‘Room with a view’ exhibit features Lexington scenes from 1990s

August 23, 2014

140821Tharsing0004The view out the bay window of painter Robert Tharsing’s second-floor studio on High Street in the early 1990s. Below, the old Fayette County Courthouse.  Photos courtesy of the artist and Ann Tower Gallery

 

Before he retired as an art professor at the University of Kentucky, Robert Tharsing did his personal painting in downtown studios, first in the upstairs room of an old house on High Street and then above Cheapside Bar & Grill.

When he was between paintings — or stuck trying to figure out where to go with an abstract canvas — he did what many people do when they need a break: he stared out the window. In Tharsing’s case, he also painted what he saw. The result was about 20 views of the Lexington skyline and scenes of downtown life in the 1990s.

In anticipation of retirement, Tharsing built a home studio in 2001. When he moved, he left most of these paintings stacked in the Cheapside space, which wife Ann Tower uses as storage for her gallery on Main Street. Tharsing never showed them in public — until now.

Robert Tharsing: Room With A View, an exhibit of 14 pictures painted over the course of a dozen years, went up last week in the East Gallery at UK Chandler Hospital. The free exhibit will be up for six months.

140821Tharsing0003“I had seen a few hanging in his studio a long time ago and thought they were interesting,” said Phillip March Jones, who curates the hospital’s art exhibits. “I also thought it was interesting they had never been shown as a body of work.”

Jones said viewers from Lexington will easily recognize these scenes, as well as what has changed, and appreciate the bird’s-eye view Tharsing had from his studio windows.

The vividly colorful scenes are awash in light, but often devoid of people. Most of the time Tharsing spent in these studios was at night and on weekends, before downtown became a popular destination for restaurants, bars and festivals.

“Wherever I’ve been, I’ve always painted the scene as well as other interests I have,” said Tharsing, 70, who has lived in Italy and spends summers in Nova Scotia.

Tharsing said these small pictures were often a release, a distraction when he was working on large, abstract paintings. “It was a way to paint something that’s very tangible that I knew what it was,” he said. “With an abstract painting, I often don’t know what it is. In that sense, it’s like being a novelist; you have to let the characters develop and see what they’re going to tell you about themselves. The painting has to do that, too. It has to tell you what it is, what it’s all about.”

The High Street studio had a big bay window that looked down on Vine Street and a cluster of 1980s office towers. Tharsing said he liked how light played off the buildings, streets and parking lots in different seasons.

“That part of Lexington is all about very simple geometry,” he said. “There’s hardly anything that distinguishes itself as being real architecture. So what you’re left with is these volumes and planes and reflections. More than half the buildings down there have got these mirrored windows, so it’s not only the building I’m looking at but I’m looking at myself through the glass across the street. That interested me.”

Cheapside had more people on the street, and a building that did interest Tharsing: the old Fayette County Courthouse, which was then still in use. The massive circa 1900 building or pieces of it appear in six of 14 paintings in the exhibit.

“I really liked it because there was a lot of coming and going,” he said. “It was very much small-town life.”

Tharsing said “the icing on the cake” came one day when he looked down and saw perennial candidate Gatewood Galbraith in his trademark hat. He was accompanied by a single sign-carrying supporter and was being interviewed by a TV news crew.

To accompany the exhibit, Jones is producing old-fashioned perforated postcard books with 10 of the pictures, for sale ($10) at Ann Tower Gallery, The Morris Book Shop and Institute 193, his nonprofit gallery.

These paintings are reminiscent of the plain, colorful style of Edward Hopper (1882-1967), who was one of Tharsing’s inspirations. Another inspiration was the Venetian landscape painter Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768).

But Tharsing said he resisted Canaletto’s occasional tendency to improve the skyline, tempting though it was in Lexington’s case. “He rearranged the city to suit himself,” he said. “It is like urban renewal; it’s an interesting idea.”


Lecture highlights camera club that produced photography stars

March 13, 2014

Coke1Van Deren Coke (1921-2004) made this photo in 1952 in Lexington’s old Union Station, which was on Main Street where the Helix garage, Lexington Police Department and Fayette County Clerk’s office are now located. Photo: UK Special Collections.

 

Before there were pixels and iPhones, back when photography required film, darkrooms and chemicals, almost every American city had a camera club. Most members were hobbyists who wanted to learn how to make pretty pictures.

The Lexington Camera Club was different.

From its founding in 1936, Lexington Camera Club members, who included doctors, lawyers and businessmen, were unusually serious about developing their craft and exploring artistic expression.

By the time the club disbanded in 1972, it had produced two major figures in the art photography world and many more accomplished photographers.

James Birchfield, the retired special collections curator of rare books at the University of Kentucky, will give a free lecture about this remarkable camera club at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Presidents Room of UK’s Singletary Center for the Arts.

“It was not a provincial outlook,” Birchfield said of the club. “It was a big vision of the history of photography and what contemporary photography was doing. This particular cluster of people seemed to generate an extraordinary flowering of fine photography.”

Birchfield’s lecture is in conjunction with an exhibit at the university’s Art Museum of prints from an impressive photography collection it has assembled since the 1990s, thanks to one of the camera club’s members.

When Robert C. May died in 1993, he left the museum 1,200 of his own photographs and his collection of original prints from some of photography’s greatest names. He also left a substantial bequest so the museum could purchase more photography and create an annual lecture series that brings major photographers to UK’s campus. Eugene Richards, the noted documentary photographer, speaks at 4 p.m. Friday in Worsham Theater in the UK Student Center.

The museum exhibit, Wide Angle: American Photographs, continues through April 27 and features prints by famous photographers including Ansel Adams, Elliott Erwitt, Edward Weston, Lewis Hine, Walker Evans, Harry Callahan, Russell Lee, Doris Ulmann, Robert Frank, Andy Warhol and Cindy Sherman.

The exhibit also includes nine photographs by Lexington Camera Club members, including its two biggest stars: Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-1972) and Van Deren Coke (1921-2004).

140316CameraClub-a2The club began in 1936 with monthly meetings that included formal critiques of each member’s prints. Guest speakers included Ansel Adams, America’s most celebrated landscape photographer.

Many early club members were interested in landscape and travel photography, while others focused on historical and documentary pictures. Among the documentarians was lawyer and historian J. Winston Coleman, who photographed throughout Kentucky and collected nearly 6,300 historic images that are now at Transylvania University.

The club took an artistic turn under the leadership of Van Deren Coke, who was then president of his family’s Van Deren Hardware Co. on Main Street. Coke’s early photographs of Lexington scenes soon gave way to abstract, artistic images.

Coke got to know many celebrated photographers and became one himself. After graduate school, he went on to be photography curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and director of the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y.  He taught for many years at the University of New Mexico and started its art museum.

Meatyard was an optician who joined the club in 1954. He became famous for his unusual photographs, which often involved people wearing masks or posing in abandoned Central Kentucky farmhouses.

Over the years, his images were acclaimed for their unique expression. He also was a major influence on other club members who became well-known photographers, including Robert May, James Baker Hall and Guy Mendes.

Meatyard was president of the club when he died of cancer at age 46 in 1972. The club disbanded within a few months.

“Meatyard fostered exploration and discovery within the Camera Club,” May wrote in a 1989 essay. “As photographers, the members did not look just for new things but for new ways of seeing.”

Meatyard’s photographs are still published frequently in books, and his prints command big prices at galleries and auctions. As recently as 2005, the International Center of Photography in New York mounted a major retrospective of his work.

Mendes was one of the club’s youngest members when he joined in 1968. A retired producer for Kentucky Educational Television, he remains an active photographer.

In an interview last week, he recalled that writer Wendell Berry introduced him to Meatyard. “Gene was something else,” Mendes said, adding that Berry’s young son told him: “He makes really strange pictures.”

Mendes accompanied Meatyard and May on weekend photography outings in the countryside around Lexington. He said they and other club members showed him how photography could do more than record reality; it could express feelings and be a medium for artistic experimentation.

“They taught me lessons I still use today,” Mendes said. “For all of the changes photography has gone through, the basics are still the same.”

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


Winchester lawyer turns wood into beautiful pieces of art

December 17, 2013

131212Keeton-TE0006Wood artist John Keeton, in his workshop near Winchester, shows how a turned-wood vessel he made will be fitted onto a stand for use as an award. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

WINCHESTER — When John Keeton was a boy in Floyd County, he learned how to make wood useful. He has spent the five decades since then learning how to make it beautiful.

I first saw Keeton’s work this fall, when I won the media award in the Governor’s Awards in the Arts. The winners’ trophies were identical turned-wood sculptures the artist made from curly maple and holly.

Red stain and lacquer accentuates the grain of the maple vessel, which is balanced on a delicate spire and topped by an even-more delicate finial, both made of black-lacquered holly.

