All posts by kmacblogger

A Peaceful Lot

I grew up in West Louisville. I dreamed of raising my family in the beautiful homes surrounding Chickasaw Park and Shawnee Park. I admired the African-American doctors, lawyers, and teachers who were the anchors of our community. I played with the children of my father’s friends, who, like my father, worked in Louisville’s numerous factories. Our parents hadn’t finished college, but the factory jobs they held at General Electric, Phillip Morris, Ford, DuPont, and Brown-Forman paid for the comfortable homes in thriving communities.

My life’s journey took me away from Louisville for almost two decades. Upon my return, the thriving neighborhoods of my youth had transformed into something unfamiliar. Small pockets of prosperity clung to the remnants of a thriving past. Abandoned and vacant properties seemed to be the norm. Entire blocks were marred with the blackened eyes of boarded over homes. They were more than a community eyesore. They negatively impacted the emotional and physical health of a community. The hopelessness associated with boarded up homes can lead to irresponsible choices. The worst of these choices leads to violence. The numerous teddy bear shrines dotting West Louisville serve as proof to this point.

I became concerned about the overabundance of vacant and abandoned properties in West Louisville. I had once lived in Chicago, a city known for its remarkable public art, and there I saw artists transform vacant spaces into inspiring community works of art. I felt public art could be a vehicle for change and growth in West Louisville too.

A friend, who assisted me in transforming a vacant apartment building in Louisville’s Parkland neighborhood into an artistic symbol of hope, heard of Mayor Greg Fischer’s Lots of Possibility Competition. Mayor Fischer was asking residents to submit creative ideas for reusing four lots owned by the city’s Landbank Authority. I founded the West Louisville Women’s Coalition (WLWC) with the help of KMAC board member Chenoweth Allen and local entrepreneur Robin Bray and submitted a proposal. WLWC is a diverse group of nine Louisville women with a mission to create and sustain artistic, peaceful spaces in West Louisville. Our Lots of Possibility proposal would transform a small vacant lot into a Meditation Labyrinth formed from hundreds of bricks painted with inspirational messages from the residents and community supporters of West Louisville. The Meditation Labyrinth was selected as one of the four winners in the competition. Shortly after the announcement, I started my new position at KMAC as an Art Educator and after hearing about the project, KMAC became a Peaceful Partner and provided an artist to assist with the project. After hundreds of volunteer hours, the Meditation Labyrinth, which will be named the Peace Labyrinth, is finally complete.

The Peace Labyrinth will be dedicated, Saturday, October 11, 2014 at 7:00 pm. The lot is located at 3831 Hale Ave, Louisville, KY 40216. The dedication will include a performance by the River City Drum Corps, a message from Mayor Greg Fischer, and a candlelit inaugural peace walk through the labyrinth. This is a free event and open to the public. This dedication ceremony marks the completion of the first step in transforming a vacant lot into an intergenerational community space for peace. It will host monthly peace walks, quarterly visual art activities, and other community programming.

Written by Ramona Lindsey, KMAC Art Educator

EXPO Chicago: A KMAC Donors’ Field Trip

KMAC ‘s Donors Circle brought a hale and hearty group of 14 to EXPO Chicago a week and a half ago. We spent our days cruising the contemporary art offerings out on the Navy Pier. In the afternoon, we enjoyed Kentucky hospitality in the form of tastings of Old Forester provided by Brown-Forman happening at the KMAC booth, which featured selections from recent museum exhibitions: Denise Burge, Matthew Ronay, Elijah Pierce and more.

photo (98)

Outside the art fair, we had the opportunity to visit some outstanding private collections including those of Paul and De Gray, Gary Metzner and Scott Johnson, Richard and Ellen Sandor, and Susan Goodman and Rod Lubeznik.

