Little Fine Arts Library: Harlan Hubbard Images

February 25, 2011

It is a bit unusual for someone to approach us about including an artist in KOAR. (And we would like to change that!) So I was delighted last year when Meg Shaw, Art & Theater Librarian at the University of Kentucky’s Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library, initiated contact with me about introducing the paintings of Harlan Hubbard to our online audience. Since we want to encourage more folks to share Kentucky’s rich artistic heritage through KOAR, I was curious about what motivated her inquiry.

Summer Landscape: The House on the Ridge

“The project is important to me because Harlan Hubbard was a very prolific, but underappreciated artist,” Meg explained. “He had a remarkable career as an artist and writer, living most of his life near the Ohio River. The life and landscape of the river is explored deeply in his art. His paintings are a revealing counterpart to the two books he authored, Shantyboat and Payne Hollow, and the four volumes of his journals that were published afterwards. Wendell Berry celebrated his life in a lecture series and a book, Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work. Yet his art never achieved the exposure that his writings did. He documented the scenes of Campbell County and Trimble County in a way that is more true to nature than a photograph, and produced paintings that express his love of the landscape there. The paintings that are now in the KOAR database were shown at the Hopewell Museum in 2008, in the exhibit, “Harlan Hubbard: A Life in the Landscape, 1900-1988”. They are from private collections. The Lucille Little Fine Arts Library has a digital image database of paintings by Harlan Hubbard from regional collections. For more information, go to http://libguides.uky.edu/HarlanHubbard

Steep Road

You can see a few examples of Harlan Hubbard’s paintings on our Recent Additions webpage, or you can search the database directly for a look at more of his pre-1950 work by entering “Harlan Hubbard” in the Quick Search text box. We warmly welcome the Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library as a new KOAR Partner and look forward to adding more of their images in future. We hope that you enjoy discovering the art of Harlan Hubbard, too.


Treasures from the Kentucky Historical Society

February 3, 2011

The Kentucky Online Arts Resource, a project of the Speed Art Museum, is pleased to add the Kentucky Historical Society to the site’s growing list of museum partners!

KOAR now features several highlights from Kentucky Historical Society’s exhibition, Great Revivals: Kentucky Decorative Arts Treasures. Curated by Estill Curtis Pennington, the exhibition brings many of KHS’s best pieces together in a single installation at the Old State Capitol in Frankfort.

Among my favorites: a terrific example of “art-carved” furniture with carved decoration by Kate Perry Mosher of Covington, Kentucky (located just across the river from Cincinnati). I first saw this cabinet several years ago in one of KHS’s storage areas and was blown away the quality of Mosher’s work. Her carvings of herons, Kentucky cane plants, and other plant forms reflect great skill and a great eye for design.

Cabinet

Cabinet with carving by Kate Mosher, 1892

Mosher learned from a master: Cincinnati’s Benn Pitman, the godfather of Cincinnati’s late nineteenth-century art-carved furniture movement. Pitman established a wood carving program at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in 1873. Like Mosher, many students of art carving were women. She ranked among the best, exhibiting her work at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.


Documented Kentucky Furniture Now Available

January 27, 2011

Click on over to the Kentucky Online Arts Resource (KOAR) and you’ll find some great new additions, notably sixteen pieces of Kentucky furniture from one of the state’s best private collections. You can see a few highlights on KOAR’s Recent Additions page.

Many of the pieces can be tied to particular locales, owners, and even makers. In some cases, the connection comes through a piece’s provenance. One of my favorites: an elegant gaming table that descended in the Brown family of Frankfort.

Brown Family Gaming Table, 1800-1810

In other cases, the owners’ passion for research helps us reconnect the furniture to its original context. An imposing tall clock, made as early as the late eighteenth century (a fairly rare thing with surviving Kentucky furniture), can be tied to William Calk, an early settler, thanks to the collectors’ research. Calk’s 1775 account of his journey from Prince William County, Virginia to Kentucky makes for interesting reading.

Calk Family Tall Clock, 1790-1810

Along with furniture, new additions from the same collection include several examples of decorated stoneware.


