Tag Archives: Kentucky

original works

I Am a Tourist Here

I took a roadtrip down to Levi Jackson State Park on Saturday.  No real agenda, no clear picture of where I was going to spend the night, what I was going to see, where I was going to go.  As I left Lexington, I had a sense of urgency, of needing to get there, heedless of not knowing where “there” was.  That continued until I got to Marksbury Farm Market just outside Lancaster on 27.  I stopped in for a sandwich and a chat and as I sat outside eating, I could feel the rush slip away.  I was a tourist.  I could stay there till dark, turn around and head home.  Or I could head on down to Levi Jackson pronto.  Or I could meander at a sedate pace, letting the beauty and charm of the land permeate. The words to a Bob Seger song kept popping into my head: “I could go left or I could go right; it was all up to me to decide.” I chose the latter and rolled on through the day.

I am not being completely truthful when I say I had no real agenda.  I was going down to see the mill stone museum located at Levi Jackson.  A hundred or so millstones from old Kentucky mills line the walk leading to an old mill.  What I didn’t realize was my original agenda was about to be subsumed by the conversation I was going to have with Bob House, docent and ranger of the rebuilt, fully operational mill located in the park.  I got there around 10.  He had just opened up the cabin and I eagerly pressed him for a tour.  The cabin and much of the furnishings had been built in 1805.  It was moved and rebuilt in it’s current location in the 1930’s, as part of the WPA.  And it had been operating there since.

Photo by author

The joys of simple technology!  When Bob opened the water gate (My favorite bumpersticker from the Nixon era: “Behind every water gate is a mill house.”  Get it?!), the creek was allowed to flow over the turbine (not a side mounted wheel, but a “true turbine,” according to Bob) and the foot-diameter axle began slowly to turn.  Attached to that axle is a wheel, some 4 feet around, and wrapping that is a 10-inch wide belt of leather which goes to the front of the cabin, looping around a much smaller circumferenced wheel and back.  The smaller wheel is attached to two giant stone discs, very heavy (“I don’t know how heavy they are, I ain’t never weighed them.  But I know that 4 grown men can’t pick them up.  We have people come in at night to steal them.  They can stand them up and roll them to the parking lot, but they can’t lift them into their truck.”).  Let’s say 1000 pounds.  The belt which takes it’s languid time circling the big wheel fairly flies around the smaller one, causing the upper most stone to turn at an impressive speed.  Grain, in this case corn, is loaded into the hopper mounted over the mill stone casing (a circular wooden box which keeps the grain from flying out as it is ground by the stones) and is shaken into the opening as needed.  The grain is pulverized into flour and slides down a wooden chute into a wooden trough, where Bob packs it into cloth bags containing two pounds of fresh milled cornmeal.  

Photo by author

The entire machine is made (with extraordinary few exceptions) of wood, stone, hide.  It is incredibly efficient and works in a wondrously harmonious relationship with its surroundings.  Bob said that even the small dam needed for the operation of the mill helps balance the ecosystem.  The backed-up creek environment, favored by birds, turtles, fish used to be supplied by industrious beavers.  But we hunted most of them, so the mill is doing their work.  The sound of the mill while it is in operation is practical, soothing, organic. A hum of the earth, of tree and rock and water moving in harmony.  It probably took 10 minutes for the mill to grind the two pounds of flour, but it could do that all day and night, with very little supervision, forever.  Efficient, serene, perfect technology.  I left there with the same feeling I get walking through the woods.  Of being at peace and feeling at one with the world.  The technology didn’t separate man from nature, it bound the two more tightly.

I rode home with my two pounds of fresh milled, unbolted corn meal.  I had asked many questions and been given a vast array of knowledge: ecology, economics, machine design, politics…  I had gone to look at mill stones and had come away with milling. 

The mantra “I Am A Tourist Here” is one I have been trying on for a few months.  When traveling, I give myself permission to ask ridiculous questions from complete strangers and am usually intrigued and stunned by what I learn, safe in may guise as a tourist.  However, when I’m home I operate as if I should know, as if I shouldn’t be a tourist.  As if I shouldn’t take that untried road, or stop at that new place, or be inquisitive and naive as I am when I am touristing.  Just by reciting the mantra, the fardel of society slips from my shoulder and I am given permission to look at my familiar terrain with fresh eyes, an act which almost always yields delightful insight.

Photo by author

Arts

Help Musicians Beat the Blues

“We are a town that likes to say we love our music and we love our musicians, and we support everybody,” says Robbie Morgan, founder of the newly-launched Lexington Musicians’ Emergency Fund. The “but” is implied in her statement, although the implication is clear.  “We kind of leave this one entity (independent musicians) off to the side…if you’re a musician, you’re kind of on your own.”

This shot across the bow of the Lexington cultural scene is more than talk, however, and Morgan now heads a small group of dedicated individuals ready to walk the walk, or, more precisely, flash the cash.

