A Belgian in the Bluegrass

March 17, 2014

This hand-colored print on paper, drawn and engraved by Courtois of Malines, is of “Little Loretto” in Marion County. It seems curious that a tiny religious frontier settlement in Kentucky would be the subject of an engraving made in Belgium …


In 1785, sixty Catholic families from Charles, Price George, and St. Mary’s counties in Maryland formed a league pledged to emigrate to Kentucky (then still a county of Virginia) within a specified period of time. By settling together for mutual support and protection, they also hoped that their spiritual needs would be quickly recognized by Bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, appointed the previous year to lead the United States’ first diocese, which encompassed the entire country. The first twenty-five families found a new home near the headwaters of Pottinger’s Creek in the hilly Knobs region of the commonwealth. Holy Cross, the first Catholic church west of the Allegheny Mountains, was built here in 1792, the same year Kentucky was recognized as a state. At that time, this area became Washington County (named after George Washington), a part of which in 1834 was renamed Marion County, after General Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox” of the Revolutionary War.

In 1793 Father Stephen Theodore Badin, a religious exile from the French Revolution and the first Catholic priest ordained in the United States, was assigned to missionary work in Kentucky by Bishop Carroll. Badin walked from Baltimore to Pittsburgh, where he boarded a flatboat to Limestone (now Maysville). He lived first near Holy Cross, then in late 1794 moved a few miles away to St. Stephen’s Farm, where he had built a chapel named after his patron saint. From there he traveled by horseback to serve all of Kentucky’s Catholic families, then numbering a little less than seven hundred. Within twelve years this grew to nearly seven thousand, scattered throughout the entire state. In 1805 the Bishop sent Father Charles Nerinckx to assist Badin.

The eldest of the fourteen children, Nerinckx was born in Herffelingen, Belgium, on October 2, 1761. After studies at Enghien, Gheel, and Louvain, he entered the theological seminary of Mechlin in 1781 and, after his ordination in 1785, became vicar at the cathedral there. (The Dutch-speaking town of Mechelen, in the province of Antwerp, Flanders, is known in French as Malines and in English as Mechlin.) In 1794 Nerinckx moved to Everberg-Meerbeke (near Louvain), where he was pastor and rebuilt the parish church. But in 1797 the Belgian government, still under the power of the anticlerical French Directoire, required that all priests take an oath of hatred against royalty. Nerinckx refused, and evaded arrest for seven years by hiding at the Hospital of Dendermonde, which was administered by his aunt, a Benedictine nun; during the day he hid, often in the attic or a chicken coop, while at night he ministered to Catholics in need and conducted masses at 2 a.m. In 1804 Nerinckx finally managed to escape by walking ten days to Amsterdam, where he boarded a ship bound for America and landed in Baltimore. Bishop Carroll first directed Nerinckx to study English at Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Like Badin, Nerinckx practically lived in the saddle. The two priests journeyed separately through 2013.15.15 rightall of Kentucky for several years, but divided their territory in 1812. It took Nerinckx six weeks to make a circuit of his district, roughly a two-hundred-mile square covering nearly half the state. He moved to the Hardin’s Creek congregation in Marion County, a little more than ten miles from St. Stephen’s Farm and several miles east of Pottinger’s Creek, taking up residence in the vestry at the rear of the church, which he had named St. Charles in honor of his patron saint. Soon after his move Nerinckx, with three dedicated local teachers, founded the first community of religious women in the United States, originally called The Little Society of the Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross.

Mary Rhodes had already begun a school in a small dilapidated log cabin abandoned by a settler about a half mile from St. Charles; later she was joined by Christina Stuart, and then Ann Havern. For convenience, they fixed up a nearby log cabin where they could sleep in a loft, with beds for boarding students laid out on the bare ground floor of the living area at night and stored on the “high shelf” by day. The straw beds had plain covers, not fancy quilts, and their work table was half a split log. A combined kitchen and refectory (dining area) used a table made of boards nailed to a stump left standing in the middle of the cabin by the former tenants, who probably had used it for a similar purpose.

The women felt drawn to form a religious community and requested Nerinckx’ help, in writing a Rule (code of conduct for their new order) and receiving approval from Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget, appointed to Kentucky when four more dioceses had been established (out of Baltimore’s territory) in 1808 at Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Bardstown; the area covered by the Bardstown diocese included most of what is now Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. On April 25th a formal commitment ceremony was held; three more novices (Ann Rhodes, Sarah Havern, and Nellie Morgan, later known as Sister Clare) were received on June 29th and, on that day, the first large tree was cut down to begin construction of more suitable facilities for the school and convent. Nerinckx called upon the St. Charles congregation for assistance; he began a subscription program that raised a few hundred dollars, mostly in trade, and asked those who could not afford this to help by obtaining logs. Nerinckx later wrote this about the founding: “A small spot of land, of about 50 acres unmeasured, indifferent for natural conveniences, bought by Sister Anna Rhodes for $75 for the SOCIETY, about the Chapel of St. Charles, on Hardin’s creek, County of Washington, Kentucky, United States of America, called LITTLE LORETTO, was begun the 25th of April, 1812.”

