There are more public memorials, historical markers and statues honoring animals than women in Lexington.
On Main Street, tourists and locals can snap photos with the racehorses and jockeys at Thoroughbred Park, or there’s the Flying Horse of Gansu in front of the Chase Bank Building, or a man sitting atop a camel in Phoenix Park. Across the street is a bronze plaque honoring Smiling Pete, a once-beloved and now-deceased dog, on the plaza in front of Fayette Circuit Court.
What they won’t find in Lexington’s public spaces is a statue honoring a woman of historical importance.
Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti thinks it’s time to change that.
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Mossotti has asked a committee of the Lexington council to consider whether the city should explore making the representation of women in public art a priority. A date for the committee to discuss the lack of statues to women in Fayette County has not been set.
Mossotti made the motion earlier this week during a council work session. The move comes less than a month after the council voted unanimously Aug. 17 to move two Confederate statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County courthouse.
Mossotti, who is part of an effort to place a statute of a woman in the Women’s Recognition Garden in Wellington Park, said discussions about moving the statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge prompted her to study who was being honored in Lexington, either through historical markers, statues, monuments or public art.
Women have largely been left out in Lexington and across the nation, she found.
“Only 9 percent of some 6,900 recorded works in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s catalog of outdoor sculpture are women,” Mossotti said during Tuesday’s council work session.
Mossotti said she read an article about a recent push in San Francisco to include more women in public sculptures and art who played a role in that city’s history. The city supervisors there are considering a resolution that sets a goal of increasing female representation in the public sphere — elected offices, corporate boards, street signs and public art — to 30 percent by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote.
“I’m not setting a goal or a quota of 30 percent,” Mossotti said. “I want us to start talking about this issue.”
Georgia Henkel, chairwoman of the Urban County Arts Review Board, which reviews public art, said the only public depictions of women in downtown Lexington are fictitious women in various public art murals.
Henkel said setting a goal to include more women of historic importance in public art “would provide the perfect opportunity to initiate a commitment for more equitable diversity.”
Nan Plummer, president and CEO of LexArts, said she too thinks it’s time the city looked at the issue. LexArts wants more art that “represents and honors our community in its entirety,” she said.
Although there are no statues yet of a woman in Fayette County on public land, there are plans for one in the Women’s Recognition Garden in Wellington Park. Amanda Matthews of Prometheus Bronze Foundry is in the process of making the sculpture of Katsina, the female spirit of the trees from Greek mythology. Supporters of the project still need to raise another $10,000, but if that goal can be reached, they hope to unveil the sculpture on Mother’s Day, Matthews said.
There’s also a dearth of historical markers honoring women in Fayette County.
Of the county’s 130 historical markers, only six, or less than five percent, honor women, according to a database on the Kentucky Historical Society’s website. Those markers honor Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of President Abraham Lincoln; Madeline Breckinridge, a Kentucky suffrage leader; Mary Desha, one of the founders of the Daughters of the American Revolution; Margaret King, the first librarian at the University of Kentucky; Myrtle Weldon, a state leader of UK’s home economics extension program; and Sarah Blanding, a former UK dean of women who later became Vassar College’s first woman president.
Although no group tracks statues in Kentucky, there appear to be few of women on public land statewide.
The known statues include Alice Lloyd, on the Knott County campus of the college named for her; riverboat pilot Mary B. Greene on the Riverwalk in Covington; Mary Draper Ingles, a pioneer woman who escaped Native American captivity, outside the Boone County Public Library in Burlington; and educator Elizabeth Rogers in a Berea park.
The first known statue honoring a woman in Louisville was erected in July 2015. It’s of Catherine Spalding, a Catholic nun and leader of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth who started many schools in Louisville, including Spalding University. The sculpture was paid for by the Catholic church and is on the private campus of the Cathedral of the Assumption. In Lexington, the Ladies’ Confederate memorial was erected in the privately-owned Lexington Cemetery in 1874.
Matthews also is working on a statue for the city of Russellville of Alice Dunnigan, a trail-blazing black journalist who became the first black woman to be credentialed to cover the White House in 1948.
There are no statues of women in the state Capitol building, but that will change soon. The state Historic Properties Advisory Commission, a government body that oversees several of the state’s historic properties, voted unanimously this summer to add a statue of a woman to the Capitol.
Leslie Nigels, director of the state Division of Historic Properties, said the group is still working on documents to clear the way for a statue of Nettie Depp, who was the first woman to run for public office in Kentucky when she ran for Barren County School Superintendent in 1913, seven years before women were allowed to vote.
The statue of Depp, which Matthews is making, will be placed in the foyer of one of the entrances to the Capitol. That statue will hopefully be unveiled sometime in late 2018 or early 2019, Nigels said.
Matthews, who started the nonprofit Artemis Initiative to help raise money for more public sculptures of women, said Lexington’s decision to discuss the lack of women in public art is laudable, as is the state’s decision to include a woman in the state Capitol.
And long overdue.
“Women are half of our population,” Matthews said. “They have contributed to our history just as much as men but those contributions have traditionally not been honored.”