The 11-inch-tall sculpture is a graceful combination of strength and fragility, and every time I look at it I wonder, How did he do that! Last week, I went to the workshop on Keeton’s 68-acre farm to find out.

“I’ve always liked pretty woods, figured woods,” said Keeton, 65. “I’ve been playing with wood all my life.”

Well, most of his life. Keeton was squirrel hunting when he was 13 and fell off a rock ledge, breaking the forearm stock of the family’s shotgun. He whittled a replacement from a piece of cedar he got off a lightning-struck tree.

After graduating from Pikeville College and the University of Kentucky law school, Keeton began a 40-year career as a lawyer and Clark County prosecutor. He and his wife, Eileen, have five children, 14 grandchildren and a great-grandchild between them.

131212Keeton-Art0007Keeton’s hobbies have always been hunting and woodworking. He was fascinated with antique Kentucky long rifles, and he made stocks for reproduction flintlocks. He began repairing antique furniture, then making furniture.

One project was a walnut plantation desk, which he made to fit some turned and faceted legs he salvaged from an antique table he bought at an auction. When he decided in 2009 to make a table to match the desk, and he bought his first lathe to copy the antique legs.

“I absolutely fell in love with wood-turning,” Keeton said. “I finished that table and that’s the last piece of furniture I made. I’ve been turning ever since.”

He began with some turned-wood Christmas tree ornaments, then made a shallow dish from a cherry board. That led him into bowls, vessels, urns and sculpture. Keeton has made about 175 pieces in the past four years, building on four decades of woodworking skill and expertise.

Keeton is a juried and exhibiting artist in the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen and the Kentucky Crafted program. He displays and sells work at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea, the Appalachian Artisan Center in Hindman, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville, three Kentucky galleries and one in Scottsdale, Ariz.

He will be teaching wood-turning classes next year at two prestigious craft schools: the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., and the Arkansas Craft School in Mountain View. For more information, see Johnkeeton.com.

Keeton said his work has sold well, but that isn’t why he spends four or five hours a day in his shop making it.

“I turn for artistic expression,” he said. “I’ve always had a need to create. That’s really where it started.”

Most of Keeton’s designs come from classic, mathematical patterns that have been used in art and architecture for thousands of years — parabolas, fibonacci spirals and all kinds of curves.

Keeton sketches designs, often while watching television in the evening, then carefully chooses wood from a growing collection of blocks he has collected in a storage room beside his shop and a converted tobacco barn.

He especially likes to work with burls, the bulbous growths on trees that are caused by various kinds of stress. They have unique figured patterns of grain that when polished yield unique designs.

Many of Keeton’s pieces are embellished with copper handles or finials, or with gold or copper leaf. Some others display accents that look rich and metallic but are created with little more than glue, cheese cloth and tissue paper.

“I just do what’s pleasing to me,” Keeton said. “If it sells, that’s great. But that’s not why I do it. Selling is simply the icing on the cake.”

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

 


Lexington sculptor’s work comes to life with the turn of a crank

November 19, 2013

131120Armstrong-Art0005

Artist Steve Armstrong’s piece Spring is part of a 20-year retrospective show at ArtsPlace through Jan. 17. Photo provided

 

You cannot truly appreciate a Steve Armstrong sculpture by just looking at it. You must turn the crank.

Each piece depicts a richly painted fantasy, complete with human figures expertly carved out of wood. When you turn the crank, wooden gears move, levers twist, rods shift and the figures come to life like an antique toy.

“I try to jog a memory, create a mystery, that childlike sense of wonder at discovering something new,” the Lexington artist said of his work, a genre of sculpture known as automata. “I enjoy testing the limits of my imagination.”

You can enjoy it, too. A couple dozen of the 400 or so pieces Armstrong has made over the past two decades are on display through Jan. 17 at ArtsPlace, 161 N. Mill St. The free show is titled: Steve Armstrong: 20 years of Mystery and Wonder.

Armstrong has pieces all over the world. One avid collector is Tom Cousins, the real estate developer who reshaped Atlanta’s skyline in the 1970s and ’80s. Locally, Armstrong’s work is in the University of Kentucky Art Museum and Chandler Medical Center.

“I have a kind of a naughty piece at the Kinsey Institute,” he said, referring to the famous sex research institute at Indiana University. “Not too terribly naughty.”

131112SteveArmstrong-TE0013Armstrong, 68, said it took many years to discover his calling as an artist, although he had plenty of clues along the way.

“I have always had a bit of curiosity about how things work,” he said. “I was the type of kid who invariably took my toys apart.”

Armstrong was the son of a career Air Force pilot. He lived all over the country, and in Japan from ages 7 to 10. That’s when he encountered Japanese wind-up toys.

“I took a lot of those apart and never could get them back together,” he said. “I was curious about what made them move.”

Armstrong ended up in Lexington for high school, and after two years at UK served in the Air Force from 1967-71. He then returned to UK and studied art under the late John Tuska, who became one of his biggest influences.

Armstrong also became intrigued with Montessori education, which allowed him to use his knowledge of art and music (he has played guitar in a rock band since age 16). He became a certified Montessori teacher and operated a school in Lexington for 18 years while making art in his spare time.

“I dabbled in painting and printmaking and ceramics and wood-block engraving,” he said. But what he enjoyed most were making carved-wood mechanical novelties that he sold at folk art shows. In 1993, he sold his school to become a full-time artist.

“I had an epiphany that maybe there was a fine art way to do these mechanical pieces,” he said.

About that time, Armstrong ran into Tuska, who asked what he was doing. When he showed his former teacher three sculptures he had made, Tuska bought them all.

Another break came when Armstrong’s former neighbor, Transylvania University art professor Jack Girard, saw his work and got a piece included in an art show. Gallery owner Heike Pickett tried to buy it, but she was outbid — by Armstrong’s mother.

Still, Pickett asked to represent him, and Armstrong said he has been busy ever since. (He also is represented on the West Coast by the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco.)

Armstrong works from home, as does his wife, Diane Kahlo, also a well-regarded artist and a distant relative of Frida Kahlo, the late Mexican painter. Diane Kahlo is now showing paintings at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco.

When the weather is nice, Armstrong likes to work outside. When winter comes, he carves and paints his yellow-poplar figures and assembles the sculptures at his kitchen table. He has a big basement studio, but it is stuffed with odds and ends he has collected for possible use in future pieces.

“Any crazy thing that I can imagine I can bring to life,” Armstrong said.

“There’s nothing more rewarding for the viewer than to be able to interact with the piece, and really nothing more rewarding for me,” he added. “I love to watch people turn the crank and experience a piece for the first time.”

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

 


What’s happening at Speed Art Museum during 3-year shutdown?

August 10, 2013

Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Pieces of art, including early Kentucky furniture at right, has been stored in several galleries during the Speed Art Museum’s three-year renovation and expansion.  Photos by Tom Eblen  

 

LOUISVILLE — People gasped when Kentucky’s largest art museum announced in late 2011 that it was closing for more than three years for an extensive renovation.

Would the Speed Art Museum lose momentum during such a long shutdown? Or would the break allow it to shift into high gear? After a tour of the work-in-progress, I’m betting on the latter.

The Speed has raised more than $50 million, including $18 million from Louisville’s Brown family, to renovate its 1927 main building, demolish a 1972 addition and expand all over its 5-acre campus beside the University of Louisville.

When it reopens in early 2016, the museum will have 79,600 square feet of renovated space, 75,000 square feet of new space and 135,000 square feet of new outdoor facilities, including an art garden and piazza. Two new wings will add galleries, an education center, a 150-seat film theater and a café.

Like most museums, the Speed wants to attract a larger, younger and more diverse audience by offering relevant art experiences. Those efforts are already underway in a small, temporary space the Speed has rented in downtown Louisville, at 822 East Market Street.

But the Speed also is making a big commitment to Kentucky’s past: a large gallery showcasing the state’s rich decorative arts tradition.

Scott Erbes, director of collections and exhibitions at the Speed Art Museum, will curate the new museum's new Center for Kentucky Art. He holds a piece of painted pottery by Fayette Barnum (1870-1960), a Louisville artist and influential art teacher.

Scott Erbes, director of collections and exhibitions at the Speed Art Museum, will curate the new museum’s new Center for Kentucky Art. He holds a piece of painted pottery by Fayette Barnum (1870-1960), a Louisville artist and influential art teacher.

When the Speed’s director of collections, Scott Erbes, offered to give me a private tour of the shuttered museum, I couldn’t resist.

Our first stop was the famous English Room, where elaborate oak paneling carved in the early 1600s for a manor house in Devon has been stripped from the walls. Each piece has been numbered and shelved so it can be reassembled in a different room.