On Friday, September 19th, Richard and Ellen Sandor impressed us with their extensive body of photography and related objects (over 2,000 pieces from the 1840s to the present) and awed with their encyclopedic knowledge of the contexts in which their historical images were conceived. I especially admired a photo of poet Marianne Moore in her tricorn hat/George Washington getup. The couple’s “Outsider Café”features well-known naïve and intuitive artists Lee Godie, Martin Ramirez, Sharon Scott, and Bill Traylor.

 

On Friday night, we attended gallery openings at Kavi Gupta’s two spaces. I particularly enjoyed watching a documentary that Mickalene Thomas created in memory of her mother, who many will recognize as the principal subject of her work. The film plays continuously in a family room setting, complete with wood paneling, a sofa, and coffee table. That night, Kavi Gupta graciously included us in a party at his place, where we mingled with art stars like Jessica Stockholder. Kavi put a picture of Martha Slaughter and Henry Heuser on Instagram!

photo (12)

On Saturday morning, we ventured to the Gold Coast—where we took in magnificent panoramic views of Lake Michigan at the home of Susan Goodman and Rod Lubeznik. Our group took note of a ceramic portrait bust by Klara Kristalova and a felt piece (resembling a Matisse paper cut-out) by William J. O’Brien. In the bathroom sits a humorous multi-media sculpture by Tokyo-based artist Ken Kagami.

On our final morning in Chicago, we stopped at the warehouse studio of Tony Tasset (husband of well-known Chicago painter Judy Ledgerwood) who manipulates quintessential American imagery in bold colors. He chooses to work in a vernacular of existing genres to communicate with simple signs. His egalitarian, open system of meaning resembles a love letter to 70s super graphic art (such as Robert Indiana).

photo (99)

We had an absolute blast in Chicago. And I am now rested enough to say that I enthusiastically anticipate the next Donors’ Circle trip—to New York City in March! I hope you can join us.

–Leslie Millar, KMAC Donor Circle Member

From Start to Finish: How A KMAC Artist Residency Works

By Liz Richter, KMAC Art Educator

This spring, we had the pleasure of working with Coleridge-Taylor Montessori, one of two Montessori’s in JCPS, as a part of our scholastic artist in residency program here at KMAC. We collaborated with CTM Principal Yvette Stockwell and PTA member Kate Kolb to create a custom residency package with 4th and 5th grade students.  They expressed the vision to create something really memorable and impactful for the students.  From the time that I walked into the school, I had my eye on the big, empty brick walls that framed the entrance of the lobby.  I started researching collaborative clay mural techniques that worked well with elementary students and started sketching a “free form”mosaic approach, where hand-built circle shapes would make up the image.   After consulting with the PTA and principal, we chose a design inspired by their school logo, of a world surrounded by student portraits, and the words “Coleridge-Taylor Montessori.”

Over 175 students in 4-5th grade created a mural piece and coil pot and glazed both.  We started by learning about clay and discussing the process of ceramics. One class made coils on slabs, which formed all of the letters, another class made tile portraits, and five classes made the world pieces.  We decided on circle shapes for the water and leaf shapes for the earth.  Their art room, which was a communal space this year, was a dusty, happy mess (don’t worry, we cleaned it up!).  Some students had never used clay before, and were fascinated with the way the “texture tools” (odds and ends ranging from beads, to buttons, to small plastic sea creatures) created interesting embellishments to their tiles.

I purchased a nice variety of beautiful blues and greens for the land and water to create some variety in the design, and delegated colors to each table of students so that the variety was consistent.  Some students even created little extra texture shapes for us to use as filler.  With the help from Kate from the PTA, we were able to complete our projects in three sessions.  After the students had also made their coil pots and glazed them with their favorite colors, we packed up all the clay and headed back to the museum to fire them in our kilns.  I promised the students that they would get their beloved pots back as soon as we could, and I heard excited plans like “Mine is going to be a pencil holder!” and “I’m giving mine to my mom!”