As construction began in earnest, trees around the two existing cabins were felled and hewed into logs, which both provided building materials and cleared the area. Nerinckx staked out the places to erect each structure and the sisters themselves rid the yard of stumps, chipping them down then burning away what remained. Once foundation timbers were laid, small stones hauled from Hardin’s Creek were built up under them for support, with mud and straw used to fill in empty crevices. The sisters and their neighbors helped with the construction, and whenever in town Nerinckx pitched in as well; it was noted that for years afterward the imprint of his fingers could be seen in the clay mortar plastered into the spaces between logs.

Nails and glass had to be purchased and sometimes a little cash was needed by hired builders. Francis Melton of Washington County contracted to build “three double cabins of sixteen feet in the clear, with a passage between them of eight feet, to be finished in a workmanly manner, and completed before the end of July, 1813, – the timber to be taken, as much as possible, from General Walton’s and other willing neighbors’ land – Charles Nerinckx to pay for the work2013.15.15 left sixty dollars in cash, and sixty dollars in trade rated at the common trade price, at Mr. Charles Hayden’s on Pottinger’s creek.” In 1814, Nerinckx found in Pittsburgh handy new cooking appliances that could alleviate some of the sisters’ housekeeping chores, for $100 apiece plus transportation costs; called stoves, these were the first to be seen in the county and possibly the entire state of Kentucky.

The plan created by Nerinckx called for two rows of buildings, with a large square yard extending back from the road between them. The first building to the right of the entrance was the school, a one-story double cabin with its wooden chimney outside. Next came the chapel and convent, a structure two stories high that consisted of two square cabins with upper rooms; the space between the cabins was enclosed by weather-boarding to form the chapel. (The two rooms at either side of the chapel were intended for use by the community, but not completed until two years later.) The third building, a similar double cabin, was used for the kitchen and refectory.

On the left, the first building was Nerinckx’ residence, which it is said he built with his own hands. Like the school, it was a one-story double cabin having a wooden chimney outside and with the space between protected by weather-boarding to form a small entry; one room served as his sitting room, study, bedroom, and refectory, while the other was reserved as accommodations for the Bishop or visiting priests. In the second building was Nerinckx’ kitchen; his cook took the priest’s meals over to the St. Charles sacristy when needed and also ran errands for the sisters. The third building served as a work room, an infirmary, and a guest house. As soon as his own house was finished, Nerinckx moved to Little Loretto.

The two old cabins that had served as schoolhouse and convent were torn down and their logs used to build a small double cabin at the far end of the yard, which first was a meat-house and later a dwelling. Behind were built stables and outhouses, at convenient places and distances. The extensive square yard was leveled and sown with blue grass. A small plot at the outer side of the chapel was reserved as a graveyard for the sisters and planted with trees, shrubs, and flowers; a large square cross was placed in the middle, surrounded by an evergreen arbor. A rail fence was built around the buildings and yard. Outside the fence was a garden that extended to the summit of the hill and, on the opposite side, stretched to the creek; on its downward slope Nerinckx himself planted an orchard.

When the chapel was finished, it was blessed and given the name “Little Loretto” in honor of Our Lady of Loreto, for whom Nerinckx had a particular devotion. In Italy, Loreto is the site of the Basilica della Santa Casa, a pilgrimage shrine since at least the 14th century which, according to tradition, contains the original home of the Virgin Mary. The suffix -eto ending “Loreto” is not a diminutive but from the Latin -etum, meaning a grove or wood; loreto is from the Latin lauretum, a grove of laurel. The name Nerinckx had chosen was not misspelled, however; “Sisters of Loreto” had already been used (since 1609) by a different order, whose members since have included Mother Teresa of Calcutta. But in frontier Kentucky, where little was known of the details of Catholic history, the neighbors began referring to the “the Sisters over at Loretto,” which became how the community was, and is, known. The founding sisters officially renamed their Society the “Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross,” more simply called the “Sisters of Loretto.”

Nerinckx wished to appeal in person to family and friends in his native Belgium for funds and religious supplies, as well as recruit more priests for Kentucky and submit the Society’s Rule for papal approval. Bishop Flaget requested that he wait two years, and the War of 1812 2013.15.15 visionforced further delay, but Nerinckx finally embarked in September 1815. Soon after arriving in Belgium he made a speech entitled A Glance at the Present Condition of the Roman Catholic Religion in North America, also issued in pamphlet form. In Rome, Pius VII gladly welcomed the new Society, but was concerned that some portions of its Rule were too rigidly austere; any revisions necessary were to be communicated later in writing. (Nerinckx’ account of his journey to Rome was printed in Belgium after he returned in 1816.)