Some galleries were empty and in various stages of renovation. Others resembled high-class attics, packed with the museum’s 14,000 pieces of art. Paintings hung on sliding panels of steel mesh. Furniture and sculpture lined shelves. The arms of marble statues were covered with bubble wrap.

The Speed has loaned some pieces to other museums. Choice European paintings are part of an exhibit at The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky in Lexington through Sept. 22. Some Kentucky paintings are at the Hopewell Museum in Paris through Sept. 2.

I was most interested in plans for a new Center for Kentucky Art, a 5,600-square-foot gallery that will house paintings, sculpture, furniture, silver, pottery and textiles made or used in the state between the late 1700s and the mid-1900s.

“With the exception of paintings, Kentucky art had never been a major focus” of the museum, Erbes said. But that changed after he met Bob and Norma Noe of Wilmore.

The Noes are Garrard County natives whose ancestors came to Kentucky more than two centuries ago. The Noes lived for 25 years in the Washington, D.C., area, where he worked as a cost analyst for the Air Force. In their free time, they visited museums all along the East Coast.

“Many of them had sections devoted to their home state,” Bob Noe, 84, recalled. “It was very noticeable to me that there was no such thing in Kentucky, even though I knew many high-quality things were made here.”

The Noes began collecting early Kentucky pieces, and their hobby became a passion after they retired and returned to the state in 1979. The Noes went to local auctions and noticed that the best Kentucky pieces were being bought by out-of-state collectors. So they started buying.

130730SpeedMuseum0044“It was quite cheap then, because there weren’t many Kentucky collectors,” Noe said. “Now it is very, very expensive.”

The Noes wanted Kentuckians to have more appreciation for their arts heritage, so they began looking for an institution to donate their collection to. They considered the University of Kentucky, “but they had no place to put it,” he said.

They began talking with the Speed and were impressed that several board members and the staff shared their passion. In 2011, the Noes donated 119 pieces to the Speed, more than doubling its Kentucky holdings. The Noe collection is the foundation of the new center, which Erbes hopes to expand through other acquisitions and loans.

The new center will show the quality and variety of early Kentucky art. It will explain how styles developed as artists, craftsmen and their customers moved around the state. And it will link history to the arts, showing, for example, how the arts were used to promote and memorialize famous Kentuckians such as Daniel Boone, Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln.

“Rightly or wrongly, I have felt that Kentuckians have not had enough pride in their early beginnings,” Noe said, adding that he hopes the Center for Kentucky Art will help change that.

When the Speed displayed pieces from his collection at special exhibits in 2000 and 2002, Noe said, he enjoyed watching visitors’ reactions.

“I saw young people turn to their parents after leaving,” he said, “and say they didn’t know Kentuckians had made such beautiful things.”

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo and read caption:

 


Veteran sign painter creates art from Lexington, racing nostalgia

August 5, 2013

130723OldSigns0065

John Cox, owner of Thoroughgraphics, shows a copy, at right, he is making of an old sign from the Nashua Room at the old Hialeah racetrack in Hialeah, Fla. Cox said he acquired several old Hialeah signs years ago when the sign company he worked for was hired to replace them.  Photos by Tom Eblen  

 

John Cox’s artwork is a shot of nostalgia for anyone who lived in Lexington or followed Thoroughbred racing during the decades after World War II. His paintings are literally signs of the times, recalling the famous and infamous.

Cox’s hand-painted signs look as though they spent decades at such places as Joyland Park, Stoll Field, Scott’s Rollarena, Comer’s Restaurant or Keeneland.

Remember the Library Lounge, that swinging singles bar in the 1970s? Or the Red Lion Lounge, which featured the “exotic” dancer Chesty Morgan? And don’t forget Boot’s Bar, where headliners included the Fabulous Table Toppers and Carlos Toadvine, aka Little Enis, the left-handed, upside down, backwards guitar player.

Longtime racing fans may recall the Citation Room at Hialeah Park in Florida, the Boots & Saddle Bar across the street from the track or Greentree Stable, Payne Whitney’s New Jersey farm that was a Thoroughbred powerhouse in the 1920s.

“I had had several people who asked me to make them a sign that looked like it was old, from some memory they had,” said Cox, who since 1982 has owned and operated Thoroughgraphics, a Lexington sign company.

Cox was soon making “new old” signs for gifts. Since late last year, he has been showing and selling his pieces at Gallery Hop. His work is now on display at Congleton Lumber Co.’s new showroom, 1260 Industry Road, and at his website, Newoldsigns.com.

Cox left last week for Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where Saratoga Race Course is celebrating its 150th year. His company will be making modern signs for its many customers there, and he has made some “new old” Saratoga-themed signs for sale through Lexington’s Cross Gate Gallery.

“It’s a unique niche,” said Cox, 54, who began his career hand-lettering signs for Johnson Sign Co. in the 1970s while a student at Lafayette High School.

130723OldSigns0102Cox had always been interested in calligraphy, and he studied art at the University of Kentucky. Because many of his fraternity brothers were in the horse business, he focused on that industry. His customers now include farms, tracks and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame at Saratoga. He just finished making metal plaques for the newest group of Hall of Fame inductees.

Other than Cox’s artwork, little hand-painting is still done at Thoroughgraphics, which has a lot of modern technology for making all kinds of signs, from huge printers to computer-controlled wood routers.

“There are lots of different ways that are better and longer-lasting now than painting signs,” Cox said, adding that “when they took the lead out of paint, it didn’t last as long or hold its color very well.”

That technology would make it easy to reproduce old-fashioned sign images. But that wouldn’t be the same as what Cox does. His hand-painted letters show brush strokes, and he makes each piece look old and authentic with creative use of sandpaper, varnish and sometimes even a little dirt.

“I don’t try to pass them off as being old,” he said. “If you look at the back of them, you can see they’re brand-new materials.”

Cox said his signs are a mixture of authenticity and imagination. He researches a place, looking for photographs of old signs there. If he finds a design he likes, he copies it. Or he may use imagery from old promotional materials, such as matchbook covers.

For other signs, Cox simply makes up a design appropriate to the era — how he would have done the job, if only he had been around then to do it. Most of his pieces are inspired by signs from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Cox has collected more than 100 antique signs that cover the walls of his workshops at Thoroughgraphics. There has been a resurgence in public interest in old signs. There is even an American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.

Most of Cox’s “new old” signs sell for $200 to $400, although he is asking $2,000 for a large Keeneland sign painted with gold leaf.

Cox said he has enjoyed showing his work, because people come up and tell him great stories about their memories of the places depicted in his signs.

“It’s a great creative outlet for me,” he said. “And people seem to really enjoy them.”

 Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo and read caption:


Sculptor Julie Warren Conn carves a new niche in Kentucky

June 18, 2013

130611StoneArtist0097

Julie Warren Conn uses a grinder to carve a piece of Minnesota limestone in her studio near downtown Winchester. Her fork lift often doubles as a work table.  Photos by Tom Eblen

 

WINCHESTER — When Julie Warren Conn was a student at the University of Tennessee, she hoped to be a French major, but couldn’t speak the language. She became an art major instead, but continued to struggle with some basics.

“I couldn’t paint, couldn’t draw, but I loved working with my hands,” said Conn, who in 1965 became the UT School of Art’s first sculpture graduate.

Over the next dozen years, Conn mastered steel welding. Then she took up stone carving. Since 1977, the artist formerly known as Julie Warren Martin has developed a national reputation as a stone sculptor, with dozens of pieces in prestigious museums and collections.

Her work is in places ranging from the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., to the Holiday Inn headquarters in Stamford, Conn. Her largest piece is a 30-ton installation of New Mexico travertine outside what is now GlaxoSmithKline’s U.S. headquarters in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

130611StoneArtist0129After her husband of 12 years, Philip Conn, retired as president of Western Oregon University in 2005, they moved to Lexington and she opened a small studio and gallery in Winchester (Juliewarrenconn.com). But she has shown little work in Kentucky, until now.

A collection of Conn’s sculptures, titled Stories in Stone, will be featured during Gallery Hop, 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, at the Central Library Gallery, 140 E. Main St. The free exhibit opened June 15 will remain up through Aug. 11.

Conn, 70, grew up in Knoxville, where her father, Millard Warren, owned a specialty concrete business and had an interest in design. Access to his company’s heavy equipment made it easier for her to begin carving and polishing stone.

Knoxville has had a significant marble processing industry since the early 1900s, thanks to East Tennessee’s quarries of pink marble. Conn said she learned cutting and shaping techniques from marble mill employees who let her work in their shop.

“I became their resident artist,” she said. “One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about my work is the opportunities to become connected with people.”

