Lexington artist Adalin Wichman, whose achievements include designing the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Eclipse Award and the Foucault pendulum clock at the Central Library, died Sunday at her home after a brief illness. She was 91.
Mrs. Wichman created works that are held in the collection of Queen Elizabeth II and the Kentucky Derby Museum, and she had held posts including advertising director for Keeneland from 1969 to 1989.
"Adalin's incomparable talent was only surpassed by her inimitable personality," James E. Bassett III, former Keeneland president and chairman of the board and chairman emeritus, said in a statement. "She truly enhanced the public perception of Keeneland. She was a very, very special person."
Lori Meadows, executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council, put Mrs. Wichman in a category with deceased Kentucky artists and arts advocates including Lucille Caudill Little, Gloria Singletary and Marilyn Moosnick.
"She's part of this group we've lost ... who helped build the arts in Kentucky, and Lexington, in particular," Meadows said. "She wasn't just an artist, but she was a benefactor and volunteered."
According to several accounts, the Paris native and University of Kentucky honors graduate's art career started by happenstance. She was dining with a friend at the Lafayette Hotel in Lexington in 1952 when the owner came over and complained that he had just lost his fashion illustrator and needed a new one.
"My friend said: 'Sorry, I'm moving to Texas — but Adalin can do it,'" Mrs. Wichman told the Herald-Leader in 2002. "And that's how I started."
Mrs. Wichman's career was marked by that kind of can-do spirit.
In a Kentucky Arts Council video made in 2011, when she won the Milner Award, the top prize in the statewide Governor's Awards in the Arts, she stated her philosophy: "Always say yes and then try to work out the details later."
"She talked like, 'Oh, I don't think I can do it,' and then she would, and it was wonderful," said Gail Kennedy, retiring director of the Lucille Little Fine Arts Library at the University of Kentucky.
Jim Williams, Keeneland's public relations director from 1971 to 2009, worked closely with Mrs. Wichman.
"Adalin had a personal elegance that was reflected in her work for Keeneland and the sculpting of the Eclipse Award," he said. "That elegance will forever leave a mark on Keeneland and the Thoroughbred industry."
"She had a real hand in making sure the arts were incorporated into Keeneland," Meadows said.
Mrs. Wichman created two works for the 2000 Horse Mania public art display: Lexington Thunder, in which she transformed the horse statue into a buffalo with her signature patina for Buffalo Trace Distillery; and Impressionist, which had a rough ride while standing at Keeneland's entrance.
First, the horse was stolen in September. Mrs. Wichman, known for her wit, told the Herald-Leader: "It's sort of a compliment, isn't it? To have my horse be the first one stolen."
The horse was returned 24 hours later, but that October, it was struck by a car and had to be re-created.
"On the most desperate days at Keeneland, she came into the office with a smile on her face like it was the best day of her life," Williams said of Mrs. Wichman's reputation for taking adversity in stride.
Much of Mrs. Wichman's work was oriented toward Thoroughbred racing, but she worked on other subjects, particularly after leaving Keeneland. Among them were a two-sided bust of the late historian Thomas D. Clark for the Lexington History Museum; a painting of the late philanthropist Lucille Caudill Little, displayed in the University of Kentucky's Little Fine Arts Library; and the Foucault pendulum clock that remains a centerpiece of the Lexington Public Library downtown.
Mrs. Wichman and Little "both had that spirit, that spark, that creativity, and a sense of really wanting to give back to the community," Kennedy said in the Governor's Awards video.
Mrs. Wichman was married to architect William Wichman, who died in 2000.
She is survived by two daughters, Alison Wichman of Potomac, Md., and Adrian Wichman of Lexington, and a sister.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Kerr Brothers Funeral Home. Visitation will be 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at Montrose Farm, 3270 Bryan Station Road.
Contributions are suggested to the Adalin Wichman Fund, in care of the Lexington Public Library Foundation Inc., 140 East Main Street, Lexington, Ky. 40507-1318. The fund is set up to support art exhibition and education in Lexington.