MIDWAY — Each day after the train rolls by, Madelein Basson adjusts her picture frames, which are shaken off center by the vibrations. That is no easy task: All four walls are covered with dozens of framed shots of horses and landscapes taken by a variety of local photographers.
Basson is the owner of Madelein's Studio, Gallery and Gifts, which opened two months ago in downtown Midway. Basson combines photos and other artwork that represent her love for Kentucky and her South African heritage.
An amateur photographer and former horse farm manager, Basson said she had taken photos as a hobby for years. Friends eventually persuaded her to open her own gallery. She leased a building at 120 East Main Street in early May and was open for business by June 1.
Photos in Basson's gallery reflect her passion for the horse industry. She sells her own photos along with work of other local amateur artists who focus on horses or nature in Central Kentucky.
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"You can photograph any angle of a horse and it will be a good picture — from silhouettes to just one part, like their eyes," she said. "And it doesn't have to be a picture of just the horse. You can get the whole environment in the photo, the landscape."
Her affection for horses began when she was a child in South Africa, where her family owned a dairy farm. Twelve years ago, Basson and her husband, a blacksmith, decided to leave Africa because of the crime, she said. They planned to settle in Kentucky to pursue careers in the horse industry. Basson said she was attracted to Midway because it reminded her of what she loved about her family farm in South Africa.
"I like the smallness of Midway," she said. "The houses are very far apart, but there is a small-town feeling."
Basson said she loves Kentucky and does not plan on returning to South Africa, but she does incorporate bits of her homeland in the gallery. Colorful African tablecloths are for sale, as are "monkey apples:" the dried, hollow, gourdlike shells of the fruit of a common African tree. The fruit is eaten by baboons and many other African animals. Artists decorate the dried shells and turn them into candles, salt and pepper shakers, and table ornaments.
Basson said she wants to sell items that people in Central Kentucky won't find anywhere else.
Allowing local and amateur artists to be in the spotlight is a major goal of Basson's gallery. The gallery is currently displaying the work of five local photographers. Basson said most had never seriously pursued selling their work before.
"I think every photographer has that in the back of their head: 'I'd like to see if my work would sell,'" she said. "I'm still searching for new photographers and artists who haven't gone far to sell before. I'm searching for people who do something unique."
One of those photographers is Richard Labunski, a professor who teaches media law at the University of Kentucky. His hobby is photography and photo paintings.
Labunski said he appreciates Basson's effort to spotlight local artists who might not otherwise gain exposure.
"She was willing to give you a platform so you can suddenly offer your work to a larger audience," he said. "It shows a commitment on her part to helping the community."
The gallery is unique in its combination of artistic styles, Labunski said. Central Kentuckians adore the horse industry, but they also appreciate international art that can't be found just anywhere, he said.
"It adds a richness to a lifestyle that would be missing if there were nothing but Kmarts and Wal-Marts and chain stores," he said.
Eric Thoreson, vice president of the Midway Business Association and owner of Damselfly Studio and Gallery, at 126 East Main Street, said the appeal of Midway's downtown is the lack of corporate stores and the prevalence of local businesses like Madelein's.
"There are no name-brand products in Midway. Everything is a mom-and-pop operation," he said. "Everyone has their own little niche."
Thoreson said Madelein's contributes to the downtown culture with the products she brings in from South Africa. Without Madelein's, some people might never be exposed to those items.
"She certainly carries things no one has ever seen before," he said.
In addition to the gallery of photos, Basson sells gifts including wine racks made from horseshoes welded together and candles made from decorated ostrich eggs. She also has a portrait studio in the back of the gallery. Basson works seven days a week at the gallery and said she might hire some help in the future.
Basson said she hopes her shop will help to revitalize Midway's downtown. She said a new pharmacy and coffee shop are opening, and she expects foot traffic to pick up along Main Street. For now, though, she simply enjoys being surrounded by artwork that reflects her passion for horses and photography
"We want to keep it as Kentucky as we can," she said. "This shop is my baby."