Marble remains a favorite medium for Conn, although her gallery also includes pieces made of travertine, granite, onyx, alabaster and various volcanic and fossilized rocks.

130619StoneArt0001Conn’s typical day at the office involves driving a fork lift. It doubles as a workbench for large hunks of stone, such as the column of Minnesota limestone she was grinding down the day I visited her studio. Her tools include grinders, saws, chisels and a big exhaust fan to clear out clouds of gritty stone dust. There’s a good reason her studio is zoned industrial.

The most time-consuming part of Conn’s work is polishing her sculptures, which can take three-times longer than cutting the basic shapes. After progressing through sandpaper between 80 and 1,000 grit, she finishes each piece with paste wax.

The petite Conn said she has never been intimidated by the physicality needed to work with hard and heavy slabs of stone. While careful to avoid injury, she said she has fallen off ladders and scaffolding and once had a grinder disk fly apart and send her to the ground.

Some of Conn’s work is representational, but most pieces are abstracts dictated by the stone she is working with. That often includes openings and holes, which give the sculpture a lighter feel — and can be useful for securing belts to move it.

“I let the rock guide me,” she said. “I love to take a volume of stone and begin carving. I won’t have a clue what it will be. Then it will start to look like something to me, or somebody will come in and interpret it.”

Conn said she sometimes likes to see how far she can push a piece of stone without breaking it. She also enjoys experimenting with new and different kinds of rock, such as the small sculpture she made from a chunk of common Kentucky limestone she found outside her studio. Once highly polished, it was unrecognizable.

Conn has recently started making bronze sculptures cast from her stone pieces, as well as bas relief stone drawings inspired by ancient Egyptian ruins.

On one side of Conn’s studio are a dozen large wooden boxes filled with rocks awaiting her attention, including a few her husband found and suggested she might want to experiment with.

“When Philip starts toward me with a rock, I run,” she said with a laugh. “Because it usually means trouble.”

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


Kentucky Mudworks has succeeded by thinking outside the wheel

April 22, 2013

130416KyMudworks0047

Link Henderson of Kentucky Mudworks makes one of the ceramic pint glasses that will be part of her fundraiser for Seedleaf on April 27 at West Sixth Brewery. A $15 donation to the community garden group will come with a beer in one of her handmade pint glasses. Photo by Tom Eblen 

 

Link Henderson moved here after college in 1997 because her best friend got married, got a teaching job in Lexington and bought a duplex where Henderson could rent the other half.

“I always wanted to own my own business, ever since I was a kid,” said Henderson, who grew up in North Carolina and majored in Latin and ceramics at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. “I just didn’t know what it was or how it would happen.”

After working as a waitress and baker, Henderson got a job teaching ceramics classes at the city-owned Loudoun House.

When it was closed for a major renovation, she rented studio space in an old carriage house downtown, offered her own classes and made pottery to sell.

As the business grew, she moved to larger quarters on Jefferson Street. One thing led to another, and Kentucky Mudworks LLC is now a full-service ceramics studio, school and store at 825 National Avenue.

130416KyMudworks0085The company will have one of its two annual charity fundraisers April 27 at West Sixth Brewery. Called Pints for Plants, the event benefits Seedleaf, a nonprofit organization that works to provide affordable, nutritious food for people at risk of hunger in Central Kentucky.

Henderson is hand-making more than 300 ceramic pint glasses. Donors get a pint of beer in a glass for a $15 donation to Seedleaf, from 3 p.m. until they are all gone.

Henderson said Kentucky Mudworks’ success has been all about diversification.

“Knowing my market and being willing to have a toe in every facet of the business,” she said.

When Henderson began making pottery and teaching classes, she was frustrated that there was no good place in the region to buy clay. There are fewer than a dozen ceramic clay manufacturers in the country, and mail order is expensive.

“A box of clay is only $30, but it costs $20 to ship it,” she said. “So, if you have a local supplier, it’s a really great thing.”

Henderson started selling clay to potters, schools and universities. Kentucky Mudworks now stocks 80 kinds of clay in its 11,000-square-foot facility, along with kilns, wheels and a full range of pottery materials and supplies.

130416KyMudworks0049When online retailers started taking a bite out of her margins several years ago, Henderson created her own line of tools.

“Instead of trying to compete with 30 or 50 online stores, I wanted to have products in those stores,” she said.

Dirty Girls Pottery Tools now has about 40 distributors in the United States and Canada. Henderson also sells them at her shop and website: Kentuckymudworks.com.

Henderson and her five employees make commissioned pottery, such as trophies and awards. They also offer ceramics classes for adults and children. Kentucky Mudworks recently partnered with Zig Zeigler, a stained-glass artist whose studio is down the street, to offer stained glass classes.

The hardest thing about building the business was financing.

“In the beginning, it was credit cards, which is an absolute no-no,” Henderson said. “But I was 25 and had no collateral.”

As the business grew, she was able to get a conventional loan, which she plans to pay off in September. Henderson owns 90 percent of the business. Eight percent is owned by a friend and investor, and a longtime employee owns 2 percent.

But, for many years, much of Henderson’s capital came from living simply and plowing most of her earnings back into the business.

“I probably lived on 700 bucks a month for I don’t know how long, literally living above the shop,” she said. “Ramen noodles: that’s how I financed my business!

“I didn’t have a family or a mortgage,” added Henderson, 38, who now lives on a farm near Lawrenceburg. “I started when I was so young because I figured if I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it if I have something to lose.”

In addition to constant financial discipline, Henderson said she does a business plan every five years to stay on track.

Kentucky Mudworks has been a lot of work, but it has been worth it, she said.

“I wish more young people would start businesses,” Henderson said. “I was very, very lucky. I found a niche, a hole in the market that I was able to capitalize on.

“But it takes so much more than you think.”

Click on each thumbnail to see larger photo and caption:

 


Father and son show the math in art and the art in math

April 20, 2013

130421Demaines

Martin Demaine, left, and his son, Erik, with one of their paper origami sculptures. 

 

Martin Demaine became a single parent when his son was 2. Suddenly, the visual artist went from being a workaholic who spent little time with Erik to his constant companion, teacher and collaborator.

It has worked out well for both of them. Amazingly well.

When Erik started designing puzzles at age 6, they created a company to sell them. After first grade, Martin home-schooled his son, including teaching him a lot about art. Erik started playing with computers and teaching his father, who has gone on to do computer science research.

At age 20, Erik finished his Ph.D. in computer science and became the youngest faculty member in the history of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Then came a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant at age 21 and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship.

130421Demaines1Erik, 31, and Martin, 70, both now teach at MIT. Earlier this month, they were awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Their current research into paper folding holds promise for breakthroughs in fields ranging from engineering to pharmaceuticals.

The Demaines will be in Lexington this week to give two free, public lectures about their research and open an exhibit of their work at The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, which will be on display until May 26.

The Demaines will speak on “Algorithms Meet Art, Puzzles and Magic” at 5 p.m. April 24 at the Worsham Theater in UK’s Student Center. The next day, at 4 p.m., they will talk on “Geometric Puzzles” at Transylvania University’s Cowgill Center, room 102.

Their visit was initiated by Dr. Sylvia Cerel-Suhl, a Lexington physician whose son, Adam Suhl, studies with the Demaines at MIT.

Between those lectures, the Demaines will go to Danville to blow glass with Centre College artist Stephen Powell, who they met through mutual friend Lino Tagliapietra, the renowned Italian glass artist. In January, the Demaines plan to spend a week or two at Centre, creating art with Powell and lecturing on mathematics.

In separate telephone interviews last week, the Demaines said they work at the intersection of mathematics and art.

“We have used one to help solve problems with the other,” Martin said. “They are very similar in many ways. They both have these exciting moments when you discover things, when you succeed in visualizing something.”

“It’s all about creativity,” Erik said. “All about having clever ideas and executing those ideas. We look for mathematics in the art we do, and art in the mathematics we do.”

130421Demaines3Many grants now require an artist to be part of the team of research scientists, because it brings a different kind of thinking to the problem-solving process. Much of the Demaines’ work at MIT involves acting as “translators” between artists and scientists.

In addition to creating art, the Demaines teach and have published about 80 scientific papers with each other and a variety of fellow researchers.

The Demaines’ current work began with a fascination for origami, the Japanese art of paper folding. The orgiami pieces in their UK show involve precise circular folds that cause paper to bend itself into distinct shapes. The sculptures are composed of several interlocking pieces of folded paper, sometimes enclosed in a blown-glass vessel they made.

“Origami has always been seen as a recreational art,” Erik said. “But we embraced it as a serious thing. That turned out to be a good bet, because there are a lot of applications to science and engineering.”

