The Pope Villa Breathing

Photographic Essay

by Louis Bickett with introduction by Arthur Shechet
A conversation about a house, in a house, with a house. The Pope Villa, an architectural gem from the early days of the Republic tucked in a modest downtown neighborhood, opened its doors for an all-too-brief art exhibition in recent weeks. It took an arsonist’s fire in the 1980’s which nearly destroyed the home to, paradoxically, bring to life and reveal the genius of its designer, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol. Stripped of latter additions and Italianate aspirations, the Pope Villa, a cube with inner curves, basilica forms, flow, and of course a rotunda, stands, even in its half-ruined state, as a testament to Latrobe’s avant-garde vision.

How does a community repay the money, hard work, and commitment that the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation has put into this historic piece? By bringing it to life, as the Lexington Art League did recently in its two-week exhibition in the Pope Villa, if the walls could talk. Mixed-media installations by the artist collective, Expanded Draught, invited the viewers into the flow of the house, took those making the pilgrimage through its rooms, and helped them see the house, listen to the house, commune with it. The exhibition’s melancholy meander through the near-ruins, with its charred timbers, missing rotunda ocular skylight, remnants and fragments of Eliza Pope’s original wallpaper, and devastated walls, provoked the imagination to wonder…what was it like? And…what could it be?

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UnderMain contributing photographer Louis Bickett’s images of the Pope Villa during the recent exhibition are a call to a continued conversation about the future of one Lexington’s and this country’s most important early artistic originals.

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