While in Belgium, Nerinckx commissioned two works of art. One was the engraving of Little Loretto shown here that illustrates the site, with the sisters surrounding a vision of Mary and the Crucifixion at center; at bottom is a key in Dutch, French, and English that identifies the buildings by letter captions. Although probably made from a design provided by Nerinckx, it is likely the European engraver, unfamiliar with Marion County, Kentucky, who was responsible for the fanciful botanical and topographical elements such as the palm trees and tropical flora, rocky mountain peaks, and a sizable waterfall. The other artwork was a woodcut of “the Suffering Jesus on the Cross, almost hidden by a huge flaming heart. In the gaping wound of the Divine Heart the pierced Heart of Mary is seen, surrounded by smaller hearts representing the professed sisters … On the rock at the foot of the cross the standard of the Society waves: “O Suffering Jesus! O Sorrowful Mary!” and a picture of the old Loretto Convent is seen in the background… One of these [works] Father Nerinckx had framed, with glass on both sides, the reverse bearing … [a lengthy religious inscription] in his own handwriting.” In the engraving here, two crimson banners carried by angels bear the same words.

According to one biographer, “There were also many paintings, some of them very valuable, which through the help of his great friend, Mr. Peemans of Louvain, he secured from churches that had been wrecked and sacked by the French. Among the best of these was a Crucifixion, now in the church at Bardstown, and a supposed genuine Van Dyke in the Cathedral of Louisville, representing St. Bernard with the Sacred Host, administering a solemn reproof to William of Aquitaine for his schismatical and disorderly conduct.” Some of the paintings owned by the Archdiocese of Louisville (the seat moved from Bardstown in 1841) have been on display since the Cathedral of the Assumption’s renovation in 1994.

Nerinckx brought 8,000 pounds of goods back to Kentucky from his second trip to Europe in 1820. He was also instrumental in bringing from Belgium the first group of Jesuits who settled in western states. While abroad, Nerinckx learned that Bishop Flaget had received recommendations from the Propagation of the Faith Office in Rome: the Rule was to be changed to one based on the Rule of St. Augustine, and the Society’s Constitutions modified. When Nerinckx spoke with the Bishop about these requirements in 1823, he commented that “the sisterhood in its present state is flourishing and yielding fruit in a considerable degree, and our Rt. Rev. Bishop [Flaget] and myself have thought it prudent not to trim nor touch the tree that bore so well without it.”

In 1824, Nerinckx requested permission to move farther west. Bishop Joseph Rosati of New Orleans assigned Nerinckx to the Upper Louisiana Territory, now Missouri, where he hoped to develop missions among Native Americans. Ironically, Bishop Carroll had recommended in 1808 that Nerinckx be appointed Bishop of New Orleans, but Nerinckx had declined the honor because 2013.15.15 gardenshe thought there was too much to be done in Kentucky. Since arriving in the state, Nerinckx had organized at least one new congregation a year in settlements with a substantial Catholic population and was directly responsible for the construction of more than a dozen new church buildings. Nerinckx told the sisters of his decision in person and also wrote them a farewell letter. After leaving Little Loretto on June 16, Nerinckx visited their first school outside of Kentucky, which the sisters had been invited to establish the year before at The Barrens in Perry County, Missouri. Less than two months later Nerinckx contracted a serious fever and died on August 12, at the age of sixty-three, in St. Genevieve, Missouri.

After Nerinckx’ death, Bishop Flaget requested the sisters relocate from Little Loretto to St. Stephen’s Farm. Badin, who had lived there until 1819, transferred the land to them at the request of the Bishop, as an exchange for property occupied by a boys’ school. Heeding Nerinckx’ admonition to “Be united and pull the same way,” the sisters moved, by wagon. After settling in at the farm, they returned to Little Loretto to set fire to all the buildings except for Nerinckx’ cabin; they regarded their original home as sacred ground and did not want the buildings to fall into the hands of others. The community nearby took its name from the sisters and by 1833 was large enough to have its own post office; Loretto is now best known as the home of Maker’s Mark, one of Kentucky’s famed bourbon whiskeys, distilled at Star Hill Farm.

By the time of Nerinckx’ death twelve years after its founding, the Sisters of Loretto had grown to more than one hundred members and established six schools and five convents in two states, with an auxiliary called the Jericho Branch at Mechlin, Belgium; over the years, they had established forty-two schools in Kentucky. Land donated in Nelson County for a school that Nerinckx had named “Gethsemani,” which later closed in 1848, was sold to Trappists from the Abbey of Melleray in western France. The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, now considered the motherhouse of all Trappist communities in the United States, is the oldest monastery still in use in this country; it is also well-known for the spiritual writings of Thomas Merton (Father Louie) and its handmade cheese, fruitcake, and fudge from Gethsemani Farms.