For example, their origami research has led to safer automobile airbags. Their research discovered new ways to fold up airbags so that, when they deploy, the force is spread more evenly so drivers and passengers are not injured.

Future applications of such folding techniques include self-supporting structures or even space station modules that could deploy themselves when they reach their destination. But the most exciting possibilities are microscopic.

“I think the big application for us would be if we could help develop techniques for protein-folding that would be better for drug design,” Martin said.

“It’s quite exciting,” he added. “It makes life for us an adventure. We are just hoping that more doors will open up.”

 


Artist Lina Tharsing branches out while maintaining Lexington roots

April 2, 2013

130330LinaTharsing-TE0021Lina Tharsing’s new show appears at UK Hospital through August. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Lina Tharsing‘s paintings place the viewer between the real and the unreal. This month, as the artist celebrates her 30th birthday and opens her last Lexington show for a while, she finds herself in a similar position.

“I’ve been fortunate to have such strong support in Lexington,” Tharsing said. “But I would like to branch out more.”

Tharsing’s six-painting show, Making a New Forest, recently went up at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center‘s East Gallery, which is free and open 24/7. An opening reception is planned for 6 to 8 p.m. April 27.

When the show comes down at the end of August, the title painting will remain at the hospital, thanks to several donors. Any unsold pieces will be part of a show of Tharsing’s newest work this fall at Poem 88 gallery in Atlanta.

The Atlanta show will be the second solo exhibition outside of Kentucky for Tharsing, who last year was chosen as No. 5 on Oxford American magazine’s list of 100 “new superstars of Southern art.” Conduit Gallery in Dallas showed her work in 2011.

Tharsing’s recent shows have featured paintings based on the famous dioramas built in the 1930s at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

130330LinaTharsing-TE0016The paintings displayed in Dallas were small, colorful pictures that looked like natural scenes of animals in the wild — until the viewer notices the edge of a display case or the telltale glint of light on a plate-glass window.

Making a New Forest offers a different perspective on the dioramas. These striking pictures are 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide, and painted completely in black and white. In addition to animals and landscapes, they show men in lab coats and ties, positioning the stuffed animals or fabricating scenery. The paintings are based on 1930s black-and-white photographs of the museum’s staff at work.

“I liked the idea of these people creating new environments, and what these environments stand for,” Tharsing said. “I also thought it would be interesting to see what happens when you take a black-and-white photograph and make a black-and-white painting.”

Painting the old photos of the dioramas being built allowed Tharsing to incorporate human figures into natural landscapes, and to play with size and scale.

“I was interested in that tension between real and unreal,” she said, “showing multiple truths existing in the same space.”

Tharsing is excited about exhibiting in the hospital’s hallway gallery, which thousands of people walk by each day.

“It’s a good opportunity to show your work and see what the general public thinks of it, and not just the art public,” she said.

Although it sometimes seems a little unreal, Tharsing is pleased with the attention her work is getting beyond Lexington, where she graduated from Lafayette High School and earned a bachelor of fine arts at UK.

Many people here know her as the daughter of Robert Tharsing, a painter and retired UK art professor, and Ann Tower, a painter and gallery owner.

The exhibition was organized by Lexington native Phillip March Jones, an artist who started the Institute 193 gallery and works as a curator for UK hospital and in Atlanta.

Her next project will continue her fascination with mixing real and unreal imagery. These even-larger paintings, in color, will be based on cellphone photographs she has taken, including a startling image of the ceiling collapsing in an abandoned Atlanta paint factory.

Tharsing expects to spend more time in New York during the next few years, making connections and, she hopes, showing and selling her paintings. But she has no plans to move there.

“Lexington is such a great place to be able to live inexpensively and have a good support network,” she said. “There’s just a great community here. There are a lot of young people here doing entrepreneurial, exciting things, and I want to see that happen.”

 


Mark Whitley turns furniture art into business

April 2, 2012

Mark Whitley in his workshop near Smiths Grove. Photo by Tom Eblen

SMITHS GROVE — When Mark Whitley was growing up in rural Barren County, his father’s workshop was his playground.

“I would just come home from school and make something out of wood,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was training for anything. It’s just what I did.”

It is still what he does. But now, Whitley, 36, is one of the region’s up-and-coming furniture artists. His hand-crafted pieces are winning awards at exhibitions such as the American Craft Council’s Atlanta Show and Kentucky Crafted: The Market.

He has been able to grow as an artist and earn a comfortable living for himself; his wife, Melissa, the director of a non-profit agency in nearby Bowling Green; and their 3-year-old son, Briar.

Kentucky has always had many fine artists and craftspeople. Whitley is part of a new generation that not only is pursuing artistic passion but learning how to turn it into a viable business.

Whitley credits much of his commercial success to the Kentucky Arts Council, a state agency that sponsors the annual Kentucky Crafted: The Market and many education and grant programs. He won a $7,500 Al Smith Fellowship and was a participant in the Platinum 10 program, which gives 10 Kentuckians a year of intense training in the business side of the arts.

“A few simple things I learned in that year really guided my business,” he said. “And it gave me the confidence to make a real living at it.”

The Kentucky Crafted program was created 30 years ago to help the state’s artists and craftspeople sell pieces they produced. But Whitley is an example of a new group of artists who are developing markets for one-of-a-kind pieces.

“He really likes to connect with the people he works with,” said Lori Meadows, executive director of the arts council. “It has been great to watch him get better and better and grow his business.”

Whitley didn’t set out to be a professional artist. After graduating from high school, his main goal was to get out of Kentucky.

Raised in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), he received a scholarship to church-affiliated Chapman University in Orange, Calif., where he earned a degree in religious and peace studies. Whitley said he was accepted into seminary at Vanderbilt University, “but it just didn’t feel right.”

He studied in New Zealand, traveled the United States and worked briefly as a prototype builder for store fixture designer Corman & Associates in Lexington. Then he returned to Barren County.

“The best thing I did was move away for a few years,” he said. “I went all over the country looking for someplace pretty to be and couldn’t find any place better” than Kentucky.

Whitley bought nine acres near where he grew up and built an A-frame house with a big workshop in the basement. He started making and selling furniture, experimenting with designs and technique. But he didn’t know much about the commercial niche of art furniture until he went to Kentucky Crafted: The Market for the first time in 2005. “I said, ‘Wow, these people are just like me,’” he said.

Whitley guesses he has made about 125 pieces, 50 or 60 of them since he began focusing on art furniture. Many have ended up in Lexington homes, thanks to several years of exhibiting at the Woodland Art Fair.

Since he has become better known regionally and nationally, Whitley has been able to nearly double his prices. “Which means I’m actually just making a small profit,” he said. “We live simply, so it’s a pretty good living.”

Whitley’s furniture starts at about $1,800. His average piece sells for $3,000 to $5,000.

More than anything, Whitley said, higher prices allow him to work the way he wants to — slowly and carefully. “That’s what it’s all about: allowing yourself to take time to do excellent work,” he said. “Now, if I create 10 pieces of furniture a year, I’ve been really busy.”

Benches, tables and cabinets comprise much of Whitley’s work. “Chairs are my arch nemesis,” he said. “They’re difficult to build, difficult to make comfortable. But I keep trying.”

Whitley now goes to major shows looking more for commissions than sales of what he takes there. “I just need a few pieces to show my craftsmanship and aesthetic,” he said.

Whitley sold a $10,000 table at Kentucky Crafted: The Market last month in Lexington and got three commissions. Despite the economy, he said, “The couples with ten grand to spend are still out there.”

He also has pieces in corporate collections in Louisville, San Francisco and London, England; the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Frankfort and an art museum in Bowling Green.

When I visited his workshop recently, Whitley was working on his biggest commission yet — a walnut conference table for the Disciples of Christ Historical Society in Nashville. Made to seat 20 people, the table top is being built in quarters. Whitley had to go to Michigan to find enough walnut from a single tree so the grain and color would match.

When Whitley gets a commission, he talks with the client about what kind of piece he or she wants and how it will be used. He visits the room where it will be placed and observes other objects that will surround it.

“I see a piece of furniture in my head almost immediately when I talk to a client,” he said. He makes sketches, then a formal proposal, which is almost always accepted unchanged.

Whitley doesn’t work from detailed plans. “All of the details are worked out on the workbench,” he said, which includes taking cues from the wood’s grain, texture and moisture content. “I abide by the laws of the wood; all the things wood can do to make you look like a fool.”

Whitley’s favorite wood to work with is walnut, followed by cherry, ash and several varieties of maple. Hinges are the only hardware he buys; all knobs and pulls are custom-made for each piece.

He uses no commercial stains or paints, only age-old coloring techniques such as ebonizing. That process turns wood a permanent black through the use of iron, vinegar, tannic acid and other chemicals. Most pieces have oil-based finishes.

