It's hard to avoid being pigeonholed as an "eccentric" when your constant companion is a goat named Alice. Lexington artist Henry Faulkner's "outrageous" lifestyle has been abundantly documented. In a biography by the late Charles House he's described as "a living, breathing twenty-four-hour-a-day work of art."
Stories of Faulkner's feats and flights of fancy will continue to circulate as long as there's someone to tell them and someone to listen. Even the British newspaper The Guardian referred curiously to his behavior in a 2006 obituary: Renowned Sicilian innkeeper Daphne Phelps "always found room for the wayward Kentucky artist, Henry Faulkner, and his menagerie." Wayward?
But Faulkner's reputation is changing, say those behind an upcoming symposium devoted to the man, the child, the phenomenon. Appreciation for his paintings continues to rise; Faulkner no longer is seen as simply a Lexington or Kentucky artist, "wayward" or not.
Graydon Sikes, director of paintings at Cowan's Auction House in Cincinnati, says there's been a real uptick of interest in the past eight to 10 years.
"I have a file of about 20 interested bidders who want to know when the artist's work comes up, and the fascinating thing is that half of them are not located in the Midwest."
And the way Faulkner lived — unabashedly out of the closet while other gay men stayed cautiously inside — can be recognized in 2015 as ahead of its time.
"The world is catching up with Henry," says longtime friend and student Bob Morgan. "Few of us who knew him would have thought he would have become so iconic." Now, "Henry's taste and style are synonymous with Lexington's taste and style."
Morgan will moderate the symposium, a fundraiser for the nonprofit Moveable Feast, which prepares and delivers more than 100 meals a day to those in Fayette County with HIV/AIDS and hospice clients.
The daylong event will naturally include the opportunity to study paintings and memorabilia up close, and to hear plenty of stories about Faulkner.
Morgan has made it his mission, since joining the board of Moveable Feast, to "put the 'fun' in fundraisers." Next month's three Sunday salon fundraisers are part of that effort to venture outside the silent-auction box. But the Aug. 29 symposium is organized around four speakers, each of whom will cover different aspects of Faulkner's life and art:
■ Pattie Hood, a Lexington jeweler and art appraiser, has dealt with his work for more than 30 years and is writing a book on the subject. Her presentation will use examples from different collections and periods, both paintings and details. Hood wants to help the audience find Faulkner's voice. "I want Henry to speak through his paintings," Hood says.
■ Writer Anne Shelby will talk about his early years, which were largely spent in an orphanage in Louisville and a foster home in Clay County. "He left early, traveled widely and moved in sophisticated circles, but his time in Eastern Kentucky had a profound influence on him and on his work," Shelby says.
■ Jean Donohue, director of the 2013 documentary The Last Gospel of the Pagan Babies, about Lexington's gay culture during the past century, will show special "director's cut" footage related to Faulkner that hasn't been seen.
■ Jonathan Coleman, who teaches history and gender studies at the University of Kentucky, will discuss Faulkner's role as a pioneering gay artist and man — "the freedom, the bravado that made him unique."
Photographer and publisher John Hockensmith is an adviser to the symposium. He is working with Hood on the book of paintings and poetry, due out next year and funded by one of the event's sponsors, First Southern National Bank. The Stanford-based bank recently invested in hundreds of Faulkners that had belonged to accountant Greene Settle, Faulkner's neighbor on Third Street.
Hockensmith worked for and with Faulkner in the late 1970s and says Faulkner saw himself "more purely as a poet"; the paintings were a way to keep the menagerie fed. The symposium, like the upcoming book, will delve into the poetry, too.
The event will have some thing for everyone, says Morgan.
"Henry would just as soon have talked about herbal cures and gardening; he was as interested in shucky beans as art and culture." So there's no way of predicting the topics that might come up.
"There will be plenty of people there who knew Faulkner, and they'll learn things they didn't know. But it will cover the basics too," Morgan says.
Piecing together Faulkner's full biography, he says, has been instructive.
"The truth is more fascinating and more outrageous" than any stories. As long as there are people who remember Faulkner, there will be stories. But more and more, it's looking like Faulkner's paintings, not his "outrageous" life or adventures with his beloved goat Alice, will be his legacy.
But not to worry, Alice; you're front and center in many of those paintings.