Back at the museum, our education staff, volunteers and interns helped me sort, paint clear glaze, scrape and fire over 350 pieces.  Our art handler, Ben Cook cut the large wooden pieces that would become the backing for the mural.  Slowly but surely, the tiles came together to form what I had envisioned in my sketches.   After delivering their pots to the school, we started gluing the mural pieces to the backing.  I got excited seeing the earth shapes finally begin forming and could finally stop worrying about whether my mathematical planning was correct!  After delivering the completed mural to the school, I went back to see it installed.  Parents and students were coming in and out, and many stopped to see the new mural in its prime location.

CT-Mural
Coleridge-Taylor Montessori Mural

“This amazing mural reflects our Coleridge-Taylor Montessori spirit of collaboration and individuality.  Each piece was designed and created by an intermediate student.  Thanks to our artist-in-residence and PTA parents for helping to make this possible!” -Principal Yvette Stockwell

KMAC Educator Liz
KMAC Educator Liz Richter serving as Artist in Residence at Coleridge-Taylor Montessori in Louisville.

 

Pavilion Design Winner Announced for Centennial Festival of Riverboats Celebration

In August 2013, an international design competition was initiated by Louisville-based design practice PART Studio LLC for a temporary festival pavilion to be utilized during the Centennial Festival of Riverboats in October 2014. The design competition garnered international attention, with entrants from 16 countries and twenty of the United States offering a unique survey of contemporary design trends from across the globe.  The proposed designs are exhibited in Current Affairs on the third floor Brown-Forman gallery at KMAC through June 29th.A jury of regional business and arts leaders selected the winning pavilion on June 14, 2014.  The winning entry, DRIFT, submitted by Brooklyn-based design practice stpmj will be built as a temporary and multipurpose pavilion to accommodate a variety of uses during the riverboat festival. Stpmj design team members Seung Teak Lee and Mi Jung Lim are both natives of Seoul, Korea. Each holds a Master of Architecture degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Stpmj has an impressive track record with inventive design projects as evidenced by works such as Invisible Barn, a reflective structure proposed for the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York.116 Drift Winner

DRIFT proposes a triangular arrangement of eight foot diameter balloons that create a dynamic canopy over bourbon tastings, educational spaces for children and other groups. Jurors praised the project for its unexpected playfulness and relationship to historic river imagery. Jury member Rick Bell, a prominent Louisville historian, remarked that incorporating Louisville’s river history was a vital characteristic of the centennial celebration and one that required a unique expression. The design was interpreted by the panel of jurors as a type of inverted raft with romantic allusions to the journeys of Huckleberry Finn as well as the flatboats that once populated Louisville’s wharf in great numbers.The stpmj design team will receive a $2000 prize for their winning proposal, which will be fabricated locally for the Centennial Festival. The second place award of $1000 goes to Aaron Loomans of Milwaukee, WI for his entry, Paddle Flux.

110 Paddle Flux 2nd place
PEOPLE’S CHOICE PICK
First place in the People’s Choice voting goes to Centennial Paddlevillion, a collaboration between New York City based Metamechanics and Christian Duvernois Landscape/Gallery. Second place People’s Choice goes to Paddle Flux by Aaron Loomans.
112-  Centennial Paddlvillion Peoples choice winner
The Centennial Festival of Riverboats Pavilions is sponsored by Louisville’s sonaBLAST! Records.

The Waterfront Pavilion Competition jury: Rick Bell (Louisville Waterfront Historian), Karen Gillenwater (Curator, Carnegie Center for Art and History New Albany, IN), Augusta Brown Holland (Community Developer), Nat Irvin II, Strickler (Chair, University of Louisville College of Business),  Representative Joni Jenkins (Kentucky House District 44), Sarah Lyon (Photographer), Aldy Milliken (Director and Chief Curator, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft), Gretchen Milliken (Associate Director of Advanced Planning, City of Louisville), Kulapat Yantrasast (Founder & Principal, wHY Architecture).