Whitley has had trouble finding good furniture lumber in Kentucky, so he buys much of his wood from boutique dealers in Pennsylvania. Planks are stacked against the walls of his workshop. “I’ll get weird boards and hang on to them for years before I decide what to do with them,” he said.

Whitley is constantly experimenting with ways to laminate, color and bend wood to achieve his artistic vision.

“I find myself identifying far more with sculptors these days than furniture makers,” he said.


Free smart phone app now a guide to Gallery Hop

February 16, 2012

TakeItArtside!, Kentucky’s public art smartphone app that I wrote about last March, has made some big improvements in time for Friday’s LexArts Gallery Hop.

The free app for iPhone and Android platforms now includes a filter that allows it to include information about a wider variety of cultural assets: public art, historic homes, museums, galleries, studios and archeological sites across Kentucky.

TakeItArtside! also can now publish special events for any of the sites listed in its database. App users can be notified the day of an event. By clicking on the home page announcement, they are directed to other sites for detailed information.

The app was developed by the Kentucky Museum Without Walls Project, a statewide collaboration initiated by the University of Kentucky’s Gaines Center for the Humanities.

LexArts is the newest partner, joining several other arts organizations, colleges and universities. A new special events page on the app lists galleries and other locations participating in Friday’s Gallery Hop.

The free app is available through online phone app stores. For more information about getting the app, or advertising an arts event on it, go to: KentuckyMuseumWithoutWalls.com.


At new UK hospital, art helps with the healing

December 11, 2011

A loved one is in surgery, and all you can do is worry and wait. Unless, that is, you are at the University of Kentucky’s Albert B. Chandler Hospital.

In that case, you can soothe yourself by admiring original works by some of Kentucky’s best painters, sculptors, photographers and other visual artists.

In the surgery waiting room alone, there are equine paintings by Andre Pater and Peter Williams; blown-glass vessels by Stephen Rolfe Powell of Danville; a wood carving by Wolfe County native Edgar Tolson; interactive three-dimensional works by Steve Armstrong of Versailles; fiber art by UK professor Arturo Sandoval; a sculpture by John Tuska; Lexington painter Robert Tharsing’s fascinating landscape, A Natural History of Kentucky; and much more.

The huge room has just a sample of the more than 300 pieces of art that fill the 1.2 million-square-foot hospital addition, which opened in May. The medical center has become, in effect, one of Kentucky’s notable art museums.

“We wanted to make the public spaces empathetic and relaxing,” said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK’s executive vice president for health affairs. “And we wanted to make it uniquely Kentucky. It’s not all from Kentucky, but most of it is.”

UK has raised about $5 million in private donations to purchase art. The idea is about much more than making the new $532 million building pretty. Art can have a transformative effect on the human spirit. It makes people feel better, from reducing stress to inspiring hope.

“There’s a fair amount of research that shows art will improve moods and make people heal faster,” Karpf said. “So it makes financial sense for us to do this. People feel better and get out of the hospital faster.”

It is common in many cities for major new buildings to invest 1 percent of the construction budget on art. With this huge project, the results are impressive.

As soon as visitors enter the covered walkway over South Limestone from the parking garage, they see glass cases displaying folk art sculptures. Outdoors beneath the walkway is a landscape and water feature with curving fences made from traditional Kentucky dry stone.

Also outside is Second Breath, a bronze figure by Maurice Blik, a Holocaust and cancer survivor. “It ended up being controversial because it’s a nude,” said Jacqueline Hamilton, who coordinates the hospital’s art program.

At the end of the walkway is the education center, where patients and the public can research medical information. It is decorated with cityscapes by Louisville folk artist Anthony Mulligan, other paintings and a case of folk-art sculpture.

Ginkgo, a stainless-steel and fabric sculpture by Warren Seelig, is a focal point in the long lobby that connects the hospital’s wings. Elevator bays feature mosaics of paintings by Versailles glass artist Guy Kemper.

On the lobby’s second floor is the 90-foot-long Celebrate Kentucky wall. Tim Broekema, a Western Kentucky University photojournalism professor, created the wall using photographs and videos of Kentucky scenes taken by dozens of photographers. The wall is constantly changing with images that reflect the current season.

Karpf said the wall has been extremely popular, perhaps because it offers glimpses of home. About 40 percent of the hospital’s patients come from small-town and rural Kentucky.

There are landscape photographs in patient rooms, and paintings and sculpture in halls and reception areas throughout the hospital. Near the emergency room is a video installation called Mine-Control that changes shape as the viewer interacts with it. The pediatric emergency room has art that appeals to children.

The hospital tried to buy at least three pieces from each Kentucky artist it selected. “We’ve done a lot to stabilize the Kentucky art community during the recession,” Karpf said.

Two long corridors have become galleries for temporary exhibits. One now has drawings by Alabama’s Thornton Dial, and the other displays cut-and-paste photographic panoramas of Lexington and New York City by Albert Moser.

The UK hospital is a busy place, but only one piece of art has been damaged — a canvas was accidently ripped but is being repaired. “If you present it as art, people tend to respect it,” Hamilton said.

The Lucille Caudill Little Performing Arts in HealthCare Program and an endowment by Dr. Ronald Saykaly will sponsor performances by UK music students and faculty, as well as other performing artists. Performances can be in the hospital lobby or a new high-tech auditorium. When the violinist Midori was in town in September to perform with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, she also played for hospital patients.

“What has been rewarding is that as we tried to humanize the building for patients, we also humanized it for staff,” Karpf said. Physicians have been big donors to the art program, and nurses have helped choose pieces for areas where they work.

When a pipe burst several months ago, filling an emergency room hall with water, doctors and nurses first made sure there were no patients in danger. “Then they started grabbing art off the walls and putting it on gurneys to take it to safety,” Karpf said. “They saw it as their art.”

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:

 


Idea Festival: Where art, technology collide

September 23, 2011

Artist Shih Chieh Huang created this sculpture using plastic bags and blown air at the Idea Festival in Louisville. Huang's work is being featured at the Land of Tomorrow's gallery in Louisville until Oct. 23. Photo by Tom Eblen

LOUISVILLE — The Idea Festival‘s third day Friday included mini-lectures by five artists supported by Creative Capital whose art uses modern culture, technology, everyday experiences and touches of humor to help us see things in different ways.

Shih Chieh Huang creates fascinating art installations by adapting modern technology to quirky, humorous and sometimes amazing new uses. It’s hard to describe his work; you just have to see it. To do that, click here. Or, better yet, see an exhibit of his work at the Land of Tomorrow gallery’s Louisville space, Sept. 23 – Oct. 23. For more information, click here.

Mark Shepard showed an “instructional video” that uses humor to comment on modern life, technology and urban architecture. His tool is the “Serendipitor” — an imaginary device for finding something by looking for something else. The device provides such useful instructions as: “Walk toward the heart of the city. If it doesn’t have a heart, give it one.”  See more of his work by clicking here.

Julie Wyman is a photographer whose art has evolved into recording “light events” without a traditional camera. That has included recording full moons to light in Antarctica. See more of her work by clicking here.

Pamela Z bends and synthesizes her voice and other sounds with images to create dazzling audio-visual experiences. She also has expanded into audio-visual art installations. See more of her work by clicking here.

Richard Pell is the creator of the Center for Post-Natural History, which has a location in Pittsburgh and does installations around the country. With big doses of humor, he explores how human culture and science has altered nature. He especially likes to focus on creatures who through selective breeding and genetic modification have become part of what he calls the “post-natural world.” Read more about his work by clicking here.

Creative Capital is a New York-based nonprofit that tries to be “a catalyst for the development of adventurous and imaginative ideas by supporting artists who pursue innovation in form and/or content in the performing and visual arts, film and video, and in emerging fields.” For more information, see its website.



New art school gives amateurs a place to create

June 13, 2011

Dr. Cindy Derer, a Lexington dentist for three decades, doesn’t consider herself an artist. For her, art is a hobby and a way to relax.

“I think most dentists have a little bit of artist in them,” she said. “Sculpting is what I do for a living, but they all have to end up looking like a tooth. I wanted to do something that didn’t look like a tooth, or fit in a mold.”

Over the years, Derer took evening art classes through the Fayette County Public Schools and what is now Bluegrass Community and Technical College — “I closed down both of those programs,” she said — and from the Lexington Art League and the Living Arts and Science Center.

She studied with sculptor Thomas Baker, whose day job is Web site development, but he often didn’t have a good place to have classes. So they got an idea: Why not start an art school for people like them?

Derer and Baker rented a small suite beside her dental office at Alumni Drive and New Circle Road and, in April, opened the Lexington Art Academy.