Enter the Lexington Musicians’ Emergency Fund (LMEF), a privately-funded organization designed to pick up the slack for working musicians in need of emergency assistance.

Morgan alludes to recent events involving musicians that struck a little too close to home, triggering a sense of urgency to begin building a safety net.

“That was too many people in town…that are close to suicide, or heroin addiction, or homelessness, or all of the above, and it was just like, ‘this is all just too close’.”

J. Tom Hnatow | Photo credit: Vivian Wang

J. Tom Hnatow, who has been a professional musician for the past decade, is an advisor to LMEF.

“When I lived in D.C., I was lucky enough to have a really helpful support network of people who could help me,” says Hnatow. “I’ve been helped out multiple times. And that culture doesn’t really exist in Lexington yet.”

Morgan set about creating this culture through a fund to serve as a backstop for musicians in need. She began by borrowing ideas from organizations in music cities such as Nashville, Austin, New York and even Louisville.

The Grammy Foundation served as the best model for the Lexington version, which may provide assistance for rent, utilities, food, medical bills, co-pays, deductibles and even tax or legal assistance (although criminal charges and payments on back taxes are not eligible).

Musicians in need apply by contacting the LMEF at weheartmusicians@gmail.com. The application process begins with eligibility qualification, as eligible applicants must (a) have earned seventy-five percent or more of total income during the last five consecutive years from music, (b) have three published/credited works of music, and (c) reside in Fayette or surrounding counties. A volunteer will then reach out the applicant, and requests for funds are put to a small panel of rotating advisors, which reviews the application anonymously to eliminate bias. The panel then makes a recommendation of whether to provide the funds and in what percentage.

The process sounds fairly conservative, at least in terms of disbursement of funds, and that’s before the last stipulation of the funds kicks in: the first 50 percent of the funds approved will be distributed immediately directly to whatever account needs to be settled, etc., but release of the remaining 50 percent of funds may require some legwork and homework on the part of the musician to increase her or his professional profile.

“The caveat to get that last fifty percent is that we’re going to start moving you to do the thing that you need to do in order to get professionalized,” says Morgan, who is quick to stress that these are not major strings attached to the funds. “These are smaller, little steps that start to get you going.”

“The point is not to give out handouts,” says Hnatow. “It’s really for someone who says, ‘I can’t pay rent.’ Once you take that person and you get them beyond that point, you then ask, ‘Okay, do you have insurance on your instruments?’ It’s aiding them to move beyond the spot where they are.”

The idea is to increase the career prospects of the individual as a musician incrementally, hopefully leading to better opportunities and less reliance on community support like the LMEF in the future. This is the secondary goal of the LMEF, to turn out a class of professional musicians who can, in turn, begin to reinforce the local infrastructure. 

“We might wind up having to tweak some of the parameters,” says Morgan. “It might be that we don’t have enough musicians who make seventy-five percent of their income [from music], and we might have to go to fifty percent.”

Robbie Morgan with The Binders | Photo by Zach Selby

The bar is set high initially to make sure the fund is not overburdened from the outset, but the question of long-term sustainability hangs in the air as well. LMEF is a privately-funded organization that relies on donations. It isn’t a standard tax-deductible non-profit, like a 501(c)(3) or similar organizations. If sustainability is a concern, it’s not one that shakes Morgan too heavily for the time being, although she is fully cognizant of what LMEF will need long-term.

“Obviously, with no revenue streams at this point other than donations, it’s going to be a little tricky,” Morgan says. “Eventually, once we start moving people into a proactive landscape, we’re going to use the Creative Capital model.”

Under this model, musicians that move on to greater success would then pay a very small percentage of earnings back into the fund for a period of time. Both Morgan and Hnatow talk about the LMEF in terms of being the first piece of a larger puzzle, with an infrastructure slowly building to make the original function of the LMEF obsolete.

“The goal with something like this is to put yourself out of business,” says Hnatow. “The goal is to become more proactive than reactive.” 

In addition to the funds, applicants and volunteers with LMEF can join a private Facebook group that exists to provide a communications network for musicians in need of assistance or even just advice.

Morgan and Hnatow point to another hoped-for benefit of the LMEF, which is to start coaxing local musicians out of the fabric of Lexington anonymity.

“Part of it will be interesting to discover people who do live here who we may not necessarily have heard of, who are making a living in the arts,” says Hnatow.

“We’re going to discover that there are more musicians in this town than the ones we see at the Green Lantern, because we’re going to find out that there are country musicians, people who write films, people who score theater stuff,” says Morgan. “And you know the exciting thing is this might provide a way for us to see hip-hop artists, Christian musicians, whatever it is…that our community is really big and we’re overwhelmed with requests because we find all these people that we didn’t know existed.”

“If Lexington is going to continue to grow culturally, then we’re going to need things like this,” says Hnatow.  “It’ll never be Nashville, it’ll never be New York, it’ll never be one of those cities, but if you can provide people with something they can’t get somewhere else, that sort of ups its game a lot. If we can be supportive of people who are making a living as musicians, we can grow.”

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Arts

Between Reality and Dream: The Nostalgic and Surreal Drawings of Patricia Bellan-Gillen

Patricia Bellan-Gillen, Your Cruel Tears 3, 2016, colored pencil and collage

“We often dream without the least suspicion of unreality: ‘sleep hath its own world,” and it is often as lifelike as the other.” – Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), 67.

The recent drawings of Patricia Bellan-Gillen channel Lewis Carroll’s diary entry from February 9, 1856. Similar to dreams, her drawings are sourced from a cornucopia of stories, fairytales, and time periods. Symbols overlap and intermingle to evoke fragmented new realities that merge past and present. Bellan-Gillen relies on negative space and obscured references—the absence of contextual signifiers—to evoke both nostalgia and surreality.

Installation View, Heike Pickett Gallery, Versailles, Kentucky

Bellan-Gillen’s exhibition, Willful Wondering, originated at Carnegie Mellon’s Miller Gallery and includes drawings completed between 2011-2016. Currently, a smaller version of the exhibition resides at Heike Pickett Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Versailles, Kentucky. While it lacks Bellan-Gillen’s large-scale installations and grandiose mixed-media assemblages, Heike Pickett’s reinstallation focuses on the artist’s application of color, commitment to detail, and use of allegory. The gallery’s bare wood floors, high ceilings, and copious windows subdue any white-cube effects. The building, according to its Pickett, was constructed in 1792—its weathered brick façade and residential appearance indicate Versailles’s architectural roots.

Patricia Bellan-Gillen, Phantom Limbs/Cheshire Grin, 2016

Symbols from Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland make frequent appearances in Bellan-Gillen’s drawings, accompanied by other anthropomorphized figures. These readymade images are warped, multiplied, and accentuated by vibrant pinks and blues. As if pulled and stretched by the compressive gravity of a black hole, leopards, birds, and the iconic Cheshire cat smile become vaguely recognizable.

Two works rely on “phantom” tree limbs—their intricate and condensed lines mimic the verdant etchings of Carl Wilhelm Kolbe. The subjects of Phantom Limbs/Cheshire Grin (2015) and Phantom Limbs/Guardian 1 (2015) emerge from amputated tree trunks—some ooze from the trunks’ concentric growth lines and vacant hollows. In Cheshire Grin, floating leopards smile in unison alongside the iconic cat’s glib expression, tethered to the limb through wispy branches. As they spiral down toward the empty space below, the cats melt into amorphous black clouds—spots, paws, and tails are reduced to formless amoebas.

Many of Bellan-Gillan’s works are monochromatic explorations of literary remnants—they capture ubiquitous symbols from popular fables and stories and recode their meanings, simultaneously questioning the prevalence of specific symbols and their permeation of our collective consciousness. The Lure of the Rabbit and the Pull of the Wale (2016) alludes to both Alice in Wonderland and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; the animal-child hybrid, marked by its rabbit head and petite Mary Janes, dons a dress pockmarked by cutout pools of swirling sea life and sailing ships. Bellan-Gillan’s drawings often belie their material complexity; an adjacent work is similarly drawn from blue pencil, layered with individual grimacing water droplets.

Through the process of collage, Bellan-Gillan materializes her unconscious layering of fantasy and reality; her cutouts resemble the endless streams of dreams and memories that coagulate during sleep.

Patricia Bellan-Gillen, Regrowth/A Wonder and a Woe, 2016

Conceptually, Bellan-Gillan’s works rely on meditative backgrounds—white paper provides space for her figures to emerge and evaporate. In larger drawings, she incorporates a limited color palette: lush landscapes are enlarged and flattened into atmospheric milieux. Regrowth/A Wonder and a Woe (2016) is centered around a lone tree stump—from its flat surface emerge white thought bubbles that extend outward in multiple directions. Just as symbols and characters reappear in dreams, specific images linger in Bellan-Gillan’s drawings. She frequently collages or draws the same eyeball, ship fleet, or animals. Her works reject a linear or narrative but connect through shared images, implying that dream symbolism is more universal than individual.

Similar to Alice’s rejection of temporal normativity—the endless “tick-tock” that dictates past, present, and future—Patricia Bellan-Gillan abandons her subjects’ sources and time-constructs. Dreams provide similar relief from this monotony, as objects and figures from day-to-day rituals, movies, literature, and news sources are intertwined with one another. Willful Wondering is a reevaluation of fairytales and fantasy and probes the complexities of visual consumption.

Topmost image: Patricia Bellan-Gillen,Your Cruel Tears 3, 2016, colored pencil and collage

Arts

Review: American Horse and Hound

In William Shakespeare’s play, King Richard III cries out, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”  His horse has been killed in battle and without it, he faces utter defeat and the loss of his throne.   Demonstrating the human race’s essential dependence on another quadruped, Emily Dickinson declares that “Dogs are better than human beings because they know and do not tell.” 

Pair the two, and what do you get?  A brilliant and intelligent solo exhibit, American Horse and Hound, currently on display at John Hockensmith’s Fine Art Edition’s Gallery at 146 East Main Street in Georgetown, Kentucky.  Although Monica Pipia, the artist, is considered a contemporary primitive painter, her work defies a singular classification because she has so fervently internalized and extemporized the two loves of her life, dogs and horses.

It is clear that her subject matter and her medium, acrylic on canvas (with some mixed media), determine how each piece evolves into a final work of art.  Pipia says that “If I try to manipulate the brush, it’s always disastrous.  I have to listen to my inner voice.  Yes, as with most artists, I cogitate and calculate but I can’t make a painting be what it doesn’t want to be.”  This may sound trite, but what results is a technique and style uniquely and unmistakably Pipia.

The anchor piece of the exhibit, by the same title, depicts a static, statuesque checkerboard horse wearing a checkerboard blanket against a checkerboard background.  Despite the stasis of the scene, this quilting technique makes the piece pulsate with color. Small, black irregular squares dominate the canvas contrasted with interwoven hues and values of red, brown, and gold.  From all of this emerges a horse of a different color, suggesting overtones typical of American folk art.

American Horse and Hound (72” x 48”) Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

American Horse and Hound (72” x 48”)
Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

Pipia demonstrates in this work her ability to subtly infuse a strong sense of perspective and movement with the curved lines of the spotted yet motionless hound that dominates the foreground beneath the horse.  But the real energy comes from what is actually not on the canvas: the rider.  It is easy to become so entangled in the horse and hound’s mutually intense anticipation that our mind’s eye can’t help but see the person these animals see in the distance, headed toward them.

But never fear.  Out of the 23 works in this exhibit, there are horses with riders present as in “The Turn-around.”  Here, the artist broadens the space and creates a wave-like movement from left to right, curling back again and cresting with the horse’s head.  Through this imposed motion and fluidity, the focus then becomes the hound and the rider in the background. 

The Turn-around (24” x24”) Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

The Turn-around (24” x24”)
Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

And in a more contemporary vein, Pipia employs a type of painterly synecdoche, where a part represents the whole.  We do not see all of the horse nor do we need to. This, in turn, allows us to not only focus on the curvature of the animal itself, but to also enjoy the splashes of color and contemplate the positive and negative spaces created by the overall composition.  It exudes a warm and exquisite beauty and the use of white in the saddle blanket, the rider’s pants and collar, the hound, and the sun lends a solid unifying element.

The real American spirit in this exhibit is at its best with some of the mixed media pieces where the artist has cleverly incorporated the American flag either literally or figuratively into work itself.  For instance, in “American Horse Portrait” and “Pony Express” the flag symbolizes American progress that has been achieved through the power and strength of the horse.  However, this utilitarian representation does not diminish Pipia’s presentation of the beauty, grace, and necessity of an animal that we still romanticize through our sports, leisure, and entertainment activities.

America Moving Forward (72” x 48”) Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

American Horse Portrait (72” x 48”)
Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

“American Horse Portrait” serves as an excellent example of the artist’s contemporary primitive inclinations.  One unique thread that runs throughout her work is in the way she places the bridle and reins on the horse.  They are always angular and geometric and presented as an integral part of the horse without restraint.  Another consistency is how she builds texture and layers the paint, using more colors than appear obvious at a glance, such as the brown, white and black seen here. This portrait, painted over a flag that has been attached to the canvas, is both beautiful and moving in its seeming simplicity.  Yet the connotations of its conceptual complexity are vast, depending on what we, as viewers, bring to it based on our own knowledge and experience.

Pipia’s paintings also display a lot of joy and playfulness as “Balancing Act” confirms, where a canine is balancing a doggie treat on its nose.  Hunter, companion, friend, and confidant. The message is clear in this profile that the slightest movement may result in the subject’s disappointment and displeasure with its failure to sit and stay still as it performs this feat.  All the while we, too, are waiting for the command for it to toss its head in the air and make the bone disappear down the hatch.  Such is the power of Pipa’s art to stimulate the imagination.  Note the dog’s collar simulating a red stripe of the American flag with stars.

Balancing Act (20” x20”) Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

Balancing Act (20” x20”)
Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

The American Horse and Hound exhibit is joyfully positive and thought-provoking.  Pipia’s work could easily fit into a number of categories but it is, first and foremost, original and representational as it strives to convey the essence of what it portrays. And it will allow you to easily tap into your own inner Shakespeare or Dickinson.  After all, where would we be without horses and dogs, and who would want to live in a world without them? 

The artist’s reception is on Thursday, June 30th, 6-8 pm. The exhibit runs through Saturday, July 30th.

Arts

The Great Meadows Foundation has launched!

Yes, it is here and yes, it is in support of Kentucky artists.

Great Meadows Foundation is a grant giving foundation, launched in 2016 by contemporary art collector and philanthropist Al Shands. Named for the home that Al and his late wife Mary created, the vision of Great Meadows Foundation is to strengthen and support the visual arts in Kentucky by empowering our community’s artists and other visual arts professionals to research, connect, and participate more actively in the broader contemporary art world.

The initial program, Artists Professional Development Grants, will provide visual artists in Kentucky with grants for travel outside the state, both nationally and internationally. This program encourages artists to engage critically with the international art world and thereby to enrich the art environment we live in. Awardees for the first summer cycle will be announced in August. While that deadline has passed, we hope you will stay tuned for an announcement of our next.

As the foundation develops, it will expand its scope with other types of grants and we look forward to keeping you abreast of these programs as they come on line. Future programs will be publicized through the GreatMeadowsFoundation website’s newsfeed, on Facebook and through Twitter.

We encourage you to forward information about Great Meadows Foundation, its website, and programs to colleagues and other visual arts professionals around Kentucky and help us raise awareness of this new support structure within the state.

Sincerely,

Al Shands, Founder

Julien Robson, Director

Photo Credits: Verana Gerlach and Edward Winters

Read Also: A Review of Great Meadows: The Making of Here

original works

So Many Trees, So Many Memories

I began this essay jotting down a few “favorite tree” thoughts, and soon came to realize how so many different trees have touched and shaped my life and memories. So, unfortunately for this essay, but fortunately for me personally, I don’t have “one favorite tree” – I have so many!

I am grateful to my mother for passing on an appreciation for trees – to warm, cool, comfort, and beautify the body and soul. Thank you, Mother, for insisting on saving every tree possible!

After reading Tom Martin’s UnderMain essay project, I briefly considered what tree in my past was a particular favorite, and my thoughts focused on more recent favorite tree memories connected to my sons’ adventures in them – Empty Nest Mother memories, I guess. However, in addition to some favorites of theirs, I realized my entire life has been enhanced by these wonders of nature – so, a shout-out of gratitude to my Creator, first off!

I guess if I had to pick just one, I would pick “my” lemon tree that lived for 37 years after I planted grocery store lemon seeds as a five-year-old in my Mother’s front porch flower pot.

9737684-Small-tangerines-tree-on-white-background--Stock-Photo-tree-lemon-orange

It was transplanted in larger and larger pots, to a final garbage can (not the most lightweight planter option), traveled across two states and to five or six homes and/or apartments, and bore fruit twice. It was a real “pain” to move and transplant, due to the very large thorns and the weight of it as it grew; my father, and then my husband were troopers for lugging it indoors and out, and from home to home, season after season! It lived a long, full, fragrant life in a climate zone not conducive to citrus trees – thus the reason it was a houseplant much of the year.

An early favorite tree was a beautiful Knoxville, Tennessee mimosa, in a spacious yard with a wonderful house full of family love and memories.

Depositphotos_51056481_l-2015

The house was situated beside a cemetery and across the railroad tracks; my brother and I grew up safely playing in the yard unafraid of either – although, they may have led to my lifelong love of the Dark Shadows television show, Stephen King books, and scary movies!

At my grandparent’s farm in Carlisle, KY, was a large shade tree that I spent many summer afternoons under, reading a great book in a lawn chair, after helping with the chores.

OK, I mostly just watched and/or rode the tractor as my hard-working grandparents grew three gardens, and raised tobacco, farm animals, and livestock. We also attended the Saltwell Methodist Church, with its beautiful stained glass windows, and I spent time with my grandmother at the ASCS (Agricultural Stabilization & Conservation Service) office in town, where she worked – she let me file papers and work the “adding machine”.

After a move to Morehead, KY in 1969 as a new 5th grader, the K-12 University Breckinridge School (“Breck”) tree out front, with a circular wooden bench, was a favorite for all students; especially for the girls when we reached high school age and sat under while watching the college guys walk or drive by – one of the many perks of attending a small-town university-owned “training” school on a college campus!

At my Morehead home on North Tolliver Road, near the MSU football stadium, we had a lovely weeping Chinese elm, under which I also read and enjoyed alone time, during my preteen and teen years.

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With love and marriage, came the many special trees my husband, Richard and I have planted in our 30 years together; to give us warmth, cooling, comfort and beauty – a Mother’s advice is often so wise. Planting a tree together, and watching it grow, is highly recommended – it’s  a lot like parenting – you have to take care of it early on, then it will reward you for the rest of your life!

And, finally, with the parenthood of boys, came so many “favorite” climbing tree memories and laughter! Our sons, now grown, gave us full hearts – and some intense moments – of joyful memories from climbing trees at home; in Ashland Park, the Henry Clay estate; at Lake Cumberland, including building a treehouse with Dad, climbing a rope tied around a tree trunk to get to a nearby waterfall where they jumped off, and a tree rope that allowed them to swing over the water and fall in; and climbing tall trees at Meemaw & Poppy’s house.

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Those “favorite” trees often held John and Daniel safe and gave them years of testing their limits; but also taught them tough life lessons, by letting them fall, and even allowing a swarm of bees give Daniel a particularly “not so favorite tree” life-long memory!

Thank you, UnderMain, for giving me a chance to slow down long enough to realize what a tree really means to me, and the many family and friends I have enjoyed favorite trees with for 50-plus years.

Truly, every tree is my favorite!

essays

There was this tree…

For me, it was the pungent sweet fragrance of ripe apples. The bees. The creek below. The shady relief from hot summer sun. The music. The people strolling by. Being up high.

Have you ever in an instant been transported to something from your childhood that you had long since forgotten, but now that you are reminded, it’s the first time you ever thought of it as such a bedrock of your early youth, a source of wonder, fun, solace and even mischief?

You never know what you’re going to hear when you leave your car radio on so that it fires up when you turn the ignition key. On this day it was the daily and superb public radio talk show “On Point” on WEKU and the comment of a guest, geobiologist and author Hope Jahren: “So many people have a special tree from their childhood; some tree that they remember being in their lives.”

Boom!

There I was as a boy, reclining in a crook of the branches of one of the apple trees along the creek next to our home in Morehead, Kentucky.

There were other apple trees nearby. But this tree was “The One:” its lower branches close enough to the ground to welcome a climb into an aerie scented by apple blossoms and buzzing with bees too focused on the gathering of pollen to be concerned with me.

I didn’t think of it this way back then, but realize now that I loved that tree in the way that I loved my home. It accommodated. It sheltered. There was an abundance of food all around. It was “my place.”

And from my perch, I could people-watch the college students rushing to and from classes on the campus of Morehead State University. Music came from just across the street, drifting through the windows of the then un-air conditioned Baird Music Hall, opened to bring relief from the summer heat. It was a place where friends knew they could find me. It was home base for kick-the-can.

And, it was a rocket launcher.

My dad had come home from work one day with a huge rubber band, saved from office packaging, just for me. He thought I would make something of it. My mom was horrified – quickly realizing just what I would make of it. She was right. Threaded through its looped ends stretched around two branches forming a fork, and loaded with an apple plucked from nearby, that innocent office supply paired with the strong branches of my apple tree accomplice was transformed into a most excellent and quite powerful sling-shot.

You don’t think about the big picture when you’re 10 years old. You live in the moment. So, I could not have foreseen that my apple launcher would send its payload sailing all the way across University Boulevard, coming down with a splat in the middle of a tennis court…that was in use at the time.

Fortunately, apple trees also provide good cover.

Now that I’ve been reminded, I really miss that tree. It’s gone now. “They put up a parking lot.” You know how that goes.

The “On Point” conversation that inspired this essay was about life, love and coming of age as a scientist. I’m sure they had no idea they would inspire the reminiscence of a budding, apple-launching tree-hugger.

topical

Racial Divide Creates Convenient Amnesia

The Chinese Whispers Game. Broken Telephone. It goes by many names, but you know the one: you tell the person sitting next to you a secret, then they tell it to the person next to them, and so on until it gets back to you. And more likely than not, the message has been misinterpreted, massaged and mangled until it no longer resembles anything close to the original.

After reading Anne E. Marshall’s “Creating a Confederate Kentucky” (2010 The University of North Carolina Press), the only logical explanation I could come to was that Kentucky’s Civil War history had fallen victim to the antics of this prepubescent game.

But that would be an easy out because the historical facts that Marshall brings to light could not be more clear. Kentucky, the so-called Switzerland of the Civil War, planted its flag of neutrality. Yet like most other states, Kentuckians had predetermined their allegiance. Some were Confederate supporters, others were ready to don the blue of the Unionists. But take a look at Kentucky’s historical afterward, and what you would infer is that Kentucky fervently championed the Confederacy.

And it all comes down to one reason: race.

Blue, Gray & Black

Marshall filters all of Kentucky’s Civil War history through a sieve of scrutiny. There are few presumptions or inferences, which is really what makes Kentucky’s future Confederate affinity so bewildering.

In the introduction, Marshall writes: “Union memory in Kentucky became too closely associated with emancipation and African American progress for white Unionists to accept it as their own.”

And there it is. Many Kentucky whites fell on that side of the war because they felt the Union was more apt to support their political and business ideals … and one of those businesses was slavery. The way the state legislature pitched it to Kentuckians was that their Unionist loyalty would actually insure their rights to own slaves. (Obviously, this was before Abraham Lincoln introduced the first version of the Emancipation Proclamation; emancipation was not one of the original catalysts of the war.)

Then when northern abolitionists took it upon themselves to liberate slaves, Kentucky whites saw the writing on the wall. Add to that the recruitment of blacks to the Union Army, then even gradual emancipation was out of the question for these early Unionists.

The Lost Cause Narrative

So when the story that unfolded post-war wasn’t the one most white Kentuckians preferred, they simply held onto the notion of the Lost Cause – the movement that sought to reinstate traditional Southern values while blaming the loss of the war on government betrayals, and idolizing Confederacy leaders. Kentucky whites never admitted they were wrong for supporting the Union but their actions said as much. At the end of the day, the majority of white Kentuckians wanted slavery to continue, at least long enough to get compensation for their “property.”

Winners and losers united after the end of the war once they realized that their main post-war concern – the politics of race – was more important than the color of their uniforms.

Marshall includes several examples of newspaper reports that eluded to Kentucky’s backwards attitude toward slavery. “Oh wise Democracy of Kentucky, hugging the relic of slavery to your bosoms, holding on to slavery because it used to pay, forgetting that the times have changed…” wrote the Cincinnati Gazette.

Instead, many white Kentuckians simply countered with their own translation of the effects of the war. John Fox Jr.’s “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come” conveyed the notion that Kentucky was Confederate in sympathy if not in uniform. Annie Fellows Johnston’s children’s book, “The Little Colonel,” which was set in a fictionalized version of Peewee Valley, vigorously perpetuated the notion that Kentucky was a Confederate state.

And perhaps the most relevant was the erection of Kentucky monuments honoring Confederate leaders. Again, just a reminder, the Confederacy did not win the war. Yet these grand displays of honor say otherwise.

Hustle & Flow

Marshall’s research and relevant theories inarguably validate what many Civil War historians have known: despite being on the “winning team,” Kentucky has historically celebrated the leaders and philosophy of the Confederacy.

There are so many WTF moments in “Creating a Confederate Kentucky” that will incite instant fury if you are a purveyor of justice. But the journey to get to these realizations is a bit laborious.

The book, all 188 pages of it, is peppered with dozens (and dozens) of examples that cast a light of inexplicable ignorance on those in power in Kentucky during this era. There is no question as to what was (is?) at play here: dressing up racial inequality in a seersucker suit and a dapper bowtie as to camouflage it in southern charm. But these truths are obstructed by the stumbling blocks caused by the flow.

Editing is to blame here (confession: I am an editor by profession, so I admit to a bias, but I’d argue this point even if I wasn’t). The book is divided into subjects as well as time periods within the 1865-1935 timeline. But because politics is the real driving force behind the Lost Cause argument, there are a great deal of redundancies throughout the book. Unfortunately, this waters down many of the solid points Marshall makes.

She does draw some interesting parallels that I hadn’t put together before, namely the influence of Appalachia’s eastern Kentucky. The region boasted the absence of slavery and was a major white base of the Republican party at the time. In fact, Vanceburg, Ky., is home to one of the strongest memorials to the Union. (Kentucky is home to around 70 Civil War monuments, 6:1 in favor of the Confederacy.)

If you go into the book looking for a Civil War narrative that neatly shows Kentucky’s convenient amnesia about its role in “The Lost Cause,” you will leave empty-handed. But for a Civil War reference book that directly addresses Kentucky’s flip-flopping allegiance, Marshall’s “Creating a Kentucky Confederacy” is truly engaging. It is also a reminder to never take things at face value. You don’t need to devour the book in one setting. In fact, allowing the absurdity of Kentucky’s rejection of the final outcome to truly set in helps to explain a lot about the Civil War legacy the Commonwealth has left its citizens with today. The issue really is black and white.

Arts

You Are Here

 

A Review of Great Meadows: The Making of Here

When a book is truly exceptional, it can transport its readers elsewhere. For a moment, physical place and imagined location are unhinged — the reader is no longer bound to their sofa or chair, but can wander freely through another world. The mind is at once absent and present: taken from one location and placed in another. Great Meadows: The Making of Here acts as a portal not only to The Shands’ residence and collection, but a testament to the tenor within its walls. Indeed, it is more than a book — it is an extension of the Shands’ life and home.

Al Shands is an Episcopal Priest and author, as well as an award-winning filmmaker, with over thirty-five documentary films to his credit. His late wife, Mary Norton Shands, an activist in cultural affairs, co-founded and was first President of the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation (now KMAC).

Great Meadows presents an intimate look in to the making of the Shands’ residence, and provides a comprehensive backstory to the architecture, collection, and collectors. The book avoids a pedantic introduction — readers are instead encouraged to “dive right in” through excerpts from A Career and Selected Projects by the architect, David Morton. Part of Morton’s allure is his simplicity: he comments that the Shands’ residence was graphed by pocket calculator, pencil, and paper — no computers or technical drafting aids. The completed project is prodigious yet modest: Great Meadows can accommodate up to one hundred and fifty guests for dinner, but at the same time, remain intimate enough for two people.[1]

Small yet powerful gestures contained within the book’s pages hide in every nook and cranny — “easter eggs” for the reader to stumble upon. In between two pages of Morton’s excerpts is a copy of Reverend Shands’ penned speech from the opening reception of Great Meadows in September 1988, printed on the same delicate paper and typeface one might encounter in a bible. Before he began collecting with his late wife Mary, Shands founded an Episcopal church in Washington D.C., and these inserts, which continue throughout the book, stand as physical reminders of his history.

Spearheaded and edited by independent curator and contributing author Julien Robson (previously affiliated with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Speed Art Museum), Great Meadows boasts essays from critics, curators, poets, and artists — all whom have connected, in some time and place, with the Shands. This includes but is not limited to such figures as Peter Morrin, former director of the Speed Museum, Glenn Adamson, author and critic, Alice Gray Stites, current director of 21c Museum Hotels, Maya Lin, sculpture and landscape artist (and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.), and sound artist Stephen Vitiello. Each essay is specific to the book — they are documents of their respective authors’ connection and relationship with Alfred and Mary Shands.

Perhaps the most poignant essay is authored by John Yau, renowned poet and writer. Although the book is lined with vibrant color photos, “In Time, With Al Shands” is even more vivid — Yau’s imagery is a transformative journey, allowing the reader to silently accompany. Indeed, I forgot where I was for a moment while reading his words; I was observing a conversation between friends, weaving through the beautiful architecture that makes one feel as though they are both inside and outside at the same time, and slowly coming to understand the relationship between the art, the home, and the collectors.

Blurring the lines between art object and book, Great Meadows features stunning high-resolution photographs in addition to architectural drawings and artist sketches. Capturing the essence of site-specific artwork is no easy feat, but the photographers convey both the texture and presence of each installation. The office, home to Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #1082 (2003) is presented through fifteen images, varying in size and scale. The proceeding blank page is representative of the white space above the office door, only visible just before exiting the room. Truly, these small details are what render this project an “index of experience” rather than a book.

Entire pages of Great Meadows are devoted to a single color. The intensity of Anish Kapoor’s yellow concave disc, Untitled (1999), can be partially experienced on page sixty-five through a full-color experience – sans its warping of sound, which is only evident through encountering it in Rev. Shands’ first-floor walkway. It is as if every angle of the home is carefully documented, acting as a record of the artworks’ interaction with the architecture, and vice versa.

Each work, both inside and outside of the residence, is carefully selected and thoughtfully placed to engage with both the architecture and the viewer. Indeed, Rev. Shands is a mindful collector; you will find no large art storage area within the walls of Great Meadows. Although some works migrate throughout the house from time to time, they each have a space and that space is documented throughout the book’s bright pages.

Perhaps this is why the making Great Meadows is so important: the book will serve as documentation of site — a physical reminder of what was — when the artwork is separated from the home upon the passing of its owner. Rev Shands has bequeathed his collection to Louisville, Kentucky’s Speed Art Museum, and one day it will make the journey to its new permanent home on South Third Street. “A vital part of the collection is the way that you share it with others,” he states in the book’s conversation with Alice Gray Stites.[2] Indeed, the entirety of Great Meadows: The Making of Here fulfills that very statement.

Great Meadows: The Making of Here is available in limited edition through Hatje Cantz.

[1] David Morton, A Career and Selected Notes in Great Meadows: The Making of Here (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 12.

[2] Al Shands, “Excerpts from a Conversation with Alice Gray Stites” in Great Meadows: The Making of Here (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 121.

topical

Gov. Beshear on Kentucky’s Heroin Crisis

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In October, 2014 I wrote a piece for UnderMain in my attempt to understand what led to the heroin explosion in Kentucky, who it affected, and what was being done about it.  Throughout my journey I met with persevering former addicts, heartbroken family members of those we had lost to this drug, and professionals in the trenches, tirelessly battling the epidemic. One of the areas I covered was the fate of Senate Bill 5 and how its failure to win passage subsequently burst the hopes of many Kentuckians hoping for relief and protection from the heroin storm by way of legislative action. Then suddenly, with this year’s General Assembly, came a wave of optimism as the bill was resuscitated and seemed to have much stronger support by both the public and our political leaders in Frankfort. To gain a better understanding of what this bill included and how it could move from a hope to a reality, I had the opportunity to sit down, one-on-one, with one of its most ardent advocates, Governor Steve Beshear. Watch the video.