Early Louisville Racing and Edward Troye

June 24, 2012

Barely five years after Louisville was founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark, horse races were being held on Market Street. By 1805 there was racing on Shippingport “Island,” which John James Audubon frequented in 1811-1812; he noted that horse racing was almost as interesting as watching birds.

After several unsuccessful attempts at organizing racetracks in Louisville, Oakland Race Course was established in 1832 on a fifty-five acre plot on the west and south sides of present day 7th Street and Magnolia Avenue. The clubhouse was celebrated as one of the most handsome sporting venues in the country, welcoming even ladies with a furnished room and private pavilion. The population of Louisville was approximately 20,000 citizens by then, only thirteen years after the death of Daniel Boone. An 1840 painting of Oakland House and Race Course, Louisville, by Robert Brammer and Augustus A. Von Smith, Sr., has also graced the KOAR webpage image header since we first went online in April 2006. (See our October 2011 blog for more on Edward Fisk’s portrait of Mary Daniel.) Brammer and Von Smith had a studio together in Louisville, upstairs on the south side of the 300 block of Main Street and later at Market and Sixth Streets, during 1840-1841. Since Brammer was a landscape painter, it is assumed that he painted the famous setting, while Von Smith contributed the many “miniatures” of horses, people, and carriages.

Oakland was struggling financially by 1839, when promoter and entrepreneur Yelverton C. Oliver arranged a match race offering a purse of $14,000. In those days racecourses were three to five miles long and there was no starting gate, which did not appear until the following century. Horses often ran in two to three races a day, and this match was for the best two out of three four-mile heats, winner take all. Two of the most famous horses of the era ran on September 30 in what became known as “the greatest
race west of the Alleghenies”: Wagner, foaled in Virginia in 1834, who had already established himself as the finest in Louisiana and Tennessee; and
Grey Eagle, foaled
a year later in Lexington, Kentucky, who had run the fastest two miles in the United States. This engraving of
Grey Eagle, after a painting by Edward Troye, was the Embellishment (frontispiece) for the American Turf Register of April 1843.

Edward Troye was a painter of race horses in Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio, and New York, being periodically active in Kentucky about 1834-1874. His portraits of renowned Early American thoroughbreds from 1832-1843 for the American Turf Register served as a marketing tool for both magazine and horseman throughout the country. They also are perhaps the only visual record of early foundation sires and mares in the United States. Troye traveled widely to sketch from life his legendary subjects, and his attention to the landscape and backgrounds behind the horses preserve a historical record of America at that time as well. This can be seen in his 1840 painting of Grey Eagle’s dam in Ophelia and Falcon, which shows in the distance Major H.T. Duncan’s Kentucky homestead, “Duncannon”, situated along Paris Pike on the outskirts of Lexington, Kentucky.

For that 1839 match an estimated 10,000 people (or more) were in attendance, including hundreds of racing enthusiasts who had made the long trek across the mountains from the Atlantic seaboard. As in the Brammer and Von Smith painting, outside the clubhouse fashionable belles were helped down from fine carriages by gentlemen in top hats and tails; among the noted aristocrats on this day was a contingent from Lexington, led by Henry Clay. Less famous fans who could not afford a seat in the stands perched up in the tall, graceful oak trees that gave the track its name, hoping to catch a glimpse of the race. Wagner won the first heat; in the second, just as it seemed Grey Eagle might have a chance to win, Wagner pulled ahead and won by a nose in a record 7:44, “best time ever south of the Potomac” according to the Louisville Daily Journal. Disappointed Kentucky fans demanded a rematch, which was agreed to be run just five days later, October 5, on the same course for a purse of $10,000. This time, Grey Eagle won the first heat by a length and Wagner won the second. Grey Eagle was leading down the stretch in the in the third heat, when either he broke down from the tremendous stress or possibly was bumped by Wagner; the injury prematurely ended his racing career.

Both horses became successful sires, “continuing” their matches through their offspring; in fact, Grey Eagle’s first colts started racing in 1843, the same year Troye’s portrait appeared in the American Turf Register. Cato, the famous slave jockey who had ridden Wagner, was given his freedom in exchange for the victories. And racing aficionados still consider this one of the high points of the sport in the United States. Many believe the publicity from the match races made Kentucky famous as the preeminent horse-racing state and that Louisville’s legendary Churchill Downs owes at least part of its fame to Oakland House and Race Course. However, Oakland itself suffered financial reverses in the late 1840s and was closed by the mid-1850s. It served as a staging point for Kentucky troops during the Mexican War and as a cavalry remount station for the Union Army during the Civil War. Eventually the area fell into serious disrepair and disrepute, becoming a refuge of shabby homes and gardens for society’s outcasts. At the turn of the century, Alice Hegan (Rice) dubbed the area “The Cabbage Patch” in her best-selling 1901 novel Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, a fictional name that has persisted to the present day.

