Visual Arts

County attorney's office decor focuses on local photography

Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts supports local art the old-fashioned way: he buys it.

Specifically, Roberts supports photographers by buying and displaying their work throughout the county attorney's office, which recently expanded to include five floors of the First Federal Building at Vine and South Upper streets.

The office's collection of about 200 framed prints will be on display from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday during Gallery Hop. At least eight of the 29 photographers will be there to discuss their work with the public.

The collection began in 2006, when Roberts got a $100,000 incentive from his landlord as part of a long-term lease. Because he got a great deal on some used office furniture, he had extra money for decorating.

"I like photography," Roberts said. "And I thought it would be neat to support local artists."

As the collection has grown, Roberts has used some revenue that the office generates — but no tax money — to buy and frame photographs.

This might be the best and most diverse large collection of Lexington photography on public display. Roberts has tried to include work from all of the area's well-known photographers, among them James Archambeault, Dean Hill, John Snell, Doug Prather, Don Ament and the Lexington Herald-Leader's staff photo journalists.

On Monday, as Roberts was preparing for Gallery Hop, he noticed a stunning photo on that Herald-Leader chief photographer Charles Bertram had taken that morning of the sun rising behind a tree on a farm off Walnut Hill Road. Before the sun set, Roberts had ordered a print to frame.

Several amateur photographers, including Fayette County Judge- Executive Sandra Varellas, have donated pictures so they could be included in the collection. "Once I put this up, a lot of people wanted to give us photos," Roberts said.

The photos don't have to show Kentucky — they just have to have been made by a Kentucky photographer. Selection criteria is simple, Roberts said: "It's whatever I like."

He uses different kinds of photos to help set the mood in various parts of the office: for example, there are warm and humorous photos in the area where family and children's issues are dealt with, and photos of law-enforcement activities in the criminal law section. The majority of pictures show beautiful scenery, community activities and horses.

"I want this to look more like a law office than a government office," said Roberts, adding that he gets many compliments from citizens who come to the office on business.

Roberts allows his staff to use some of the photos to decorate their own offices. "I think it's a great recruiting tool for me with young lawyers," he said.

Local photographers appreciate Roberts' support. "I think it's a really big deal," said Ament, who like other artists has seen sales and income decline during the recession.

Ament hopes others will follow Roberts' example and buy local art for their offices and facilities. "A lot of people say they want to give local artists exposure," he said. "Exposure is nice, but money is better."