus, we are creating both public art and basic amenities for public transit. It’s a good investment.”

Click on each image to see larger photo and read caption:

West Sixth Brewery models “pay it forward” business philosophy

February 1, 2015

When four partners bought the Bread Box building and started West Sixth Brewery nearly four years ago, they said they wanted to do more than make money and good beer. They wanted to make their community a better place to live.

The partners donate 6 percent of profits to charity, plus make other donations and host monthly fundraisers where a different non-profit group receives 6 percent of sales. Last year, the company’s giving totaled about $100,000, partner Ben Self said.

“We expect that to increase significantly” this year, Self said, thanks to a quarterly program built around sales of the newest of West Sixth’s four canned beers, Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter.

pifWest Sixth will present a “big check” Wednesday to GreenHouse17, formerly called the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program. It is the last of six non-profits getting checks as part of the program launched in September, when Pay it Forward Cocoa Porter began distribution statewide and in Cincinnati.

West Sixth wants to keep GreenHouse17’s award amount a surprise until Wednesday, but partner Brady Barlow said it would be larger than the others. “Lexington is a very thirsty town,” he said.

Other regional awards ranged from $800 to more than $5,000 each in Louisville and Cincinnati. The amounts were based on sales in each region.

The other recipients were Appalshop, the arts and media non-profit in Whitesburg; New Roots of Louisville, which provides fresh produce to needy neighborhoods; Community Action of Southern Kentucky; the Owensboro Humane Society; and Community Matters, which works in Cincinnati’s Lower Price Hill neighborhood.

Here’s how the program works: West Sixth donates 50 cents from each Pay it Forward six-pack, which retails for $9.99, to a non-profit organization “making a difference” in a community where the beer is sold. In all but the Louisville region, West Sixth’s distributors match the donation, for a total of $1 a six-pack.

Each can of Pay it Forward has a website link ( where customers can nominate a non-profit. Regional winners are selected each quarter by a democratic vote of West Sixth’s 32 employees, so the number of nominations made for each organization doesn’t matter.

Nominations for the first quarter 2015 awards are due Monday, and the brewery staff will meet Tuesday to choose the winners.

There is nothing new about business philanthropy. Most companies do something, some in substantial amounts, depending on their size and profitability.

But West Sixth is an example of a new trend, especially popular among some young entrepreneurs, that has been called Conscious Capitalism. Community responsibility is integral to the business model.

Conscious Capitalism acknowledges that businesses have an impact on and a responsibility to their communities and the environment. It is about serving all stakeholders, not just shareholders. That means three bottom lines, rather than just one: profits, people, planet.

“For us, that means everything from being environmentally sustainable to using local ingredients whenever possible and supporting the organizations doing great work in the communities we’re a part of,” Self said.

The partners’ philosophy extends beyond their core beer business, which is housed in the Bread Box, an 90,000-square-foot 1890s building at the corner of West Sixth and Jefferson Streets that used to be a Rainbo Bread factory.

In addition to the brewery and taproom, the Bread Box houses shared office space for non-profit organizations; artist studios; Broke Spoke, a non-profit community bicycle shop; and FoodChain, an urban agriculture non-profit.

There also are several like-minded businesses there: Smithtown Seafood restaurant; Magic Beans coffee roasters; and Bluegrass Distillers. The building also houses a women’s roller derby league.

Self said the company’s business model isn’t just about altruism: it is also good for business.

“I think there’s no doubt” that community involvement has boosted sales, Self said. “I don’t think we’re bashful about that. And by making a situation that can be a win for the community organization as well as the business, it’s something that can be done longer term.”

West Sixth’s sales have risen from 2,000 barrels in 2012 to 7,000 in 2013 and 11,000 last year. The company plans to add canned seasonal beers this year.

“Kentucky has been really supportive of us from the beginning,” Self said.

West Sixth plans to continue reinvesting in that support.

“If you take care of your community,” Barlow said, “your community will take care of you.”

Wendell Berry: Ky. writers have too little impact on public discourse

January 29, 2015

150128KyWriters0027After becoming the first living author inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame on Wednesday night, Wendell Berry, right, talked with Julie Wrinn, director of the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. At left is writer Jason Howard,  editor of Appalachian Heritage, a literary quarterly. Behind them, writer Bianca Spriggs. Photo by Tom Eblen


As the first living author inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, Wendell Berry lamented that many fine books the state’s authors have written about Kentucky issues have had little impact on public discussion or policy.

In most ways, Kentucky is too fragmented a state, Berry said in remarks at a ceremony Wednesday night at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, where he and five writers from the past were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“This fragmentation is made possible, and continually made worse, by a cloud of silence that hovers over us,” Berry said. “We have in this state no instituted public dialogue, no form in which a public dialogue can take place.