Edward Troye’s portrait of undefeated American Eclipse, a direct descendant of the undefeated eighteenth century British racing champion Eclipse, after whom the annual American Thoroughbred horse racing awards is named, is on view at The Speed Art Museum until September 23, 2012.

Enid Yandell’s The Gibson Girl

May 13, 2012

The concept of the figurine, a miniature full-figure sculpture, was new to America when Enid Yandell created The Gibson Girl in 1895. Yandell, a Louisville native who studied and often worked in
France, was credited with popularizing the form in the States by American newspapers. An 1896 Courier-Journal article describing excavations near Thebes of
small-scale terra-cotta figures dating to 600-200 B.C.E. compares Yandell’s similarly small-scale portraits to them. The Gibson Girl was exhibited in 1896 at the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

This three-dimensional version of The Gibson Girl was named after the sketches of Charles Dana Gibson,

whose pen and ink drawings appeared weekly on the pages of Life magazine. The first of his “Gibson Girls” (as they came to be known) made her debut in 1890.  Dressed in a stiff shirtwaist and flowing skirt showing just a hint of bustle, her soft hair piled up into a loose chignon, she always appeared poised and well-bred. She was proficient in a variety of activities, ranging from domestic scenes and social events to outdoor sports, equally as comfortable riding bicycles as riding horses, even donning short skirts to take up golf when it was introduced to the United States at the turn of the century. The “Gibson Girl” embodied America’s modern ideal woman, with her new (often daring!) feminist values of self-reliance and self-assurance, all the while maintaining her sense of femininity.

Enid Yandell was actually portraying her younger sister, Elsie, quietly reading a book. As well as depicting her sister’s character, this figurine also displays symbols of Elsie’s interests and accomplishments in the finely detailed accessories beneath her chair. Among these, the Muses are represented by musical instruments, a stylus, more books, and a laurel wreath.

Who knew that a “Gibson Girl” lived right here in Kentucky, too?


KOAR 1941.1.14.13

Tall Case Clocks

April 3, 2012
 KOAR 2004.1.3

KOAR 2004.1.3

Something about the faces of tall case clocks, with moons serenely waxing and waning above world maps or ships sailing out to sea under windy clouds aloft, is as endlessly fascinating as the steady
tick-tock and chimes on the quarter-hours are comforting.
If you are fortunate enough to have childhood memories of waiting while the weights were adjusted and the correct time checked against an elder relative’s pocket watch, or even a parent’s chronographic wristwatch, perhaps this blog is for you.

The form of the tall case clock, commonly known today as a “grandfather’s clock”, developed in response to technological advances in clock making during the late seventeenth century. Use of pendulums had improved accuracy in time keeping, but their wide arcs made a clock with a long pendulum somewhat impractical since it could not be fitted easily inside a case.

The invention of the anchor escapement, which used an anchor-shaped mechanism having prongs (called pallets) on the ends of its arms to alternately catch and release a vertical wheel with pointed teeth on it, allowed power supplied to the wheel by weights (or a spring) to be released in small regular bursts. This reduced a long pendulum’s swing to a much shorter arc that could fit inside a narrow case; less oscillation and lower air drag also greatly improved accuracy and reduced the power needed to keep the pendulum swinging and the wear on the clock’s movement. Most tall case clocks had a “seconds pendulum” about 39 inches long with a swing that lasted one second, hence its name.

KOAR 2008.1.11

KOAR 2008.1.11

A tall case was needed so that there would be enough space for the weights to drop. In America, springs had to be imported until about 1835-40 and were very expensive, so weights were typically used. (When the capability to manufacture springs in this country developed, tall case clocks quickly fell out of favor since shelf clocks were much cheaper to produce; it was not until the height of the Victorian era, after about 1870-1880, that big fancy hall clocks, usually with glass in the trunk door and beautiful brass weights and pendulums, became popular again.) Because the weights that provided power to the pendulum were heavy, the weight of the clock mechanism was better supported by a floor-standing pedestal rather than hanging it on a wall.

The tall case clock cabinet is made up of three sections. The top, called the “hood” or “bonnet”, contains the clock works and its face. The middle, called the “trunk” or “waist”, contains the pendulum and weights. The bottom section is the “base” and its height brings the clock face up to eye level. The case of the clock shown at upper left was made by William Lowry, a cabinetmaker in Frankfort, Kentucky, around 1805-1810.