Silver in Kentucky, 1800-1860

December 10, 2010

I’m pleased to announce the opening of Silver in Kentucky, 1800-1860, a new installation at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum. The exhibition features over twenty-five outstanding examples of silver hollowware, including pitchers, tea sets, and other forms. All come from the state’s finest private collection of Kentucky silver.

Along with the work of well-known Kentucky silversmiths like Asa Blanchard (about 1770-1838), the exhibition also includes pieces by less familiar makers like Charles Plimpton (working from at least 1814). Judging by period advertisements, Plimpton was more active in Lexington as a “silver plater” than as a silversmith, perhaps explaining the relative scarcity of silver pieces with his mark.

Charles Plimpton's mark

Other highlights include: an extremely rare coffee or hot water urn bearing the mark of Lexington’s George Stewart (active in Kentucky from about 1857 until about 1864), a Stewart horse racing trophy for the 1846 Chiles Stake, and an Asa Blanchard teapot that retains an old, and perhaps original, cloth strainer bag mounted on a silver collar.

Photos of pieces in the exhibition, including images of their marks, will appear on the Kentucky Online Arts Resource in early 2011. (As you can see from the image below, photographing the pieces wasn’t a point-and-shoot operation!)

Photographing a George Sharp, Jr. pitcher


The Art of Collecting Kentucky Antiques

December 10, 2010

I’ve gotten great feedback from my earlier post featuring video of Bob Noe. Bob, along with his wife Norma, have helped lead the way towards an expanded interest in great Kentucky antiques and art. Through Bob and Norma’s wonderful generosity, over 100 pieces from their collection are gradually making their way to the Speed Art Museum.

In response to popular demand, here’s another segment featuring Bob in which he shares his opinions on what makes for a successful collector.


USA Today Plugs Kentucky Collection

November 29, 2010

USA Today loves the Speed Art Museum and its Kentucky Collection. They said so in the November 26, 2010 issue. Check it out here.


New Installations of Kentucky Art and Antiques

October 19, 2010

I’ve recently completed two installations at The Speed Art Museum that feature great Kentucky art.

For the exhibition Pursuing the Masterpiece, I’ve installed the fantastic Kentucky sugar desk I discussed previously. Using maps, texts, and images, the desk is placed in both its historic and antiquarian contexts. I also produced a video featuring the husband-and-wife collectors who gave the desk to the Speed. They are a remarkable pair, having spent 40 years building one of the state’s finest collections of early Kentucky antiques and art. Here’s a short clip of the husband, Bob Noe, describing the desk:

I also recently installed Modern in the Making: Design 1900-2000, which features over 50 pieces from the Speed’s collection.

Hadley Pottery bowl, 1956

Kentucky is represented by several objects, including three pieces designed by Mary Alice Hadley (1911-1965) for Louisville’s Hadley Pottery.

I’ve also included a beautiful set of turned rosewood bowls made by Kentucky’s Rude Osolnik (1915-2001), one of the United States’ great craft artisans.

Salad set, about 1950 by Rude Osolnik

Finally, Kentucky’s rich ceramic tradition is respresented by a wonderful Bybee Pottery face pitcher made in Bybee, Kentucky.

Bybee Pottery pitcher and mugs, about 1940


Visiting Kentucky, 1807-1809

October 14, 2010

Period accounts of Kentucky (or anywhere else) can’t always be taken at face value. Often their authors had ulterior motives. John Filson’s famous The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke (1784) was, shall we say, rather optimistic in its descriptions. If Filson could get settlers to the state, he could make money from his land investments.

Fortunately, Fortescue Cuming’s Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country (1810) offers a more objective view. His very readable travel journal traces his roundabout trip from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, down the Ohio River, back to Pittsburgh, back down the Ohio, and on to the Mississippi.

For those interested in Kentucky life during the early nineteenth century, it makes for great reading. There’s information, too, for those interested in Kentucky antiques. Lately, I’ve been working on a research project involving the Kentucky State Penitentiary. Why? The state pen’s workshops produced chairs for many decades. The pen also produced stone slabs, some of which may have been used atop furniture.

