What was startling about a visit to Bradley Picklesimer’s house outside of Paintsville was the contrast of driving down a fairly remote country road on a sunny fall morning, pulling up in the driveway and, suddenly, having Picklesimer come out to greet you in glamorous drag befitting a big city night club.
“Welcome, honey,” he called, with outstretched arms.
Bradley was Lexington’s premiere drag queen in the 1980s, regularly in the spotlight performing and singing in high heels and flashy dresses at a number of downtown bars and nightclubs, including his own. He owned Club au Go Go on Winchester Road, then later Café LMNOP on Main Street. He was a fixture in society circles and performed at fundraising events for several charities.
In 1991, Bradley — everybody calls by his first name only — had a huge estate sale at his house on North Upper Street, sold everything except for a few family antiques, and left for Hollywood to become a successful event planner. His company was SESP Productions, which stood for “Sow’s ear to silk purse,” he said with a laugh. Many of his clients were Hollywood celebrities.
This past July, after 25 years in California, Bradley moved back to Kentucky to his family home place in Johnson County.
During a recent visit, he talked with his guests while wearing a voluminous, custom-made red wig and Dolce & Gabbana black and gold brocade shoes with four-inch spike heels. Teamed with a skin-tight little back dress that showed off his tiny waistline were elbow-length black gloves and exotic makeup.
It had been hard to get dressed by himself, he said. “I had minions in LA. You need help lacing your corset.”
Finding the ever-flamboyant Bradley in rural Eastern Kentucky might seem an anomaly, but he has family roots here, and they go deep. His log house was built on land owned by his great-grandfather Gaylen Picklesimer, who ran a general store in the hollow and had a shower for the miners.
Picklesimer’s grandfather Dr. Francis Marion Picklesimer went to medical school, “then came back to doctor people in the mountains,” Bradley said.
The house where Bradley lives was built in the 1930s by his Aunt Minerva and Uncle Cecil Meek. Bradley bought the house and 20 acres in 2000, and he later bought an adjoining 20 acres.
Every spring, he came back for a few weeks to work on the house. “I bought this for my retirement,” said Bradley, 58. “I knew I would never grow old in Los Angeles.”
He gutted the structure to the logs, opened up three rooms to make one large living room, and tore out a low ceiling so the ceiling now follows the roof line. Martin County stone mason Kenton McGinnis laid the floor-to-ceiling fireplace, incorporating stones containing fossils collected by Cecil Meek.
The home is decorated with Bradley’s special flair. How well does Hollywood glitz and glamor fit into a Kentucky log cabin? Pretty well, in fact. The furnishings are sophisticated and coordinated for a fun, stunning look.
For example, the purple velvet living room sofa is flanked by chairs covered in leopard-skin print fabric. The coffee table is a polished wood coffin that Picklesimer said he will be buried in someday. It’s one of seven coffins of various sizes that he owns.
The living room chandelier and wall scones were handmade by a friend from Los Angeles, Kathleen Caid, who specializes in one-of-a-kind Victorian beaded lampshades.
The bedroom walls are covered in red velvet. A talented tailor, Bradley made the silk drapes and the canopy for the half tester bed that came from Calumet Farm.
In the kitchen is a 10-foot-long pharmacy cabinet Bradley bought from Architectural Artifacts in Chicago. The ceiling is pressed-tin panels from The Tinman in Houston.
With the house completed, Bradley turned his attention to the outside. Most days, he’s dressed in jeans or overalls, tackling an outdoor project. Most recently, he dug holes to plant tree hydrangeas, pampas grass and coral bells.
He has cleared two trails that circle the catfish pond and swing up the hill behind the house. He planted ornamental cherry trees every 15 feet. Iron urns and metal obelisks from Sir Elton John’s 2005 Oscar night party to benefit his AIDS foundation add decorative touches.
Logs to burn in the fireplace are stacked neatly on the front porch. “Guess who cut all that wood, honey? You’re looking at her,” Bradley said.
Bradley and his two sisters grew up in Lexington. Their father, Marion Picklesimer, owned the Sportsman Motel and Cocktail Lounge on Winchester Road and raised Tennessee walking horses.
After 25 years in LA, Bradley said he was ready to come home.
“In Los Angeles, it never rains. It’s one sunny day after another. I would get heartsick for Kentucky. Sometimes I would smell something in the air, and it smelled like Kentucky.”
After two close friends died, Bradley decided he wanted to be back in Kentucky, near his family.
As he walked around the farm, he named the kinds of trees and flowers growing there. On the porch was a “Field Guide to Birds,” by Donald and Lillian Stokes.
“I’ve counted 40 different species of birds,” he said. He quickly pointed to the bird feeder. “Look, that’s a white-breasted nuthatch. They’re fantastic.”
Bradley still coordinates parties and events. He just helped with a large wedding in Las Vegas in October. “Anybody who wants me to do their wedding or decorate their Christmas tree, they can fly me, buy me. This is a modern world,” he said.
But his heart rests in this quiet holler where “the people are so sweet,” he said. “This is a mystical, magical place.”
Reach Beverly Fortune at firstname.lastname@example.org.