The inner works of many tall case clocks of the early 1800s include imported English-made components, which reached Kentucky by way of trade with major urban centers such as New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. The bell of the clock shown at right bears the mark of George Ainsworth, a Lancashire maker of clock parts and assembled clock works. The clock’s works were likely assembled by Thomas McMurray, a Lexington clock and watch maker who had worked previously in Pennsylvania and Ohio. Judging by his inscription on the clock’s seat board, McMurray apparently operated as Asa Blanchard’s subcontractor. Blanchard, well known as one of Kentucky’s earliest silversmiths, also advertised his Lexington shop’s ability to perform watch and clock work. It is Blanchard’s own signature that is on the back of this clock’s dial. (Only two other clocks bearing Blanchard’s signature are known; one is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) However, the Kentucky cabinetmaker who made this magnificent case, alas, remains anonymous.

Kentucky Historical Society: Paul Sawyier

February 26, 2012

Paul Sawyier remains one of the most popular artists in the Commonwealth, although his work is relatively unknown outside of the region.

Big Eddy

Perhaps this might change a bit with the recent addition to KOAR of more than 120 images from the Kentucky Historical Society’s collection of his works, including many of the impressionistic landscapes of Franklin County and nearby surroundings which have long been local favorites. Painting these mainly in watercolors, Sawyier sensitively captured ephemeral lighting effects and subtle color contrasts in his idyllic Kentucky scenes.

Winter in Kentucky

During his final years, however, Sawyier lived and worked in New York City and the Catskill Mountains. It is here that he began painting primarily in oils and produced what many consider his most mature work. While living with his sister in Brooklyn, he painted views of the many parks and waterways in the area. After moving to the Catskills, he concentrated on the mountains and neighboring villages. But he also worked from photographs of the old familiar settings in his home state, sending these paintings back to the faithful Kentucky patrons who had commissioned them.

Railroad in the Catskills

The Sawyier family home in Frankfort was located where the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History on the KHS campus now stands, with a historical marker honoring Paul Sawyier near its main entrance. Several of his paintings are being rotated through the KHS Great Revivals exhibition at the Old State Capitol if you would like to see them in person. (Images from Great Revivals are also in KOAR.)

And you can read more about Paul Sawyier in two exhibition catalogues on the KOAR Publications page, which has been expanded by the addition of more than sixty-five items.  First, click on this link: http://www.koar.org/publications.htm
Then select Individual Artists and Makers at the top of the page. Works are chronologically arranged by publication date. Scrolling down, you can find the catalogue for a 1940 exhibition at The Speed Art Museum, Paintings by Paul Sawyier, and Willard Rouse Jillson’s Paul Sawyier and His Paintings, which contains a more detailed account of the artist’s life and works written to accompany the 1965 centenary exhibition commemorating Sawyier’s birth.

Louisville’s Historical Glass Flasks, Part 2

January 6, 2012

Handblown glass flasks of the nineteenth century are distinctively American forms. Originally intended as containers to hold distilled spirits, they also were used for a few other liquid products such as medicines and bitters. Unlike today, distillers did not bottle their own spirits. Instead merchants, druggists, tavern keepers, and other vendors would fill glass containers from distillery casks for sale to customers, who could get these bottles refilled at the same place.

GIX-8 "scroll" (or "violin") flask
GIX-8 “scroll” (or “violin”) flask

Portable easy-to-carry flasks were made in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, in over 750 known designs. The range of shades and colors was often due to various impurities in the ingredients used to make the glass, especially the aquamarines, greens, and ambers resulting from iron oxides; for more brilliant or intense colors such as purples and blues, other specific metal oxides were added intentionally. Figured flasks (also referred to as “historical”, “pictorial”, or “decorative”) with embossed motifs and molded designs were manufactured primarily between 1815 and 1870. Since they were both functional and attractive, these flasks became quite popular
and seldom were discarded unless broken, so many still survive.

As mentioned in our earlier blog, from 1850 to 1901 at least seven glass factories operated in Louisville and two others just across the Ohio River in New Albany, Indiana. Several were known by more than one business name over the years, and many glassblowers in the Louisville factories also were involved at various times with those in New Albany. The earliest known evidence of glass manufacturing in Louisville is the formation of the original Kentucky Glass Works (1850-circa 1855), which in later years became more commonly known as the Louisville Glass Works (circa 1855-1873). The 1850 Census recorded a total of 50 workers employed there, 21 of them glassblowers. The sand used for making the glass was from nearby Elizabethtown in Hardin County, Kentucky, as reported in the February 3, 1866, issue of the Louisville Industrial & Commercial Gazette.