Current Affairs: Louisville Waterfront Pavilion Competition exhibition will be on view at KMAC through June 29th.

My Neighbor the Artist

Written by KMAC Donors’ Circle Member  Merrily Orsini

Denise Mucci Furnish used to be my neighbor across the street. Before she was a known artist, she was an innate artist. Apparently born as such, she was encouraged by life’s experiences to make art whenever possible. I have a vague memory of meeting Denise, or at least seeing her work, as far back as 1970, when, in Lexington, I saw some cloth dolls she had made. Occasionally, these dolls still haunt my mind. They were ethereal dolls with little bound cloth bodies and round sock faces— beautiful dolls, and dolls that seemed to scream, “Let me out!”

It was a few years later, in 1979, that I ended up on Everett Avenue, across the street from the Furnishes. In 1980, Denise started attending the Louisville School of Art. Her quilts morphed from folded,piles on the top floor of her one time elegant and gabled three-story house, to hanging on the wall, as art. It was a bit later, in 1984 that I purchased my very first original piece of art, Salute to the Sun (Eclipse), from a real gallery. It was the first official piece of art that Denise ever sold. This quilt, made lovingly by Denise Mucci Furnish, still hangs proudly and emphatically, at the entrance to our home. I still enjoy it daily, if not hourly, and it is still as poignant as it was that first time when I was drawn to purchase it, even though it was well beyond my means at the time. However, that quilt is priceless when it comes to the enjoyment and the memories it evokes.

The years between 1980 and 1985 were some of the most interesting years as I watched an artist come into her own. The Mount St. Helens’s eruption in 1980 somehow consumed the artist across the street. There were many variations in her artistic obsession with Mount St. Helens. One of the most interesting, and, a variation of which I have now framed in my office for daily viewing, is making little volcanoes out of dryer lint. The dryer lint is screen filtered into a circular doughnut shape with a small hole in the middle. When dissected into fourths, it makes perfect little volcanoes. A housewife might see dryer lint as something to be cleaned from the filer and tossed, but not the artist. The artist sees opportunity. The artist sees possibility. The artist sees.

Note the color of the lint? It differs according to what is being dried—reds,colors, or denim. The texture also differs, and that is what the artist saw. Try tossing feathers in the dryer and see what happens (not to the poor unsuspecting clothes, but to the lint filter art fodder residue?) What about glitter? It is really amazing how much art can come from a common household dryer when seen through the eyes of the artist. And, those volcanic lint quilts and collages got better and better, more colorful, and more textured, until the eventual end of that dryer. And, for the artist? Another medium to explore with one exhausted.

A life making art. A life enjoying art. Are these two so far apart? I think they are. The artist has a special way of looking at life, interpreting it, finding ways to use common items or common visuals as art. That interpretation, of course, is not what the viewer, or the art collector understands, even when articulated succinctly by the artist. Because, as everyone knows, art is in the eye of the beholder. But the joy, sorrow, jubilation, and emotion are resident as well in the viewer of the art, and, it is this emotion that moves one to enjoy art, to buy art.

Denise Furnish & Walter Early: Color Stories is on view through March 16.

Adventures of a Museum Intern

My name is Hannah Ensign-George and for the month of January I have been interning at the museum with Director Aldy Milliken. As a junior art history and religion double major at Centre College in Danville, having an opportunity to work at KMAC has been wonderful. Because of KMAC’s smaller size my internship has encapsulated multiple facets of museum life from being the public face of the museum down at the front desk to solving the puzzle of packing the materials from the Eero Saarinen show for shipment.

Putting My Best Face Forward- sitting at the front desk is an opportunity to interact with the public and get a sense for why people visit the museum. Some visit because they were walking past and the exhibit caught their eye. Others have been planning to come to the exhibit since hearing about it. Another duty of the desk is to answer the telephone, which is always interesting. Telephone calls are another form of interaction just as important as greeting someone when they come in the front door. I found the first few calls to be nerve-wracking, but once I figured out a system that worked for me, they were a breeze. Still that didn’t stop me from nearly jumping out of my skin when the phone rang; it rings really loudly.