The Sisters of Loretto currently have communities in sixteen states and in Europe, Canada, South America, and Africa. The motherhouse is still located in the rural town of Nerinx, renamed from St. Stephen’s Farm in honor of their founder; the Nerinx post office, about 60 miles from Louisville, opened in 1899. Badin’s residence, the first brick house in Marion County when it was built in 1816, is still in use. Ten years after his death, Nerinckx’ body was transported to the motherhouse for burial and a marble statue of him was erected in 1910; half of his cabin at Little Loretto was brought back to the motherhouse in 1895, where it is still on view.

KOAR image shown here: 
2013.15.15           Little Loretto, by Courtois of Malines, circa 1815

More information can be found at the following links:

“On the road to Jubilee 2012: A new American sisterhood takes root and grows strong” by Kathleen Vonderhaar SL in Loretto Magazine, Fall-Winter 2009, p.10-14
Note: A map in this article, drawn in the early 1950s, depicts five counties in central Kentucky which became known as the “Holy Land” of Kentucky.

Kentucky Illustrated: The First Hundred Years, by Martin F. Schmidt, 1992, p.101

Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx: Pioneer Missionary of Kentucky and Founder of the Sisters of Loretto by William Joseph Howlett, 1915

The life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx, with a chapter on early Catholic missions of Kentucky; copious notes on the progress of Catholicity in the United States of America, from 1800–1825; an account of the establishment of the Society of Jesus in Missouri; and an historical sketch of the Sisterhood of Loretto in Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, Etc., by Camillus Maes, 1880
http://archive.org/details/lifeofrevcharles00maes  [pdf download]

“Charles Nerinckx” by Camillus Maes in The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 10, 1911

“Bluegrass Belgian: Kentucky’s Missionary Dynamo, Father Charles Nerinckx” by Brian Kelly, December 27, 2008


A Few Updates …

September 30, 2013

New images recently added to KOAR from the Filson Historical Society include portraits that relate to two blogs posted here earlier this year.

The life and work of William Kendrick (1810-1880), one of the first jewelers in the Louisville area, is part of “Bottoms Up!” which was posted on April 30, 2013, and can be directly linked at: https://kentuckyonlinearts.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/bottoms-up/ William met Maria Stroup Schwing (1814-1885), daughter of Louisville goldsmith and jeweler John Godfried Schwing, at a party when she was nine years old and he was approaching fifteen. They married seven years later on January 19, 1832, and had nine children. By the time of William’s death in 1880, he had become one of Louisville’s most prosperous and respected merchants. Their son William Carnes Kendrick (1852-after 1930) wrote Reminiscences of Old Louisville, a lengthy typescript account of the city that includes references to many local businesses and business owners, starting with a “Memoir to My Father, William Kendrick” and ending with the catastrophic “Recent Flood” that left Louisville under several feet of water for many weeks. It can be found at: https://speedweb.speedmuseum.org/pdfs/kendrick.pdf
This, along with many other publications, can also be found through the KOAR website at: http://www.koar.org/publications.htm

Louisville artist Carl Christian Brenner (1838-1888) is profiled in “Brrr, It’s Cold Outside …” which was posted on February 5, 2013, and can be directly linked at: https://kentuckyonlinearts.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/brrr-its-cold-outside/
2013.2.4Carl’s most iconic paintings are detailed landscapes of his favorite haunts: scenes from what is now Cherokee Park and along River Road in Louisville, Pewee Valley in Oldham County, and the hills just across the river in New Albany, Indiana. His favorite subject was beech trees. Brenner married Anna Glass (1843-1936), daughter of an eminent Louisville violinist, in 1864 and they had six children. Three sons inherited his artistic talent; Edward became an architect and Proctor Knott (named after Carl’s close friend, Kentucky governor James Proctor Knott) studied art before taking holy orders at St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana. Carolus (1865-1924), who painted this portrait of his father, studied art in Germany and France before settling in Chicago. Several works by Carolus are also in KOAR and the Filson Historical Society has photographs taken by both Carolus and his brother Edward in its special collections. A catalogue of the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum’s 1947 exhibition “Kentucky Paintings by Carl Christian Brenner” can be found at: https://speedweb.speedmuseum.org/pdfs/brenner.pdf

The Filson Historical Society was founded in 1884 in Louisville, Kentucky. Named to honor Kentucky’s first historian, John Filson, it is the commonwealth’s oldest privately supported historical society. Their website is: http://filsonhistorical.org


KOAR images shown here (top to bottom):
    2013.2.8 William Kendrick
    2013.2.9 Maria Kendrick
    2013.2.4 Carl Brenner

Bottoms Up!

April 30, 2013

It is once again that time of year in Derby City (aka Louisville) to share the mystical lore of the mint julep. After all, few drinks are held in such high esteem that they merit their own elegant namesake vessels. Julep cups began to be made before the drink was invented, however, and originally appear in period inventories as tumblers or beakers, terms by which they are still known more generically today.

1991.1.10.1 combThe silver julep cup has long been a symbol of achievement and prestige popular throughout the South. For more than two centuries Kentuckians have given, received, and used them as they were intended at special events, from ceremonial family gatherings such as christenings and weddings, to public contests at local and state fairs. And, of course, at the state’s favorite pastime, horse racing. As far back as 1816 the Kentucky Gazette noted that julep cups had been awarded as prizes at horse races in the Commonwealth.

