PARIS — Kentucky has a long, rich and diverse tradition of visual art. An exhibit at the Hopewell Museum offers a taste of it all.
The Arts of Kentucky, a 45-piece exhibit of two centuries of Kentucky fine art and crafts, continues through Aug. 22. The exhibit was put together by Estill Curtis "Buck" Pennington, an art historian who borrowed works from two public and 10 private collections, and several commercial galleries.
"My goal was to show as much as possible that had not been seen in public before," said Pennington, a Bourbon County native who moved back home from Europe a few years ago.
The show includes a self-portrait and an exceptional painting of a child by Matthew Harris Jouett (1788-1827), Kentucky's most famous portraitist. Jouett was the son of Revolutionary War hero Jack Jouett and studied under Gilbert Stuart, early America's most famous portrait painter.
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The Jouett paintings belong to Central Kentucky collectors Mack and Sharon Cox. "They have been major collectors of Kentucky art for the last 10 years and are very talented antiquarians," Pennington said.
Oliver Frazer (1808-64), a Lexington-born painter, isn't as famous as his friend Jouett, but he was a first-rate talent — and perhaps the first Kentucky-born artist to study in Europe. This show includes fine Frazer portraits of his wife and two young daughters, and one of Kentucky politician Richard Menefee, for whom Menifee County was named (albeit misspelled).
Other featured artists whom most modern Kentuckians probably have never heard of include William Edward West (1788-1857), who became famous after going to Italy and painting Lord Byron in 1822, and landscape painters Robert Burns Wilson (1851-1916) and Harvey Joiner (1852-1932).
There also is work by one of Kentucky's first distinguished female artists: Hattie Hutchcraft Hill (1847-1921), who was born in Paris, Ky., studied in Paris, France, and returned home to paint. "She had quite a career," Pennington said.
One of his favorite paintings is a 1917 portrait by John Bernard Alberts Jr. of Louisville cartoonist Paul Plaschke drawing in his studio. The painting is on the cover of Pennington's 2008 book, Kentucky Master Painters.
Everyone knows about the great statesman Henry Clay, but did you know his brother, Porter Clay (1779-1850), was a talented Lexington cabinetmaker? This show includes an elegant card table he built.
There are several other pieces of Kentucky furniture, including an sideboard whose boards show what huge cherry trees were still around here in the early 19th century. There is a good sampling of Kentucky's famous antique silver; the most impressive being a tobacco-themed trophy pitcher and goblets.
"In the last five years, we've seen an incredible surge in collecting Kentucky furniture and silver," Pennington said.
As impressive as the antiques are, the newer Kentucky art is every bit as captivating. It ranges from the Depression-era work of painters Edward Fisk (1886-1944) and Frank Weathers Long (1906-99) to a colorful piece by the colorful Lexington painter Henry Faulkner (1924-81).
There also is folk art, pottery and even a piece of commercial art that Kentucky Utilities customers of a certain age will remember: a wooden rendering of cartoon character Reddy Kilowatt. "I wanted a little bit of everything," Pennington said.
Living artists featured include Robert Tharsing, Robert Morgan, Ann Tower, Robert James Foose and Gaela Erwin. The range of their work shows the variety and energy of Kentucky's contemporary art scene.
The show is a great opportunity to see the Hopewell, a light-filled gem of a community history and art museum. It is in a renovated 1910 Beaux Arts building that was Paris' post office.
"I was interested in doing this because it reflects the Kentucky creative spirit at various points in time," Pennington said of The Arts of Kentucky exhibit. "You get a chance to experience a variety of art forms in microcosm. And these paintings are some of the artists' best work.