Valuable Research- when preparing for a new exhibit: research begins months in advance and doesn’t end until the exhibit is over. Each piece a curator plans to show has to have extensive background information to explain how it fits into the central idea or theme. Sometimes connections between pieces don’t become clear until more is known about their history and their creators. When I was researching for an upcoming show, Press, I found a wealth of information about the printing industry here in Kentucky. There is a remarkable printing press community in this state, from Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky to King’s Library Press at the University of Kentucky. Connections can then be made from these press businesses to William Morris’ Baskerville Press in late 19th responsible for initiating the private press movement. Without research these types of connections wouldn’t be made.

It Pays to Get Out- museums depend on generous grants from a variety of government organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts. In order to keep museums funded elected officials must be kept aware of issues regarded the arts. This is done by bringing them into the museum and developing strong relationships. Part of my work was contacting state senators and representatives in preparation for 2014 Arts Day in Kentucky. Arts Day in KY is organized by the Kentucky Arts Council to bring together people with their political leaders. Awareness days like this help to foster a community between the elected officials and the organizations whose interests they work to promote. On the national level museums must strongly advocate for their importance with members of Congress, to ensure funding continues, but also to help promote museums as a vitally important industry.

KY Arts day
KMAC Director Aldy Milliken and KMAC intern Hannah E. Ensign-George in Frankfort to attend 2014 Arts Day in Kentucky

Pack it Up, Ship it Out- one of the most exciting times in my internship was packing a closed exhibit for shipment. It was also the most exhausting part because of the manual labor and planning involved, but handling art that you have only looked at is an exhilarating experience. After the pieces have been taken down they have to be carefully wrapped in tissue and bubble wrap. Bubble wrap is the unsung hero of the wrapping process. Then the tricky part arrives: arranging the carefully packaged pieces into their crates. This part becomes an intense Tetris game, with very expensive and fragile blocks. All of the difficulty is forgotten when you look at a well packed crate and know that you solved the puzzle; those pieces are not moving an inch. Though the best part is probably when the crates have been picked up and sent on their way to the next museum, and everyone revels in the calm before setting up the next show.

I came to KMAC in an effort to determine if I wanted to pursue museum work as a career. As annoying as the “What are you going to do after college?” questions are, they remind me to think about myself and what I want to do next. After four weeks at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, this seems like a possibility. Museums combine scholarly research with outreach and working with people.And it doesn’t hurt that I get to spend all day surrounded by art; that is definitely awesome!

Read Hannah’s spotlight feature of being an intern on Centre’s Blog.

KMAC Donors Tour Mayor Jim Gray’s Art Collection

In November, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft Donor’s Circle visited the magnificent art collection of Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.  Mayor Gray’s home is situated in the Gratz Park Historic District, one of the most beautiful areas of Lexington, Kentucky.

Lexington Artist Louis Zoellar Bickett offered us a tour through Mayor Gray’s well-appointed rooms, several of which feature Bickett’s assemblages and containers.  In the entrance hall, we admired a large black-and-white piece entitled Welsh Oaks (#3) (1998) by Vancouver School photographer Rodney Graham.

rgraham

Our group especially enjoyed becoming acquainted with the work of Lexington-area artist Mark Goodlett, who assembles ornate picture-boxes out of wadded paper while lying in bed.

Mayor Gray’s residence houses work by many world-renowned contemporary artists, such as Joseph Kosuth, Yinka Shonibare, Kara Walker, Richard Long, Vik Muniz , Claes Oldenburg, Yayoi Kusama, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gerhard Richter, and Fred Tomaselli.  Bickett informed us that Mayor Gray regularly rotates pieces in the house with others from his vast collection.

