Fayette County

‘Monumental.’ What to know about the towering new art at the Henry Clay Estate.

Workers install “Publisher,” a sculpture by John Henry Sculpture, at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate in Lexington, Ky., Monday, July 8, 2019.
Workers install “Publisher,” a sculpture by John Henry Sculpture, at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate in Lexington, Ky., Monday, July 8, 2019. rhermens@herald-leader.com

A series of towering steel art installations is coming to the Henry Clay Estate in Ashland courtesy of a world-renowned Kentucky-based sculptor.

The sculptures — three in total — are the work of John Henry, whose art has been featured in several museums and universities, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. Henry is a Lexington native and an alumnus of the University of Kentucky.

Although Henry works in all scales, he is particularly known for works “that tower above the viewer or sprawl along the landscape.” He classifies his largest works as monumental in scale.

The Henry Clay Estate teased the sculpture’s arrival on their Instagram story last week.

“Something monumental is coming to Ashland,” the story read, in three consecutive posts.

Two of the sculptures have been classified as monumental, with La Tour clocking in at 50 feet tall and Publisher at 60 feet. The other sculpture on the grounds, Rocher Du Diamont, has been classified as large at 13 feet tall and 20 feet long.

Construction for the large-scale installations began on July 2, according to Jim Clark, executive director of the Henry Clay Estate. Setup finished a week later on July 9.

During construction, progress was documented on the Henry Clay Estate’s Instagram page.

“‘Publisher’ is waiting to go vertical,” the account posted alongside a photo of heavy steel slats that would comprise the towering sculpture when complete.

According to Clark, these are the first large-scale public works by John Henry to be displayed in his hometown of Lexington.

With the new installations, the Henry Clay Estate begins preparations for a new grounds tour that blends history, art and science. According to a press release, the tour will include historical information, such as stories about the people who lived and worked at the estate, as well as tree identification exercises.

“We believe John’s dramatic and towering art will draw visitors to explore the grounds,” Clark said. “The fine balance he achieves in the physical realm of metal is what Clay did in the political realm with people. In many respects, these contemporary expressions evoke the spirit of Clay, who towered over the political landscape of the country for half a century.”

But the new sculptures are not only a political parallel for Kentucky’s Great Compromiser. Clark said Henry’s work also complements the man-made groundscape of the Henry Clay Estate.

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“(The Estate) is not actually a natural environment,” Clark said. “It was created by Henry Clay in a very deliberate style... It, too, is a cultural phenomenon of man exerting control over the land.”

Clark added that the sculptures are not permanent fixtures at Ashland, but will be on display for at least nine months.

The new grounds tour will launch on Aug. 3 of this year, according to Communications Director Jennifer Hale. On that day at 11 a.m., a discussion with artist John Henry will be held and a limited number of hand-signed posters will be available for sale.

In the meantime, the sculptures will be featured in the Estate’s weekly yoga sessions. Those free sessions take place at 11 a.m. on Sundays and will now be called sculpture yoga. Poses practiced during sculpture yoga will “evoke the spirit of the three sculptures.”

Summer visitors are invited to take a peek at the massive feats of architecture that now dot the greenery of Henry Clay’s Estate.

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