Cuming provides a detailed description of the Kentucky pen as it existed in 1807. Along with a description of the facility, he notes the presence of “twenty-four miserable wretches” imprisoned there…and also gives a list of the work they did as “nailors, coopers, chair makers, turners, and stone cutters, the latter of whom cut and polish marble slabs of all sizes…”


Kentucky Silver…Sort of

August 6, 2010

Since at least the 1920s and likely much earlier, collectors of early Kentucky antiques have loved the work of the state’s early silversmiths.  Kentucky silver is beautiful and less perplexing than furniture. Kentucky furniture, with some exceptions, is often mute–pieces can’t be tied to specific cabinetmakers. Silver, though, was typically marked by its maker.

That said, though, I’ve always wondered how much Kentucky silver was truly made in Kentucky. Certainly most of it came out of workshops in the state. For pieces bearing the marks of Kentucky jewelers, though, the situation can be less clear. Often they were retailing the work of others, some of it produced locally, no doubt. Some, though, came from other places. Here are a few examples from the Speed Art Museum’s collection:

Pitcher and goblets marked Kinsey, photo by M.S. Rezny

The pitcher and goblets, among my favorite examples of “sort of” Kentucky silver, were presented around 1850 to John Dobyns by “the farmers of Mason County.” Dobyns was a prominent merchant and entrepreneur. Both the pitcher and goblets bear the mark “E. & D. KINSEY” for Edward and David Kinsey of Cincinnati.

The Kinsey brothers wholesaled a great deal of silver in Kentucky through retailers in the state, so one isn’t surprised to see their mark on a piece associated with Kentucky. But the story here is more complicated. The pitcher is identical to one retailed around the same time by Tiffany and Company in New York City and was no doubt made in New York City. So here we have “sort of” Kentucky silver times two: made in New York City, acquired wholesale by the Kinseys, marked by them, and presented to a Kentuckian.

Pitcher marked by Akin and Krider

This pitcher, presented as an agricultural fair premium (prize) in 1859, bears the mark of John Akin, a jeweler who operated in Danville in Boyle County, Kentucky. Many of the hollowware pieces with Akin’s mark, though, also bear the mark of Peter Krider, a Philadelphia silversmith whose firm produced silver in fairly substantial quantities. Philadelphia merchants had strong business ties to Kentucky. The Lexington silversmith Asa Blanchard, for example, traded with Hildeburn and Woolworth in Philadelphia.

Dessert service marked Wood and Hughes and Kitts and Werne

I’ll end with a set of flatware acquired in 2009. It’s a dessert service made by Wood and Hughes of New York City around 1865 but retailed by Kitts and Werne of Louisville. Census records list John Kitts as a watchmaker and Joseph Werne as a jeweler. (This was one of many partnerships Kitts formed during his career.)

Here are the markings on the knife blade:

Marks on dessert knife

So are there less obvious examples out there of silver made elsewhere but marked and retailed in Kentucky during the nineteenth century? No doubt, pointing out the need for more research not just on individual artisans, but on the broader trade in silver. Get to work!


Finding Fort Duffield

July 26, 2010

Though it doesn’t exactly qualify as Kentucky art, Fort Duffield is an interesting example of Kentucky architecture…or, I guess, more like engineering. The Union earthenworks fort was constructed in late 1861 to protect the town of West Point (intended as a Union supply point) and nearby Louisville.

Earthen wall at Fort Duffield

I recently visited for the first time, stopping by during a drive back from Owensboro in west-central Kentucky. Though I’ve lived in Louisville for over ten years and have driven along the highway next to the park entrance several times, I had no idea it was there. This time, I happened to see the few signs along the road. The hard-to-find entrance sits along a stretch of Dixie Highway between Fort Knox and Louisville, an…atmospheric…stretch populated by bars, strip clubs, motels, and a few restaurants.

The earthenworks still remain, sitting some 300 feet above West Point. The site offers fantastic views of the Ohio River and the town of West Point below. Information at the site describes the lives–and plight–of the Michigan and Indiana troops who occupied the fort. Though one died at the hand of a sniper, a number of others died of various illnesses. I left imagining what the troops did all day and if they wondered which of their compatriots might die next, not from hostile action, but from the invisible spread of sickness.