Great favorites amongst this art loving group were two pieces by English artist and Turner Prize winner Rachel Whiteread.  While viewers may be familiar with Whiteread’s plaster casts of vacant/negative spaces, the sculpture Untitled (Trafalgar Square Plinth) (1999) surprises with its use of resin to create a ghostly double.

r.whitehead

Another of Whiteread’s works, “Switch” (1994), creates a more subtle, playful effect.

On that perfect fall day, the group ventured on to galleries around town.  We are grateful to Mayor Gray and to Bickett for their hospitality.  Please join us on a future trip!

–Leslie Millar
KMAC Board Member
photos courtesy of Jody Howard

A Donor’s Perspective of Chicago EXPO

The recent Donors’ Circle trip to EXPO Chicago was inspiring and stimulating. It was quite extraordinary to get personal home tours from esteemed art collectors, private viewings of new gallery exhibitions, invitation-only after parties and all the contemporary art Chicago’s Navy Pier could handle.

KMAC Donors’ Circle member Leslie Millar wrote a brief synopsis of the week-end in case you couldn’t join us.
The Highlights of EXPO Chicago September 2013 
A group of about fifteen members of the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft Donor’s Circle ventured north for a fast-paced weekend in the Windy City.  Upon our return, we feel briefly sated with new and familiar works of contemporary art.  This “food” will keep our minds and imaginations energized until our next trip, to Art Basel Miami!  Here are a few morsels from our trip for your delectation:
The Guffman Home
The Guthman Home
The Guffman Home
The Guthman Home
Friday, September 20, 2013
We started the morning by touring the private collection of Jack and Sandy Guthman. Their immaculately restored five-story home includes a canvas thread piece by Tom Friedman, an installation by Sarah Sze, and video by Kate Gilmore.  We admired a FedEx shipping box of Walead Beshty and bundles assembled by Shinique Smith.  The wide-reaching collection revolves around a strong center of photography and some Chicago artists, including painter Judy Ledgerwood. During the afternoon, we toured galleries and met with artists and curators who were buzzing about the EXPO and accompanying Gallery Weekend Chicago. That evening the KMAC group was invited for cocktails at Kavi Gupta for the opening of Roxy Paine’s Apparatus.
Roxy Paine
Roxy Paine
This diorama show offers a radical departure from the sculpture that viewers have come to associate with the artist.  Two room-sized installations replicate, in unvarnished wood, a control room and a fast food counter, right down to the straw dispensers and fry basket. We finished the night with a raucous party at gallerist Monique Meloche’s house.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
The Donor’s Circle dined on a hearty breakfast on the patio at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.  Downstairs, we enjoyed a photo show from the museum’s collection.  Upstairs, the MCA showcases a retrospective by Chicago-born cartoonist Daniel Clowes.  On the third floor, an exhibition of installations called Homebodies features a walk-through Victorian house fabricated in nylon by Do Ho Suh.  The Donor’s Circle took particular note of constructions and video by Chicago resident Theaster Gates, as we recently exhibited one of Gates’ shoe-shine stands at KMAC during the Storytelling as Craft. Next we visited the private Collection of Howard and Donna Stone, which centers around 60s and 70s Minimalist and Conceptualist work, including:  a double-portrait wall drawing by Jim Hodges, pieces made of yarn and elastic thread by Fred Sandbach, a candy pile by Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and an installation by Sarah Sze. We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling through Chicago EXPO, on the Navy Pier viewing works by established artists like Fred Tomaselli and Leon Ferrari and site specific ampersands by emerging artist Karl Haendel.  Some revelers continued on to Late Night at the Wright Auction House.
Leon Ferrari
Leon Ferrari

Sunday, September 22, 3013
We finished our Chicago weekend with a brunch at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, where we saw Spencer Finch’s color-swatch watercolor paintings and light boxes and took in Judy Ledgerwood’s dense oil paintings.

