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Monday, December 8, 2014

Kentucky Art

Kentucky Landscape, 1832, James Pierce Barton                                       
Wigwam Village #2, now somewhat off the beaten
path, near Cave City, Kentucky.
A few weeks ago I wrote on the art just across the Ohio River from my bailiwick. I'm doing so again, this time not that of West Virginia but neighboring Kentucky. I was about eleven or twelve the first time I ever visited the state. That was back in the days before the interstate highway system, almost back before the term "motel" came into common usage. I recall staying overnight at a place called "Wigwam Village" (above, right).
An unnamed Berea, Kentucky, artist painting what sells.
Yes, the little bungalows were in the shape of inverted cones, made of steel poles, chicken wire and concrete. And yes, they still exist, (roughly $50 per night) just off I-65 exit 53 near Cave City, Kentucky. We were, in fact, on our way to Mammoth Cave, one of the first road trip vacations our family ever took. I don't recall encountering any art along the way but the "mom and pop" souvenir shops sold various "crafts" (or what passed for native handicrafts at the time). Today, in hitting the Internet searching for outstanding art and artists of the state I came to the conclusion that my own form of art--painting--is still not a big items in the Bluegrass State's cultural milieu (other than folk art). Very often, when I found a painting I liked, such as the work of David Wright (below), even that promoted by the state's tourist boards, I also found the artists living, seemingly, anywhere but Kentucky. In some cases, I have included non-native artists simply because they painted Kentucky people, places, and things.
Gateway to the West: Daniel Boone Leading the Settlers Through the Cumberland Gap, David Wright (even though he lives in Tennessee). The Cumberland Gap is almost in Kentucky, its presence responsible for much of the early white settlement of the state. .
Delaware, 2004, David Wright
When you go in search of Kentucky art, the content invariably revolves around three items--horses, bourbon, and the ever-present landscape (the latter true of all states, of course). While I like a nice, distinctive landscape as well as the next art lover, horses, and especially bourbon, have never held much appeal for me. I am, however, fascinated by history painting, and the state has a lot of history to paint (top). There's a deep tradition in quilting as well, more recently to be seen in the modern-day art quilt (anything not based upon squares). Beyond these, as the Wigwam Village suggests, there is a long, rich, Native American art culture (left)underlying that which we know today, primarily Shawnee, but also Chickasaw, Cherokee, and a tribe called Yuchi (I won't try to pronounce that).

The Kentucky Derby, Todd Bandy (who lives in Virginia).
A vintage ad for Kentucky's
second major export.
First of all, in dispensing with the obvious, Louisville has its internationally famous Kentucky Derby (above) thought this wildly exciting social event is really just the tip of the cupola representing the state's iconic horse culture of racing thoroughbreds. People who raise horses have money. They are also quite cultured, which means the horse culture very much dominates that art produced and sold in the state. I'm just guessing, but I'd say nearly fifty percent of the paintings I encountered in researching Kentucky art had to do with equestrian content. Kentucky breeding farms attract guests from all over the world in the market for horseracing trophies (and sometimes art). Second only to horses in Kentucky is its whiskey, originally a means of economically transporting the corn crop over the mountains to the east. Today, the ads (left), as well as the state's legally defined bourbon production, have been raised to the level of high art.

Autumn Walk, Pat Banks
Stephen Foster's My Old Kentucky Home
as seen by Terry Chandler
Like every state in this country, Kentucky has its own distinctive landscapes, mountains and forests in the coal country of the east, as painted by Pat Banks (above); and broad acres of grass, stately plantations, and whitewashed fences in the west as seen by Tennessee artist, Terry Chandler, in his painting of the state song writer, Stephen Foster's My Old Kentucky Home (left). However, perhaps the most "Kentucky" of all Kentucky arts is that of quilting which, until recent years was always lumped into the general category of artisan crafts. But today, it's much closer to painting than bedcovers. Though some still lie dormant across brass beds, the vast majority of art quilts hang on walls, and are surprisingly sophisticated in terms of the stylized images they project. One of the best of this new breed of quilting "painters" is Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry of Paducah, Kentucky, who lives and works out of her eight-thousand square foot home/studio (below). In many ways her work area resembles a painter's studio (though cleaner than most). Her personal collection spans over forty years, including her first, traditional quilt (1976) to her most recent abstract expressionist pieces.

Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry's in-home studio (one of two or three work areas in the house).
Death, Taxes, and
Dandelions, 2000,
Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry
In many ways similar to Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry's quilts, but in a sculptural mode, Dan Neil Barnes' Escape (below), is a large-scale stained glass sculpture that, at first glance, appears to flow in the breeze like one of Fallert-Gentry's quilts, only more translucent. Like Paducah's quilt artist, Dan Barnes of Lexington, Kentucky, translates traditional painting elements into a different medium--leaded glass works in all sizes and shapes from his forty-five foot Cascade to fused glass table pieces.

Escape, Dan Neil Barnes
I would be remiss in discussing Kentucky art not to mention one of the most iconic portraits to ever originate in the state. Though the image itself has undergone at least three or four stylistic incarnations, it remains today one of the most instantly recognizable pieces of logo art ever to rise from a drawing board. The stylized face of Kentucky's Colonel Harlan Sanders, designed by the firm of Landor Associates, now graces some 18,000 outlets in 120 countries including Japan. There the Colonel's face has been such a fixture in their restaurant industry for so many years, Japanese diners have been known to ask their American friends, "Do they have Kentakki in America?"

Kentucky art in faraway Japan--the face of the Rising Sun.
(Drumsticks with chopsticks?)


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