Fayette County

Louis Zoellar Bickett II, notable Central Kentucky artist, dead at 67

Louis Zoellar Bickett last year at his home on West High Street in Lexington. Bickett had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
Louis Zoellar Bickett last year at his home on West High Street in Lexington. Bickett had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. palcala@herald-leader.com

Louis Zoellar Bickett II, a notable artist in the Lexington-area, died Sunday of Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to an obituary posted on Facebook. He was 67.

The Winchester-native was a self-taught artist, and a published critic and poet.

Lois Bickett, Bickett’s sister, called him witty, intelligent, sharp and very caring.

Her brother helped her raise her two children, Michael and Melissa, she said. She recalled that during her children’s childhoods, Louis Bickett poured baby powder down a hardwood floor so that Michael and Melissa could slide across the floor.

“He got in a lot of trouble for that,” Lois Bickett said.

Melissa Smith, Louis Bickett’s niece, said her uncle was the type of person you count on. “I wrecked my car in college and he came to my rescue.”

Bickett’s obituary, which he wrote himself before he died, included varied euphemisms such as, “home to glory, crossed over, passed away, was carried to paradise, fell into the arms of Jesus, gave up the ghost, petered out, kicked the bucket, croaked, faced the music, bit the bullet, left the building, did not go gently into the night.”

Smith said her uncle had at least two years to write the obituary, following his Lou Gehrig’s disease diagnosis. Also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or ALS, it is a nervous system disease that weakens muscles and impacts physical function.

“To say (Louie) was a planner is an understatement,” she said.

Bickett was known for collecting and cataloging items from his life, known as “The Archive,” which he started in 1972. Bickett’s works have been or are currently featured in the University of Kentucky Art Museum, 21c Museum Hotel, Institute 193, the Lexington Art League, the UK Chandler Hospital dining pavilion and at the Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York City. Bickett was also a three-time recipient of The Kentucky Al Smith Award for Art.

Stephanie Harris, director of the Lexington Art League, said, “spending time with him was really … inspiring,” she said. “He really had these wonderful stories to share.”

Harris recalled a time last fall where she had a casual, open conversation with Bickett.

“We talked about art objects, our upbringing, we talked about memories, and he was just someone that no matter what you were talking about, he was always interested. He would always give you his attention. Again, just a very genuine and kind person,” she said.

Harris said Bickett was an extremely open individual.

“He really self-taught in so many ways,” she said. “He didn’t have any arrogance.”

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, a friend of Bickett’s, called Bickett a one-of-a-kind person.

“Before Google there was Louis Bickett,” he said. “Whenever I was puzzled about a word, event, book, author, bit of obscure Kentucky folklore or world history, I always just called Louis. Louis knew Americana, and he knew art, and he knew and treasured the unusual. He knew something about everything … and how to interest others in it. He was unique and original and authentic. Just no one like him. A city treasure.”

Bickett was also known for working at the now-closed a la Lucie restaurant for nearly three decades.

A memorial performance will be held at CastlePost at 230 Pisgah Pike in Versailles on Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. In lieu of flowers, a donation to Institute 193 is suggested.

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