The julep cup (i.e., tumbler or beaker) is a classic American silver form. Julep cups were made in many Southern states, and each often developed its own unique style. In Kentucky, the distinctive straight body lines with graceful moldings at base and rim may trace its origins to silversmiths Asa Blanchard of Lexington and William and Archibald Cooper of Louisville. There are currently twenty-three julep cups (tumblers) on the KOAR website; the first shown here is credited to William Kendrick and the rest to John Kitts, both of whom worked in Louisville.

William Kendrick (1810-1880) was born in Paterson, New Jersey, to English immigrant Walter Kendrick. Walter moved his family to Louisville in 1818, ten years before it was incorporated as Kentucky’s first city (in 1991.1.10.3 comb1828) with a population surpassing 7,000. (The settlement that became Louisville had been founded by George Rogers Clark in 1778.) About 1824, young William began a seven year jeweler’s apprenticeship to Evans C. Beard. (Beard was in partnership with silversmith Elias Ayers as Ayers & Beard from about 1820 to 1831, then with watchmaker George A. Zeumar as E.C. Beard & Co. from 1831 to 1851.) After coming of age, William was in the partnership of Lemon & Kendrick with James Innes Lemon from 1831 to 1841. Kendrick opened his own jewelry and fancy store on the east side of Fourth Street between Main and Market in 1842, “his stock in trade consisting of (in his own words), ‘$20.00 cash, a silver watch worth about $19.00, and a few watch tools, the whole amounting to about $150.00.'”

Kendrick married Maria Schwing, daughter of Louisville goldsmith and jeweler John Godfried Schwing, in 1832, and was listed as a jeweler on both the 1850 and the 1870 census. He moved his store to Third Street in 1855, where he stayed fifteen years before moving in 1870 to 114 West Main Street, on the south side just east of the National Hotel. In 1873, he went into partnership with his son, William Carnes Kendrick (1852-1938), as the firm of William Kendrick & Son. In 1875 their shop moved to 336 Fourth Street, on the west side between Market and Jefferson, then as business increased moved again to more spacious quarters at 110 Fourth Street in 1877; on both occasions newspaper articles in Louisville’s Courier-]ournal noted the firm’s success. By the time of William Kendrick’s death in 1880, he had become one of Louisville’s most prosperous and respected merchants.

1991.1.10.4 combWilliam Carnes Kendrick was joined by younger brother George Penton Kendrick (1856-1937), listed as a manufacturing jeweler and diamond merchant in the 1880 census, to continue the firm as William Kendrick’s Sons, which remained in business until 1932, when it was reorganized. (The business descended through a third and fourth generation of Kendricks before being purchased in 1966 by jeweler and watchmaker Joseph C. Merkley, who renamed it Merkley Kendrick Jewelers, under which name it is still open today as “the oldest independent jeweler in Louisville and the second oldest in America”.) In 1937, William Carnes Kendrick wrote Reminiscences of Old Louisville, a lengthy typescript account of the city that includes references to many local businesses and business owners, starting with a “Memoir to My Father, William Kendrick” and ending with the catastrophic “Recent Flood” that left Louisville under several feet of water for many weeks. It can be found at:
This, along with many other publications, can also be found on the KOAR website at:

John Kitts was listed in the Louisville City Directory of 1841 as a watchmaker employed at Lemon & Kendricks. Kitts later opened his own jewelry business and was involved in a number of partnerships in Louisville until 1878. A bit more has been written about Kitts and Kentucky silver in general in two earlier blogs here:
    https://kentuckyonlinearts.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/silver-in-kentucky-1800-1860/ )

But back to those mint juleps …

A julep is generally defined as a sweet drink, and from the French can be traced back to the Persian term gulab, meaning rose water, or a drink made from water and rose petals. The mint julep originated in the southern United States during the early to mid eighteenth century, most likely in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. The first mention of it in print seems to be from an 1803 book published in London, England, where John Davis described the mint julep as “a dram of spirituous liquor that has mint steeped in it, taken by Virginians of a morning.” U.S. Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky introduced the mint julep to Washington, D.C., at the Round Robin Bar in the famous Willard Hotel.

1991.1.10.5 combThe tradition of serving the mint julep in a silver cup migrated westward to Kentucky. A chilled mint julep in a silver cup was to be served with a napkin or a small linen doily. The cup should be held only by its bottom and top edges, which allows frost to form on the outside of the cup while sipping. (Hand placement is critical in preventing transfer of body heat through the touch of bare fingers, especially since the days mandating that gloves be worn in public have long passed.) The cup will not frost properly if it is in the wind, if it is wet, if the ice has not been drained of excess water, or if the cup is excessively handled. As Pete Wells wrote of juleps in a June 24, 2009, Dining & Wine column in the New York Times, “For all the chest-thumping this class of drinks has caused, it’s a simple affair: sweetened liquor stirred in a mound of finely crushed or shaved ice. But until you’ve had one made without shortcuts, one that truly frosts the outside of its cup, it’s impossible to imagine how refreshing a julep can be.”