The first group of 25 students finished classes last week. During the term, local artists taught classes in figure sculpture, universal drawing, portrait drawing, introduction to oil painting and beginning rug-hooking.

“It has been a lot of fun,” said Michael Burrell, who taught the portrait-drawing class and whose own recent artwork includes the music-themed outdoor mural on the side of Al’s Bar at the corner of East Sixth and North Limestone streets. “The students are doing better than I thought.”

The next session of evening classes begins June 20 and throughout July and August. They include universal drawing, portrait sculpture, experimenting with watercolors and pastels, beginning rug-hooking, color composition, drawing foundation for painting, tapestry, and introduction to batik, an Asian art form of fabric dying.

The two-hour classes meet for between four and eight weeks and cost $80 to $280, plus some materials fees. for more information, click here.

The first group of academy students had a wide range of day jobs, including dentist, doctor, decorator, housewife and photographer. The classes are intended for adults, but some older teenagers are accepted.

“A lot of people tell me, ‘You know, I’m just not artistic,’ and I say, ‘How do you know?’ ” Derer said. “I suggest people who are interested in art try several things until they find something that’s fun and not frustrating.”

Eventually, Baker said, the academy could grow into a regular art school. Derer’s goals are more modest. Profitability? “In my wildest dreams,” she said. “I will be delighted if I break even at some point in my lifetime.”

For Derer, it’s all about fun. “I like it that it’s just something entirely different from work and doesn’t count for anything but recreation,” she said. “I find the process very relaxing. Two hours go by in the blink of an eye.”


Looking for public art? There’s an app for that.

March 23, 2011

Central Kentucky has more public art than most people realize, from edgy new murals and sculpture to historical architecture that has become so much a part of the landscape that we take it for granted.

Finding and learning more about this art has never been easier, thanks to a new, free tool that is as close as the palm of your hand.

The Kentucky Museum Without Walls project will soon release an Android version of its TakeItArtside! application, which was launched in November for Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iTouch.

The app is the brainchild of faculty and students at the University of Kentucky’s Art Department and Gaines Center for the Humanities and was developed by Lexington’s APAX Software. You may download it free from Apple’s App Store or the project’s Web site, Kentuckymuseumwithoutwalls.com.

The application uses GPS mapping technology to direct users to art in public places in Fayette and surrounding counties. There is a photograph of and information about each piece. Users may search for public art in the region and make a gallery of favorites.

But that is just the beginning, said Christine Huskisson, the project’s co-founder and a part-time UK art professor. “It has the ability to engage people in public art who haven’t been engaged before,” she said.

Users may send feedback and information to project developers, such as whether a piece of art has been vandalized. Soon, they will be able to add additional artwork to the database, along with photographs and background information.

“We’re using the community to help us build the content,” Huskisson said, adding that submitted information will be edited and verified by project volunteers.

Interdisciplinary lesson plans for middle school and high school students are available on the app and the Web site, and discussions are under way about using them in local school systems. The app also has a calendar of events.

The app will soon launch an interactive game — ArtFit — that will help users count calories they burn while walking to visit artwork. Streaming video interviews with local artists will be added soon.

Eventually, Huskisson said, the project hopes to grow into its name and expand statewide, perhaps with help from UK’s network of county extension agents.

Georgetown College, where art department chair Juilee Decker has been active in public art projects, has joined as a partner in the Kentucky Museum Without Walls. Discussions are under way to bring in Transylvania University, too.

“It kind of has this life of its own,” Huskisson said. The collaborative nature of the project has allowed it to come a long way in less than a year. It recently won a regional award from the Association for Continuing Higher Education.

The project began when Marnie Holoubek asked Huskisson and her museum-studies students to help develop a public-art master plan for the Legacy Trail. As that project progressed, ambitions grew.

Huskisson discovered that Lisa Broome-Price, associate director of the Gaines Center, wanted to create a public-art database for the region. After receiving a $10,000 Commonwealth Collaborative grant from UK to develop their vision, they attended a professional conference in Baltimore and were inspired by mobile apps in New York and Portland, Ore., and an online public-art database in Philadelphia.

They and their students visualized the user experience — including games and lesson plans — and APAX Software figured out how to turn it into reality. Subsequent funding has come from the Gaines Center and private donations.

UK and Georgetown College students have collected information about artwork for the database — taking photos, writing descriptions and plotting GPS locations. The process has led to some interesting discussions about what is public art.

Huskisson said TakeItArtside! is including any painting, sculpture, mural or other work that is outside or in a building accessible to the general public. But project leaders are taking a broad view. Many historical homes were added to the database because they are architectural works of art, Broome-Price said.

By increasing awareness of public art, the project hopes to develop more appreciation for the art Kentucky has — and an appetite to create more.

“It’s about cultural assets in public places,” Huskisson said. “And we have a lot more of them than many people realize.”


Chamber knows Kentucky art is good for business

February 27, 2011

FRANKFORT — When the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce decided to renovate and enlarge its headquarters to create more public space, chamber president David Adkisson said, “I kept saying I wanted something really Kentucky.”

He considered asking architects to design the 7,000-square-foot addition to look like a fancy Bluegrass horse barn, or even a bourbon distillery warehouse.

“They convinced me that wasn’t the way to go,” Adkisson said, as he gave me a tour of the beautiful, but conventional, new space.

What is happening instead is a better reflection of Kentucky’s uniqueness: the Chamber is filling its new building with a diverse collection of original art and furniture by the state’s contemporary artists and craftsmen.

Since the new space opened in April, it has been a big hit, with members of the business advocacy group and with other Kentucky organizations that have used the new meeting rooms, Adkisson said.

He said the project has more than achieved his goal of making the Chamber’s headquarters, near the intersection of Interstate 64 and U.S. 60, a prominent “front door” to Frankfort.

“We’re in the business of showing off the best of Kentucky, so this was a natural,” Adkisson said. “We made a conscious effort to create a gallery-like atmosphere that would showcase the artwork. Now, when groups come here, the art immediately becomes the focus of attention.”

The project also has been a significant boost for Kentucky artists — and not just because the Chamber has so far spent about $50,000 buying and commissioning pieces. Louisville distiller Brown Foreman gave $40,000 toward the art project, and most of the rest so far has come from building-project money, Adkisson said.

Lori Meadows, executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council, worked closely with the Chamber to identify artists and pieces for the building.

“It’s incredibly important for the Chamber to recognize that to complete a building, you need art,” Meadows said. “A lot of time went into the selection of pieces to make sure they were appropriate for each spot.”

The additional space was built onto the front of the Chamber’s existing 10,000-square-foot building. The two sections are connected by a new, light-filled lobby. The upper parts of the tall lobby walls are covered with panoramic Kentucky scenes by Jeff Rogers, a Lexington photographer best known for his two Kentucky Wide books.

The Chamber’s new board room is dominated by a round conference table designed by Brooks Meador of Interspace Limited in Lexington and produced by furniture maker Shawn Strevels of Faulkner Fain in Nicholasville.

The board room’s largest wall displays four large seasonal landscape paintings of Kentucky wilderness by John Lackey of Lexington. Light from a corner window illuminates a leaded-glass sculpture by Dan Neil Barnes of Lexington.

The building’s largest meeting space — the AT&T Teleconference Room — has a 10-painting suite by Lexington artist Dan McGrath, depicting scenes of commerce across the state.

The new addition also features paintings by Chris Segre-Lewis of Wilmore and Darrell Ishmael of Lexington, and mixed-media pieces by Kathleen O’Brien of Harrodsburg. There are decorative platters made by porcelain artist Wayne Bates of Murray, and a coffee table in the reception area made by Mark Whitley of Smith’s Grove.

“Our goal is to buy one new piece each year,” Adkisson said. After a few more pieces are purchased, he said, the Chamber plans to publish a brochure for visitors, telling about each artwork and the artist who created it.

“I think it’s exciting that they are realizing the value of art and supporting it,” said Ishmael, who in addition to being a successful artist is an executive with East Kentucky Power Cooperative in Winchester. “I think it’s really refreshing, and I wish other businesses would do it.”

Meadows said the Chamber’s collection has inspired several executives to contact her for help in acquiring original Kentucky art for their companies’ buildings. “That’s exactly what we want to see happen,” she said.

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:


Kentuckian’s stained-glass art gets world’s attention

February 27, 2011

VERSAILLES — To see examples of Guy Kemper‘s stained-glass art, go to the Catholic Memorial Chapel at New York’s Ground Zero; a light-rail station in Seattle; or airports in Chicago, Baltimore or Orlando, Fla.

To see where his art is fabricated, go to two factories in Germany, where craftsmen work by hand, using centuries-old methods of coloring, blowing and shaping glass.

