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.”


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.