GII-27 "FARLEY & TAYLOR" flask
GII-27 “FARLEY & TAYLOR” flask

Kentucky (later Louisville) Glass Works manufactured bottles, jars, tumblers, and similar functional containers, as well as other handblown glass items in the “South Jersey” style. (The New Jersey connection was also discussed in our earlier blog.) In fact, one of the later investors, Dr. John. A. Krack, owned a local pharmacy and purchased an interest in the glassworks in 1856 to help supply bottles for his druggist business. (He remained a part-owner until at least 1871.) The original Kentucky Glass Works did not mark any bottles with their factory name or initials. Several of the unmarked eagle flasks and the similarly shaped flask marked “FARLEY & TAYLOR / RICHMOND KY” were probably made here in the early 1850s. Louisville Glass Works became well known for the popular “scroll” (or “violin”), “double eagle”, and “ribbed” flasks; these are typically marked “LOUISVILLE KY / GLASSWORKS”. Their wide range of colors indicates that these were produced in quantity, and over fairly long periods of time.

Louisville Glass Works closed permanently by 1873, evidently as a result of the recession of that year, and never reopened. The invention of the automatic bottle machine in 1903 eventually put glassblowers out of work forever. Also in 1903, Emil and Tony Stanger helped make the largest glass bottle ever blown, at “108 GAL”, in Millville, New Jersey, later exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. (It was dethroned in 1992 during Millville’s “Glass Blast Weekend”.) The actual site of the original Kentucky Glass Works factory, razed three or four times since the 1870s, is almost directly across the street, and slightly south of, Louisville’s “Extreme Park” built in 2001.

Additional images and more information on “Louisville Glass Factories of the 19th Century” can be found in David Whitten’s three-part article published in 2005 by Bottles and Extras, the official magazine of The Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors, which is available online at:

Louisville’s Historical Glass Flasks, Part 1

December 12, 2011

Would it surprise you to know that the historical flasks in KOAR owe a debt to the “South Jersey” tradition of glassblowing? Thereby hangs a
tale …

 GII-24 "double eagle" flask

GII-24 "double eagle" flask

From 1850 to 1901; at least seven glass factories operated in Louisville and two others just across the Ohio River in New Albany, Indiana. At most bottle-making plants in Louisville the majority of workers were of German heritage. John Stanger, one of the principal proprietors when the original Kentucky Glass Works was founded, was a grandson of one of the seven Stanger brothers who emigrated with their parents and a sister in 1768 from Dornhagen, Germany, traveling on the ship Betsy from Rotterdam to the Philadelphia area.

During the late 1500s and early 1600s, the Stenger family of master glassblowers had moved into the Alsace-Lorraine-Moselle area of Europe, helping establish several glass factories in France and Germany. (Stengers remaining in Wingen opened a glass factory which later became associated with Lalique glass.) The Stengers were Lutheran and did not speak French. In Colonial America, the spelling of the family name became Stanger; both the Stanger and Stenger glassmaking families in the United States all seem to be related if traced back far enough. The seven Stanger brothers were brought to America, possibly as indentured servants, to work in the Wistarburgh Glass Works, near Alloway in southern New Jersey. They moved on to start other glassworks in New Jersey, especially in Gloucester County near a town that eventually became known as Glassboro. Here began 148 years of continuous glassmaking, the most extensive and best equipped center in the nation. Distinct styles and techniques for decorating free blown glass emerged, now commonly referred to as the “South Jersey” tradition.

GII-33 "ribbed" flask

GII-33 "ribbed" flask

John H. Stanger is considered the most important person involved in the glass manufacturing of nineteenth-century Louisville. Born in New Jersey about 1814, he moved to Pennsylvania, working as a glassblower in various positions around the Pittsburgh area from about 1838 through the 1840s. Stanger moved to Louisville in 1849 or early 1850, where he remained active for more than thirty years. He was connected with the Kentucky (later Louisville) Glass Works as late as 1869 or 1870; worked in New Albany at W.C. DePauw’s Star Glass Works from about 1871 to 1877; started up a new factory in Louisville called Southern Glass Company (or Southern Glass Works) with veteran glassblower Charles Doyle, his son-in-law, staying until the summer of 1879; then managed the new Kentucky Glass Works Company [not to be confused with the original Kentucky Glass Works!]  at 4th & C Streets until he “retired” on December 9, 1879, according to a January 4, 1880, announcement in the Louisville  Commercial. His “retirement” turned out to be a short one, however, since in the early 1880s Stenger moved back across the river (again) to DePauw’s American Plate Glass Company (formerly Star Glass), finally leaving about 1884. He passed away  in New Albany on November 3, 1887. His sons, along with other family members, also became professional glassblowers, working in at least five different factories in Louisville, New Albany, and Marion, Indiana.