Many thanks go to the collectors, curators, and gallerists who shared their gracious hospitality.  Even greater thanks to KMAC Director Aldy Milliken and Development Director Angela Hagan for their tireless efforts of organizing the trip and shepherding the members of the Donor’s Circle around the city. We hope that you will join the KMAC Donor’s Circle on another of these intellectually invigorating art outings!

Leslie Millar

Jody Howard, Martha Slaughter and Leslie Millar
Jody Howard, Martha Slaughter and Leslie Millar

Natural Wonder

Image: Claire Sherman, Cave and Trees, 2011, oil on canvas, 96″ x 78″

By Mary Wallace

Born in Oberlin, OH, Claire Sherman began painting in high school, studying under a local artist and then went on to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. Recently Sherman has developed a style of landscape painting which employs the use of manipulation and abstraction to create her scenes. Often drawing from composite images of various environmental elements, she distorts the scene, forcing the viewer to make sense of the work. Her paintings push past the limits of the perceivable, natural environment and delve into a world broken down into its elemental forms. Sherman’s settings are often constructed by piecing together images of many different locations, thereby creating her own environment, rooted in reality and yet stepping into another world. Her work has represented not only the different seasons, but also a variety of geological locations. From a snow-laden forest to the dark, rocky interior of caves, to the sparse vegetation of the desert, her subject matter is immensely varied and yet her expressive style unites it all. She examines the basic elements of nature and promotes a sense of the pure wilderness; untouched and untamed by the work of humankind. One piece currently on display during The  7 Borders exhibit unites both the cave environment as well as the summer forest in full bloom. Cave and Trees (pictured above) is rendered from one of the many openings to the worlds longest cave system: Mammoth Cave, located near Bowling Green, Kentucky. Currently Mammoth Cave has been mapped at 346 miles long and has been in use for nearly 4,000 years since its discovery by early Native Americans. Although this cave system offers a vast interior, Sherman has chosen to represent its opening—as if one is coming out of a long journey through the cold underground, into a bright and inviting Kentucky forest.

Kentucky Through the Lens

Image: Guy Mendes, Tobacco Hanging, 1991. Silver gelatin print, 12 x 10 in.

By Stephanie Hamilton, KMAC Intern

Guy Mendes is one of the most well known and respected photographers of the region. He was born in New Orleans, but in 1966 attended the University of Kentucky to study journalism. The following year he attended a rally where Kentucky writer Wendell Berry spoke out against the Vietnam War and the two young artists became friends instantly. This friendship eventually led to Mendes  meeting photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

Meatyard, whose work was featured in our previous exhibit Storytelling as Craft, Chapter One, was an optician and photographer living in Lexington, KY. The eyeglass company he worked for also sold photography equipment leading Meatyard to become a member of The Lexington Camera Club. He shot photos of people wearing masks to skew their individual identities creating bizarre and haunting images. Meatyard’s photographic style sparked Mendes’ interest and he became an unofficial student of Meatyard’s during the 60’s and early 70’s. He  learned mostly by watching him, trying to truly see through Meatyard’s eyes.

Mendes shoots his photographs on black and white film, holding true to traditions of photography. He uses a darkroom to develop his photographs on silver gelatin paper. Mendes’ interest in travel and story-telling, things he often did with his mentor Meatyard, led him to a full-time career as a writer, director and producer for Kentucky Educational Television for 35 years. A career in television meant he didn’t have to rely on his photographs for income, which gave him the freedom to photograph the subject matter that he wanted and without restrictions.

Guy Mendes is famous for his portraits and landscapes, most of which focus on the people and places of Kentucky. Of the eight pieces currently in The 7 Borders exhibit at KMAC, four of them are portraits of Kentucky natives. This is just a small portion of the work Mendes has done in capturing Kentucky history. More can be found in his books 40/40: Forty Years Forty Portraits, which are a collection of portraits taken over the last four decades and Light at Hand, which is the first book collection of portraits and landscapes from 1970 though 1985. Both can be purchased online or in person at the KMAC Museum Shop.