There has been, of course, much debate over the perfect mint julep recipe. According to David Wondrich, Esquire magazine’s resident cocktail historian, “In the dark backward of time, the Proper Construction of the Julep … was one of those topics that an American male with social aspirations was expected to regard as a matter of honor — at least, if said specimen was a son, nephew, cousin or acquaintance of the South. Just about every state in Dixie had its own sacrosanct way of handling the mint, the sugar, the ice, the booze. Duels were fought. Names were called.”

Some maintain it is the mint that has caused most of the trouble, whether the fresh mint should be muddled (crushed) in preparation so that essential oils and juices can be released into the mixture to intensify its flavor, as is usually preferred in Kentucky, or the leaves should be left to slide unmolested into the cup. Most would agree that only the freshest mint, and of that just the smallest tenderest leaves, should be used. A few sprigs of mint should also top the ice so this will be the first aroma encountered by the partaker.

Other advice is readily offered regarding how to finely crack the ice before packing it in the cup, how to speed the formation of frost on the cup by stirring briskly or twirling the glass, exactly what ingredients (such as old-fashioned cut loaf sugar) to use, and so forth. But in describing the “preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages” Kentucky Lt. Col. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., eloquently wrote, “A mint julep is not the product of a FORMULA. It is a CEREMONY … a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the old South, an emblem of hospitality …” For the pleasure of perusing the remainder of his romantic paean, from the gathering of fresh mint and crystal-clear spring water to the moment when “you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable men and beautiful women … where the aroma of the juleps will rise Heavenward and make the birds sing …” see his entire 1937 letter to Gen. William D. Connor, who had asked Buckner to oversee preparation of mint juleps for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Gen. Douglas MacArthur at West Point two years earlier, at:

Although bourbon is now the preferred spirit in mint juleps almost everywhere, the first mint juleps were made with rum, rye whiskey, genever (an aged gin) and other available spirits. But by the early eighteenth century farmers were using stills to make corn whiskey along the American frontier that would become the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Bourbon County, a vast area still part of western Virginia when founded in 1785, was named after the French royal House of Bourbon, who had helped the United States defeat the British in the Revolutionary War. After Kentucky was admitted to the Union in 1792 Bourbon County was repeatedly subdivided, eventually becoming thirty-four modern day counties, but the entire region continued to be called Old Bourbon for many decades. Kentucky-made products exported from this area, such as corn whiskey, were shipped out through the Ohio River port of Limestone (now Maysville) with “Old Bourbon” stenciled on barrels to indicate their point of origin. In Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey, Charles K. Cowdery points out that “Old Bourbon whiskey was different because it was the first corn whiskey most people had ever tasted.” After about 1840 this was shortened to just “Bourbon”, the identity Kentucky corn whiskey soon became known by the world-over.

1951_1_17Local distillers attribute much of the unique nature of Kentucky bourbon to its geography, the limestone bedrock under the Blue Grass region formed by fossils of shelled crustaceans that inhabited the shallow tropical ocean covering this area in prehistoric times. As water filters through the limestone minerals are released into the ground soil, enriching crop yield (including the corn as well as the distinctive bluegrass on which thoroughbred foals graze) and providing nutrients for yeast, which is added to the corn mash to convert sugars into alcohol during the fermentation process. Limestone also breaks down over time to form massive caves like central Kentucky’s Mammoth Caves, the longest cave system in the world. The springs that flow from these underground caverns provide plentiful sources of pure iron-free water.

Like the mint julep, no story is more hotly contested than the origin of bourbon. “The fact of the matter is, we are never going to know who invented bourbon,” says Michael R. Veach, author of Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage. “Bourbon, I think, is more of an evolution than an invention.” Bourbon developed into its present form by the late nineteenth century and is now legally defined as a type of American whiskey made from a fermented mash primarily consisting of corn (at least 51%) and aged in new charred white oak barrels, usually for at least two years. All straight bourbons now use a “sour mash” process, in which mash from a previous distillation (strained wet solids still containing live yeast) is added to the new fermentation. The clear corn whiskey is then aged in newly charred American oak barrels, where it interacts with caramelized sugars in the wood beneath the layer of char, making the flavor smoother and mellower, and also giving bourbon its characteristic amber color. (After draining, the barrels still contain twenty pounds of bourbon within the wood so cannot be re-used to make bourbon; they are sometimes sold to the Scotch whiskey industry.)

Each distillery has its own sour mash culture and bourbon recipe, a closely guarded secret by the master distiller. Experimentation and refinement with various ratios of ingredients, subtleties in the distillation process, and lengths of aging time yield different flavors of bourbons. Distilleries located in the Kentucky Blue Grass region make about nine out of every ten bottles of bourbon, although it may be produced anywhere in the United States where it is legal to distill spirits. The Kentucky Distillers’ Association estimates that the state has 4.9 million barrels of bourbon currently aging, a figure that exceeds the state’s population.