“This public silence ought to be a worry, especially to writers,” he said. “What is the effect or fate, Kentucky writers may ask, of Kentucky books devoted to urgent public issues — Night Comes to the Cumberlands or Lost Mountain or Missing Mountains or The Embattled Wilderness?”

Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, who spoke earlier at the ceremony, said afterward that Berry underestimates the impact of those books and others like them. They may not have led to solutions for Kentucky’s many problems, she said, but things would be worse without them.

Before Berry’s remarks, excerpts from the work of the five deceased authors were read. The standing-room-only crowd that filled the Carnegie Center’s first floor included many writers likely to earn spots in the Hall of Fame someday.

The other new inductees were: Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) of Louisville, who created “gonzo journalism”; Guy Davenport (1929-2005) of Lexington, who during his lifetime won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant; Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960), a black poet from Pike County; Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007) of Lexington, a novelist and critic who helped found The New York Review of Books; and Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996) of Bowling Green, an author and poet.

Watch for my column Sunday with more notes and observations from the Hall of Fame ceremony.

 150128KyWriters0009State Rep. Kelly Flood of Lexington took a picture of Wendell Berry with Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen at the Carnegie Center on Wednesday night after Berry became the first living author inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame. In the background, writer Ed McClanahan, left, talks with Steve Wrinn, director of the University Press of Kentucky.

Wendell Berry first living inductee in Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame

January 10, 2015

111218WendellBerryTE0032AWendell Berry at home, December 2011. Photo by Tom Eblen


When the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning announced plans in July to select the first living member of its Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, I wrote that the process should be a search for Wendell Berry.

Kentucky has many fine writers working today, but none can match the range, craftsmanship and international acclaim of Berry, 80, who writes and farms in Henry County, where his family has lived for five generations.

So the Carnegie Center’s announcement this week should come as no surprise. Berry will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at 7 p.m. Jan. 28 along with five deceased writers, who will be identified that night.

The ceremony at the Carnegie Center, 251 West Second Street, is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Kentucky Educational Television plans to live-stream the event on

“To be recognized in that way at home is a very pleasing thing,” Berry said when I talked with him by phone last week. “And a relieving thing, actually.”

The Carnegie Center, a non-profit organization that promotes literacy education, reading and writing, created the Hall of Fame three years ago to draw attention to Kentucky’s rich literary legacy.

In its first two years, 13 deceased writers were honored: Harriette Arnow, William Wells Brown, Harry Caudill, Rebecca Caudill, Thomas D. Clark, Janice Holt Giles, James Baker Hall, Etheridge Knight, Thomas Merton, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, James Still, Jesse Stuart and Robert Penn Warren.

hall-of-fame-logo-final-300x165Neil Chethik, executive director of the Carnegie Center, said about 200 members of the public nominated more than 75 writers for the honor this year, including about 25 living writers. A short list was sent to a committee of writers and readers headed by Lori Meadows, director of the Kentucky Arts Council, which made the selections along with the Carnegie Center staff.

“Everybody pretty much said, ‘It’s going to be Wendell, right?'” Chethik said. “His command of all three major areas of writing — fiction, non-fiction and poetry — and his influence statewide and internationally brought us to him.”

Chethik said future classes of inductees may include a living writer, but not always. The criteria for all nominations is that a writer must be published; must have lived in Kentucky for a significant period or have a strong tie to the state; and must have produced writing of “enduring stature.”

All of which makes Berry a natural for the honor. The former University of Kentucky English professor has written more than 60 volumes: novels, poetry, short-story collections and essays. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he received the National Humanities Medal in 2010 and gave the prestigious Jefferson Lecture in 2012.

The major theme of Berry’s work is that people should live and work in harmony with the land and their community. “He is so rooted in Kentucky,” Chethik said. “He speaks for a lot of Kentuckians.”

The-Unsettling-of-America (1)Berry’s 1971 book, The Unforeseen Wilderness helped rally public opposition to a plan to flood Red River Gorge. His 1977 book, The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture, is a bible of the international movements for sustainable agriculture and locally produced food.

Over the years, Berry has participated in protests against nuclear power and coal strip-mining. He was among a group of environmental activists who camped in Gov. Steve Beshear’s outer office in 2011 to protest state government support for the coal industry’s destruction of Eastern Kentucky mountains.

A year earlier, Berry cut his ties to UK and withdrew his papers to protest the university’s renaming of the basketball team residence hall Wildcat Coal Lodge in exchange for $7 million in donations from coal executives.

“The actual influence of writers in Kentucky is in doubt,” Berry said when I asked about his activism, and whether he thought it would ever sway public policy.

“As far as the future is concerned, I don’t sit around and think about the future in regard to what I’ve done,” he said. “It seems to me to be a distraction from the things I ought to be doing.”