More on glass flasks and the factories of Louisville will be in our next blog. In the meantime, you can find some general information on figured flasks, including more images of a Kentucky Glass Works double eagle flask, at:
http://www.sha.org/bottle/liquor.htm#Historical Flasks

About Mary Daniel

October 2, 2011

Mary Daniel has graced the KOAR webpage image header since we first went online in April 2006. She was interviewed by Nancy Crane in the Lexington Herald-Leader in 1992 on the occasion of a posthumous one-person show of the work of Edward Fisk, professor in the University of Kentucky Art Department from 1926 to 1942. “Mary D. Lilly learned more than 50 years ago that sitting still doesn’t agree with her,” the article opened. “It was 1938 and she was posing for a portrait by artist Edward Fisk at his Hampton Court apartment. ‘It was the hardest thing I ever did to keep still that long.'” Mary Daniel (Lilly, after marriage) worked as Edward and Lucy Fisk’s housekeeper, not your typical artist’s model. “Lilly is not sure what about her caught the artist’s eye. ‘As an artist, I guess he saw something — the expression on my face or something — that he wanted to paint.'”

At the time this article was published, Mary Daniel Lilly at 77 was only semi-retired. One day a week “‘I still look after Allie,'” the Fisk’s daughter, “‘which I promised her mother when she was sick that I would do.'” However, most of Lilly’s time went to numerous volunteer activities, which she had begun fifteen years earlier as a way to “help cope with the death of her husband of 40 years, Marcellus.” Her remarkable energy and “dedication to the community has not gone unnoticed. In 1989 she was named Lexington’s Outstanding Volunteer by the Volunteer Center of the Bluegrass.” Fisk painted another portrait of the young Mary Daniel, too, seen at:  http://www.edwardfisk.com/portrait/pages/port05.htm

I guess we will never know exactly what caught Fisk’s eye on that day in 1938, yet the indomitable spirit he clearly captured still illuminated Mary Daniel Lilly’s life fifty years later, just as it does ours now.

Great Kentucky Antiques Given to Speed Art Museum

September 6, 2011

Even as the Speed Art Museum’s exhibition, Quilts from Kentucky and Beyond: The Bingham-Miller Family Collection was opening back in June (it closes on September 18), I was already working on the next big thing to hit the Speed:

Silhouette of Cassius Clay by William Henry Brown, 1845

The arrival of almost 120 pieces of nineteenth-century Kentucky furniture, silver, ceramics, textiles, paintings, and works on paper. This extraordinary trove of great Kentucky art was given to the Speed by Bob and Norma Noe. The Noes, both Kentucky natives, assembled the collection over the course of thirty years. Their generous gift makes the Speed’s Kentucky collection the best in the country.

Mason-Fleming-Lewis County, Kentucky, chest of drawers, 1795-1810

Over sixty highlights from the collection are now on view in the exhibition, Kentucky Antiques from the Noe Collection: A Gift to the Commonwealth. If you want to hear Bob Noe talk about his experiences as a collector, check out this and this.

To learn more about the Noes’ gift, read the whole press release.

Kentucky Quilts Are Here!

June 28, 2011

The Speed’s new exhibition, Quilts from Kentucky and Beyond: The Bingham-Miller Family Collection is now open and will remain so until September 18. It features 39 quilts, including ten Kentucky-associated quilts made between 1850 and 1940.

Preparing quilt for display

One of the best Kentucky quilts (and, in my opinion, the best quilt in the exhibition) arrived just a week before the show opened after it had…sneaked away…for several years! It was made between 1860 and 1870, probably in Henderson County, Kentucky (though possibly in Jefferson County). Its design is remarkably similar to a Logan County quilt by Virginia Mason Ivey in the Speed’s collection. The exhibition brings these two wonderful quilts side-by-side for the first time.

Quilt, 1860-1870, probably by Emma Bridges, Henderson County, Kentucky

Quilt, about 1860, by Virginia Mason Ivey, Logan County, Kentucky

Kentucky Quilts Are Coming!

May 5, 2011

On Sunday, June 19, the Speed Art Museum will open the exhibition Quilts from Kentucky and Beyond: The Bingham-Miller Family Collection. Drawn from an outstanding private collection, this exhibition of almost forty American quilts will include a selection of great Kentucky quilts dating from the antebellum era to the twentieth century. The exhibition will close on September 18. Watch for an update as we install the quilts next month!

Schoolhouse Quilt, about 1920. Kentucky