“My argument is the true mint julep waited for bourbon to be invented,” says Joe Nickell, author of the Kentucky Mint Julep. Legend has it that in 1875 mint was planted outside the club house of the new racetrack in Louisville so that mint juleps could be served at the first Kentucky Derby. Today, almost 120,000 juleps are served by Churchill Downs over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. Nothing quite like that sweet bite of bourbon mixed with fresh mint, served ice cold, on the first Saturday in May …


The Kendrick Family Papers 1852-1973 are at the Filson Historical Society Special Collections in Louisville:
Margaret-M. Bridwell’s article on “The House of Kendrick” for The Filson Club History Quarterly (vol.22, 1948), which includes a portrait of William Kendrick, is available online at:

For more on early racing in Louisville, read our earlier blog at:

David Wondrich’s “High Kentucky School of Julepistics” recipe and tips can be found online, at:

Much more about Kentucky bourbon can be found at:


KOAR images shown here, from top to bottom:
    1991.1.10.1           Kendrick, William
    1991.1.10.3           Kitts, John
    1991.1.10.4           Kitts, John
    1991.1.10.5           Kitts, John
    1951.1.17              Mammoth Cave


A Civil War Prisoner’s Dream

December 31, 2012

A very Happy New Year to all! Now that Steven Spielberg’s new hit film Lincoln, based in part on historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, is out and we are nearly midway through the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, perhaps it is time to blog about the sculptor of another work featured in the KOAR image header (above), the marble bust of Abraham Lincoln.

Albert P. Henry was born in Versailles, Kentucky, on January 8, 1836. His parents moved to Princeton, in the Pennyrile region of western Kentucky, when he was young. Henry demonstrated an interest in art early 1940.39in life. According to information gathered in the 1920s from family members in Washington, D.C., and Kentucky, while still a boy Henry used a block of marble thrown from a steamboat to carve an ambitious group sculpture composed of an Indian girl holding a dove while a wolf creeps up to snatch the bird from her grasp; though crude, the proportion and perspective were said to be well expressed. Henry started his business career as a clerk in the Hillman Iron Works, where he occupied his leisure time by modeling small portrait busts and casting them in iron to be used as weights to keep doors open.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Henry, commissioned as a captain, joined the 15th Regiment, Kentucky Cavalry (Volunteer) organized in the fall of 1862 at Owensboro and mustered into United States service at Paducah on October 6. The Confederate Forts Henry and Donelson, which guarded the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers respectively, had fallen in February of that year to Ulysses S. Grant, supported by Andrew Foote’s Western Flotilla of four ironclads and three “timberclads”, opening Tennessee to Union invasion and occupation. After the leader of the 15th Kentucky Cavalry, Lieut. Col. Gabriel Netter, was killed in 1863 the command passed on to Henry, by now a lieutenant colonel.

Henry was captured at Spring Creek, Tennessee, on June 29, 1863, when his horse was shot from under him during a skirmish near Fort Henry. He was taken to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. It was primarily an 1940.1.41.1officer’s prison but by 1863 there were over 1,000 men crowded into large rooms on two floors with open, barred windows that left them exposed to weather and temperature extremes. The prisoners cooked their own sparse rations (beef, bacon, flour, beans, rice and vinegar) with inadequate fuel; there also was a shortage of clothing and blankets. In the Libby Chronicle, a newsletter written by inmates that summer, an ironic poem entitled “Castle Thunder“ voiced the humor that could be found even amid such harsh living conditions:

     We have eighteen kinds of food, though ‘twill stagger your belief,
     Because we have bread, beef and soup, then bread, soup and beef;
     Then we sep’rate around with ’bout twenty in a group,
     And thus we get beef, soup and bread, and beef, bread and soup;
     For dessert we obtain, though it costs us nary red,
     Soup, bread and beef, (count it well) and beef and soup and bread.

While confined in Libby Prison for nine months, Henry devoted much of his time to carving the bones of oxen, often used to obtain bone fat (by boiling fresh bones split open lengthways) for making soap. He managed to smuggle some of these carvings from the prison in a wooden box with a false bottom. Among them was a cup upon which he had carved The Prisoner’s Dream, showing on its lower portion the interior of a cell with an armed sentry at the door while the prisoner sleeps on the floor, using his boots for a pillow; above this is carved the tranquil scenes from his dreams. There is a black-and-white photographic print of Henry wearing his Civil War uniform in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division; a digital image of this full-length standing portrait can be viewed online at: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002714668/