Berry said he has been busy writing poetry and working on several long-term projects. He also is writing a short speech for his Hall of Fame ceremony about “Kentucky writing and what it means to be a Kentucky writer.”

“Kentucky writers over the years have given us a kind of record of life in this state, what it has been like to live in it,” he said. “Sometimes they have given us very important testimony about things that were wrong.

“They have been an extremely diverse set of people, and I think the quality of their work has been remarkable,” he added. “I don’t think there’s any worry about it continuing.”

Lexington artist, poet has made big career with tiny paintings

January 6, 2015

141218Woolfolk0007Miriam Woolfolk holds a painting she did of Loudoun House. Photos by Tom Eblen


When the street artist MTO came to Lexington’s PRHBTN festival last fall to paint a mural on a Manchester Street warehouse, he showed how huge, bold and controversial art can be.

141218Woolfolk0034At the other end of the spectrum, Miriam Lamy Woolfolk, an award-winning Lexington painter and poet, has been showing for decades how tiny, delicate and beautiful art can be.

Woolfolk, who turns 89 on Valentine’s Day, paints intricate watercolor landscapes that take up no more than a few square inches. About 30 of them will be on display at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning beginning Jan. 16 for Gallery Hop.

She has been a regular, prize-winning exhibitor at miniature art shows around the world for decades, but this is her largest Lexington show in years. It was organized after her work was included in a Carnegie Center exhibit last year featuring images of surrounding Gratz Park.

“After that, we were fascinated by her art,” said Luisa Trujillo, the center’s art director.

Woolfolk is from Louisville, where she remembers always dabbling in art and poetry. She worked in a World War II ration office, for an oil company and for the magazine of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad before raising four children.

She moved to Lexington with her first husband in 1951. Her second husband, the late Patch Woolfolk, was a professor of animal science at the University of Kentucky.

Woolfolk’s only formal art training was in high school. But she took night classes after her interest was rekindled while working as a bookkeeper for a physician, whose office housed the Lexington Art League in its early years. (Later, she would serve as the league’s president.)

141218Woolfolk0015Woolfolk discovered a love for miniatures at her first out-of-state art show.

“I flew up to New Jersey and was absolutely stunned by all the little pieces,” she said. “I’ve always liked little stuff.”

In 1980, she won “best of show” at a prestigious art exhibit in Washington, D.C. Her pair of small watercolors were the only miniatures in that show, and the prize led to an invitation to join the Miniature Painters, Sculptors and Gravers Society of Washington.

That involvement led to many prizes at miniature art shows around the country and as far away as Russia and Tasmania. She also has illustrated several books for Lexington authors and organizations.

Trujillo said the Carnegie Center also was interested in Woolfolk’s art because she has always excelled in both images and words.

A poet since childhood, she is a past president of the Kentucky State Poetry Society and edited its journal, Pegasus, for 21 years. Two of her poems were included in The Kentucky Anthology: 200 years of writing in the Bluegrass State, published in 2005 by the University Press of Kentucky.

That book was edited by Wade Hall, a longtime English professor at Bellarmine Univeristy and a collector of regional quilts, more than 100 of which he donated to the University of Kentucky for display in the W.T. Young Library.

Woolfolk has always done needlework, too, and she wanted to contribute to Hall’s collection. But, because of her love of miniatures, and a good sense of humor, she gave him a potholder instead of a quilt.

141218Woolfolk0020Woolfolk said she never used a magnifying glass to paint her miniatures, just very tiny brushes, some with just a few hairs. Her scenes were drawn from photographs she made, many at spots around Central Kentucky she found while driving back roads with her husband.

Age finally dimmed Woolfolk’s eyesight, and she has given up painting. She recently entered what she said will be her last art show, in Maryland. She also completed a big, small project for the Carnegie Center.

As part of a November event celebrating J.D. Salinger’s classic, The Catcher in the Rye, Woolfolk made 100 tiny paper boxes that were given to attendees. Each contained a piece of paper with a quote from the book.

Woolfolk has been making similar tiny boxes for years and giving them away to friends. Usually, though, they come with a line of her own poetry: “A secret place to hold your dreams, for dreams take little space.”

Photo fun with buildings, fading light, the moon and a flock of birds

January 5, 2015

While trying to come up with a good photograph to go with today’s column, I spent some time walking around Cheapside on a cold New Year’s Eve. I thought there might be a good shot with fading light, the old Fayette County Courthouse and the 21C Museum Hotel construction site, which is now lit up inside every night. While there, I discovered a few bonus elements: a flock of birds that kept circling the area, a rising moon just over the old Courthouse dome, the statue of John C. Breckinridge and the CentrePointe tower cranes. I only needed one photo for the paper (which, unfortunately, cropped out the moon) but I thought I would share some others, too. Happy New Year.