Much of Mendes’ work has been widely published in books and magazines and his prints are in many public and private collections. Mendes has also won several Emmy Awards as a documentary writer, director and producer for Kentucky Educational Television. He lives in Lexington, KY with his wife and two sons.

Bradley Pickelsheimer with Princess 1984 600

Bradley Harrison Picklesimer, with Princess
Lexington, KY
Silver Gelatin Print, 1986

Bradley Harrison Picklesimer was born in Lexington. Here he is pictured with the eldest of his three pit bulls, Princess. His dogs were very important to him, and very sweet. He began decorating parties at the age of 14, and later went on to decorate parties for Kentucky Educational Television, where Guy Mendes worked. Picklesimer also started several night clubs in Lexington, including Cafe LMNOP, where he said anyone could feel at home. He felt he was doing a public service, bring people together from all walks of life. Mendes says of Picklesimer in the book 40/40: “Bradley was always a real man’s kind of drag queen: he didn’t do fake tits and he didn’t have a stage name, but he sure cut a striking figure carrying in a keg of beer wearing six-inch heels.”

Guy Mendes, JonathanWilliams

Jonathan Williams
Shakertown, Pleasant Hill, KY
Silver Gelatin Print, 1988

 Jonathan Williams and Guy Mendes were very close friends, writing letters to one another and traveling together along with Williams’ partner, Tom Meyer. Although Williams lived in North Carolina and England, he was anointed Kentucky Colonel in 1974 for service to the arts. Williams came to Kentucky in search of his contemporaries, including Gene Meatyard and Wendell Berry. Mendes says “Jonathan was the straw that stirred the drink.” Willaims was a poet, publisher, essayist, and photographer. He, along with David Ruff, founded the Jargon Society in 1951, wanting to publish obscure poets. His poetry uses “found language”. He spent much of his time listening to people and gathering their words, much in the same way avant-garde filmmakers use “found footage.” Williams died of pneumonia in 2008. He is survived by his partner of 40 years, Tom Meyer.

Guy Mendes, Martha Nelson Thomas

 Martha Nelson Thomas with her Doll Babies
Louisville, KY
Silver Gelatin Print, 1987

 Martha Nelson Thomas created her Doll Babies as a source of income so she could concentrate on her paintings. Each Doll Baby was unique, and came with adoption papers and an introductory letter. At the Guild Gallery in Lexington, the parents had family reunions. There was even a waiting list for those wanting to adopt. In 1978, a man in Georgia that had inflated the price on Martha’s Doll Babies, causing her to take back her dolls, claimed to have invented his own kind of doll.

In a letter he wrote to Nelson Thomas he said “If I can’t sell your dolls, I’ll sell some just like them.” He then created the popular Cabbage Patch Kids. She took the man to court, and after five years, she won a settlement and tightened copyright laws for artists in doing so. This photograph Mendes took of her could now serve as proof of copyright, whereas before, she was denied copyright because she hadn’t signed her dolls. Martha responded, “I wanted them to be as real as possible, and there’s no place to sign a baby.” Martha spent much of her life working with children in workshops and schools. She died in May of this year at the age of 62.

Guy Mendes, Captain Kentucky

Captain Kentucky, a.k.a. Ed McClanahan
Lexington, KY
Silver Gelatin Print, 1972

Ed McClanahan, also known as Captain Kentucky, is a novelist, essayist, and professor at University of Kentucky in Lexington. He is best known for his novel The Natural Man, but is also famous for the people he surrounded himself with in the ’60s and ’70s. He was part of Ken Kesey’s “merry pranksters.” The group took trips around the country in the 1960s in a painted bus, while Tom Wolfe documented their experiences with psychedelic drugs.

Mendes has taken many photos of Ed McClanahan throughout the years. This photograph in particular is now the cover of McClanahan’s latest book, I Just Hitched in From The Coast.