But to see where Kemper’s art begins — with quick, bold brush strokes of tempera paint on paper — drive to the end of a narrow country road, down a gravel path onto 52 acres where Clear Creek runs through the Woodford County backwoods.

When I drove there earlier this month, light reflecting off the previous night’s snow poured through the windows of Kemper’s studio, which a previous owner had built to be a machine shop. Kemper, 52, was working on designs for a wall of glass panels that will dominate the lobby of a new hospital in Birmingham, Ala.

“My art is not about what I want; it’s about what the building wants,” Kemper said, explaining that his goal is to use color and light to create not so much a piece of art as an environment.

“You really have to think about where the space is and how light will come into it,” he said. “What’s going to be the right mood for the psychology of the user? Every window wants to move. You have to get the right direction and the right colors.”

Kemper’s huge, abstract windows have brought him international acclaim. Now, he is finishing his first commission in Lexington since 2001. It is something he has never done before: mosaics.

In late April, Kemper will install the 9-foot-square mosaics in lobbies at the new University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital. The pieces, being fabricated by the German company Franz Mayer of Munich, use pieces of glass and polished stone in patterns that suggest blades of grass.

It is the latest evolution of Kemper’s artistic career, which began almost by accident.

The Louisville native had always dabbled in drawing and painting, but he didn’t think he could earn a living as an artist. Kemper moved to Lexington in 1979 and earned a degree in soil and plant science. He figured he might become an extension agent or work for a seed company. Instead, he started repairing stained-glass windows a friend was buying and selling.

Kemper set up a glass shop in downtown Lexington in 1983, and he got his first artistic commission a few years later from Ohavay Zion Synagogue in Lexington. A few others followed, including the one in 1999 that changed his career: a huge window for Florida’s Greater Orlando International Airport.

That job led Kemper to begin working with two German companies — Lamberts Glassworks, in eastern Germany near the Czech border, and Derix Glassstudios near Frankfurt. They are among the last practitioners of ancient techniques that Kemper says create glass of unrivaled color and durability.

The Germans introduced Kemper to a European tradition of separating art and craft. Artists design, but craftsmen produce. “That was a revelation for me,” he said. “Before, I would only design what I could make. This freed my imagination.”

The result has been a close partnership. Kemper leaves his farm periodically to spend several weeks in Germany, helping the craftsmen execute his artistic vision. “I go to the best glass-blowers in the world, and they make me look really good,” he said.

Kemper says he begins his process by studying the place where his window will be installed. He analyzes light patterns, thinks about how people will use the space and sometimes builds detailed architectural models.

He then uses brushes and paint to create images and color combinations that will translate well into the unique properties of hand-blown glass. Many of Kemper’s huge windows, which cost tens of thousands of dollars to make, are inspired by feelings of flight, motion and energy.

Once the designs are finished, Kemper goes to Germany, where craftsmen mouth-blow large glass bottles with two or three layers of color. They cut off the bottles’ tops and bottoms, and through careful reheating and flattening, they create sheets of unique glass.

Powerful acids are used to dissolve some of the glass surface to create his designs, along with occasional use of vitreous enamels that are then kiln-fired. Sometimes sandblasting is used, or prisms are worked into the design to create colorful patterns of light in a room.

Kemper hopes to continue pushing the limits of his creativity for many years, but he worries about whether the craftsmen will be around to produce it. Most artists use faster, cheaper ways to make stained-glass windows, but Kemper doesn’t think they look as good or will last as long.

“Nobody else does what I do,” he said. “Some people don’t like it. But if you like it, there’s nowhere else to get it.”

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:


First look at UK’s new $532 million hospital

February 23, 2011

The University of Kentucky is racing to complete its new Albert B. Chandler Hospital. A curved atrium lobby connects the new hospital with two existing buildings. A water feature with Kentucky stone fences and native trees and plants is being built, above, where Rose Street used to be.

The hospital is scheduled to open with a ribbon-cutting May 15. The first patients will move in on May 22.

“We have not missed a single deadline and we will not miss this one,” said Dr. Michael Karpf, UK’s executive vice president for health affairs, who gave media tours of the construction project Wednesday.

The $532 million project is on time and 1 percent under budget, Karpf said. The project is being paid for by money generated from hospital operations, bonding and private philanthropy. “There is not a single nickel of federal money” in the project, he said. “There’s not a single nickel of state money.”

The 650-bed hospital is being designed with the idea that it will be used for 100 years. Additional sections will be built over the next 30 to 50 years, eventually replacing the older Chandler Medical Center.

“This is a world-class facility, but it will be uniquely Kentucky in the art and landscaping,” Karpf said. The hospital will display a wide variety of original work by Kentucky artists, and a 305-seat auditorium with a studio-quality sound system will feature performance art that can be televised in patients’ rooms.

“This is a serious collection of Kentucky art,” Karpf said, as well as some pieces by artists from elsewhere. The idea is that art will help patients and their families feel more comfortable.

(Click on photos to enlarge them.)

Dr. Michael Karpf, right, shows the atrium construction to Ed Lane, left, and Mark Green of The Lane Report magazine. Photos by Tom Eblen


Buying ‘artistic experience’ rather than just art

February 19, 2011

Art in Bloom, the annual fund-raiser for The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, is trying something new with its silent auction. Rather than buying work by local artists, patrons will bid on chances to experience their art with them.

Winning bidders at Art in Bloom should like this approach — almost as much as the artists do.

For example, Helene Steene is offering a winning bidder and as many as five of his or her friends the chance to spend an afternoon in her Loudoun House studio, learning her painting techniques and using them to create their own art.

Another winning bidder will get to bring as many as 20 people on a private tour of Stephen Rolfe Powell‘s new hot-glass studio in Danville. They also will see a demonstration of Powell’s work, which has brought him international acclaim.

Painting lessons with Mary Ann McKee are up for auction, as is a drawing class with Anne Wehrley Bjork. A winning bidder and as many as four friends will get to spend an afternoon with John Lackey at his Homegrown Press studio in the renovated old Spalding’s Bakery building. Lackey will show how he makes woodblock prints, and he’ll give them each one to take home.

Weaver Philis Alvic and mixed media glass artist Dan Neil Barnes are offering a private tour of their studios for as many as four people. The tour comes with a $150 gift certificate for dinner at Nick Ryan’s. Many of the other experiences also include food or refreshments from restaurants, including Stella’s Kentucky Deli, Flag Fork Farm and the Mousetrap.

Other auction items include a private tour for as many as four people at the Folk Art Center in Morehead and a visit with famous folk artist Minnie Adkins at her home in Elliott County.

Susan Goldstein and Jim Wenneker will invite winning bidders to see art collections in their homes. Ed and Kay Thomas are offering a tour of their beautifully restored 1792 home in Bourbon County; lunch is included. Additional auction offerings are still coming in.

“We thought this would be a fresh approach,” said Marsha Bloxsom, chair of Art in Bloom’s auction committee.

Patrons who attend fund-raisers such as Art in Bloom love art, but they don’t always need more of it for their homes.

“How much better it could be to have a shared experience with friends,” she said. “There are people who are interested in the process as much as the art itself.”

Besides, Bloxsom said, this approach is fairer to local artists, who often struggle to support themselves financially while doing the work they love.

“When they donate something, it’s a piece they could have sold,” she said. “It’s money out of their pocket. And when it sometimes goes for little at an auction, it is almost insulting.”

Some local non-profit groups split auction proceeds with artists, but others simply ask for donations. Artists can’t even get much of a tax benefit, because they can deduct only the cost of materials, not their time. Bottom line: Artists can be reluctant to donate their best work.

“I think it’s good exposure for the artists to do it this way,” said Steene, who in addition to being a professional artist is a volunteer docent at the museum and a member of Art in Bloom’s auction committee.

“Visiting a studio can be an eye-opener,” said Steene, who uses pure pigments, marble dust and other substances to create abstract paintings with multiple layers of complex colors and textures. “I’m going to reveal some of my techniques and let people try them to create their own art.”

Steene, a native of Stockholm, Sweden, who has lived here since 1987, said she is amazed at the flowering of Lexington’s art community in just the past five or six years. This fund-raising approach allows artists to showcase not only their work but their passion in ways that could lead more people to buy original art — or try creating it themselves.

“I think people would enjoy art more if we took some of the mystery out of it,” she said. “This way, they can come into our world and see what it’s like.”

  • If you go

    Art in Bloom

    When: noon-5 p.m. Feb. 25-27

    Where: Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St.

    Admission: $5

    Information: www.uky.edu/ArtMuseum

    Related events at Singletary Center:

    ■ An Evening of Elegance. Black-tie gala. 7 p.m. Feb. 25. $500-$10,000.

    ■ A Night on the Town. Cocktails, auction. 7:30 p.m. Feb. 26. $75, $100.

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo: