During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the idea of a woman sculpting apparently was only slightly less crazy than a woman voting. But in Louisville, Enid Yandell created landmarks such as a statue of Daniel Boone and Hogan's Fountain in Cherokee Park.
But when she won the blind competition to create a Confederate memorial, "all hell broke loose," says Louisville sculptor Ewing Fahey.
Yandell withdrew from the project, Fahey says, and the backers of the memorial went with a prefabricated design rather than have a woman make it.
"They said, 'What does a woman know about war?' Well, they know their husbands and sons died in the war, and they witnessed the destruction around them and had to defend themselves."
But Yandell was not one to sit around and feel sorry for herself.
"She went off to Paris and studied with Rodin," Fahey says, referring to Frenchman François-Auguste-René Rodin, considered the father of modern sculpture.
At the turn of the 21st century, Fahey and several other female sculptors from Louisville decided to form a collective to help support and promote one another's work. Their inspiration was obvious.
The artist collective, called Enid, brings its work to Lexington for the next month with an exhibit at Transylvania University's Morlan Gallery.
The Lexington show, Enid: Generations of Women Sculptors, is one of the group's first forays outside of Louisville, and it occurred when Lexington sculptor Gayle Cerlan approached Morlan director Andrea Fisher about hosting an Enid exhibit.
"The more I learned, I thought they were a fascinating group and I wanted to bring them in," Fisher said.
Cerlan and Jeanne Dueber, a nun with the Sisters of Loretto in Nerinx, are the only non- Louisvillians who are Enid members.
The idea for the group was born in 1998, when Fahey realized there was a lack of awareness of female sculptors in Louisville, even among female sculptors. She organized a prominent exhibit in Louisville that proved the group could pack a gallery.
"We wanted to show that there were 16 women working professionally and exhibiting, many of us were teachers, and we weren't just Sunday sculptors," Fahey says.
Now 91, Fahey experienced some of the same obstacles to her work that Yandell did, including their families' beliefs that it was inappropriate for them to create figurative art from nude models.
"She was told that she couldn't tell anyone or she would be shunned as an indecent and immoral woman," says Fahey, who sculpted from stone well into her 80s before turning to cow bones as her medium. "In the '30s, when I was learning to be a sculptor, I had to take life-drawing classes.
"My mother could understand my brother having to dissect a human body to become a doctor, but she could not wrap her mind around an artist needing to understand anatomy if they wanted to understand how things went under clothing to be convincing.
"So one day, my mother asked me, 'What's this 'life' class?,' and I said, 'It's still life,' Lord, forgive me. The models sat very, very still."
One of many legendary stories about Yandell had her riding through some of Cincinnati's sketchier neighborhoods with a pistol under her dress, recruiting nude models for classes she taught.
Clearly, by the late 20th century, things have improved, though Fahey and Caren Cunningham, chair of the art department at Bellarmine University in Louisville, say there are challenges when it comes to building community among artists
"A lot of times, once you leave college, it is hard to find people to critique you and support you, and we also support each other in life," Cunningham says. "Since forming, we've had members whose husbands have died, who've divorced, had difficulties with children and health issues, and we've supported one another.
"And when you have a show with your Enids, whatever is going on, you want to get back in the studio and do well."
Fahey highlights the diversity of the members: "We're single, married, widowed, divorced, straight, gay and one nun."
Cunningham and Fahey say they think Lexington audiences will be struck by the diversity of the women's artwork. It is even diverse enough to include painting. Artist Shawn Marshall came to the group as a sculptor but recently discovered a love of painting.
"She said, 'But I don't want to be out of this group,'" Fahey recalls.
Cunningham says, "Ewing looked at her and said, 'You're dead to us.'"
Through a gale of laughter, Fahey adds, "If you're not out there beating on a stone or getting dirty, we don't want you."
But, of course, that was far from the case. In a group built on a desire for acceptance and respect for artistic achievement, the women would never turn their fellow Enid away.
Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: copiousnotes.bloginky.com.