After the close of the war Henry was appointed consul at Anconia, Italy. Before leaving the 1943.1.1LUnited States, however, he already had executed marble busts of Kentucky’s Senator Henry Clay and President Abraham Lincoln from life. Although comparatively unknown as a sculptor, Henry’s small bust of Senator Clay was acquired about 1865 by the Library Committee of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., for the Office of the Architect; it later was placed in the room of the Senate Committee for many years, then put on display in the Hall of the House of Representatives. The bust of Lincoln was located in the Custom House at Louisville; from there it was “Deposited by Citizens of Louisville” at the J.B. Speed Art Museum according to a 1949 exhibition catalogue, which can be found at:
(This is one of many publications available through the KOAR website, at:

While in Italy Henry spent a considerable amount of 1930.54time in Florence, where he studied under sculptors Hiram Powers and Joel Tanner Hart. It was during this period abroad that his most ambitious work was done, an idealized bust of internationally acclaimed American singer and actress Genevieve Ward. She began her career as an operatic star in Milan and Paris but after losing her singing voice due to illness in 1862 had turned to acting. Ward was one of many engaging American women expatriates in England during the late Victorian and Edwardian periods between around 1870 and the end of World War I; they were educated, nearly all moneyed, and distinctive for being outsiders free from many of the social constraints that restricted English women of that time. Henry’s portrait bust of Genevieve 1952.13was a celebrated work of art in Louisville, displayed proudly in the reception room of the historic Galt House (illustrated here in a lithograph printed on a silk handkerchief) on the occasion Ulysses S. Grant’s official visit to Louisville in 1879.

On her 84th birthday on March 27, 1921, the year before her death, Genevieve Ward was created Dame Commander of the British Empire. Although born just a year earlier, by then Albert P. Henry had been gone nearly fifty years; he died on November 6, 1872, in Paris, Kentucky.

Kentucky Sideboard

November 4, 2012

Earlier this year, The Speed Museum purchased an extraordinary Kentucky-made sideboard. Its complex profile, richly figured veneers, precise inlays, and the exceptional quality of its craftsmanship place it among the most ambitious Kentucky sideboards to have survived from the early nineteenth century. It was made between about 1800 and 1815, probably in Lexington or its surrounding area.

It is not known who originally owned the sideboard. The previous owner, Robert Brewer, acquired it from Eleanor Hume Offutt, one of the most important early dealers of Kentucky antiques; she had opened Wilderness Trail Antiques in Frankfort in the late 1920s. He purchased the sideboard in 1951at the urging of his mother, Juliet Goddard Brewer, an influential early collector of Kentucky antiques and an outspoken advocate for preserving Kentucky’s architectural heritage.

Sideboards have symbolized status throughout their history. In the Middle Ages, wealthy diners might sit to eat at a “side-board”, a type of table set along the side of a room. By the late seventeenth century, the “side-board” had evolved into a service piece, used to hold wine bottles, silver, dishes of food, and other items. The sideboard as we recognize it today, offering a combination of storage and display, developed in the eighteenth century. Within its drawers and compartments, owners stored textiles, silverwares, liquor, candles, and similar domestic goods until they were needed for use. Early nineteenth-century Kentucky: estate inventories and other documentary sources show that sideboards were often among the most expensive pieces of furniture one could own.

Inlay had become the preferred decorative treatment for fashionable American furniture in the late eighteenth century. The cost of inlaid furniture was considerably higher than for plain examples, so most furniture made in Kentucky in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries would have had little, if any, of the inlaid decoration affordable only for those who had the economic means to pay beyond the utility of an object. In Kentucky, regional differences in inlay styles and patterns evolved and today frequently assist in the identification of local schools of early Kentucky cabinetmaking. For example, though the form and inlay of this sideboard were influenced by Baltimore cabinetmaking practices, the decoration on its legs exhibits a distinctive bellflower and line pattern. Similar decoration has only been found on a few other Kentucky pieces, all of which most likely came from the same maker or shop. To date, the group includes The Speed’s sideboard, a pair of dining table ends, and possibly a blockfront card table.

Fortunately, Robert and Kathy Brewer treated this sideboard with great care for over sixty years. As a result, the sideboard remains relatively undisturbed. Preserving, analyzing, and understanding its layers of history became a team effort between furniture conservators, an analytical laboratory, and The Speed’s curators. Several months of conservation treatment and technical analysis included microscopic examinations of wood samples as well as x-ray fluorescence spectrometry and Fourier transform infrared microspectroscopy to analyze the compositions of different materials. Some of the discoveries?

  • The sideboard retains an old finish history comprised of shellac coatings. Shellac is made by dissolving in alcohol the resins secreted by particular types of insects, including the so-called lac beetle.
  • The wood used to make the inlay along the bottom edge of the sideboard is most likely eastern hophornbeam, a hard, heavy wood that grows in Kentucky but rarely seems to have been used by early Kentucky cabinetmakers.
  • Three of the “bone” shields around the keyholes are twentieth-century replacements made from celluloid, an early type of plastic.

During conservation, one of the celluloid shields was replaced with a new one made of bone; two celluloid examples still remain.

KOAR’s Russian Connection

October 15, 2012

Who would have imagined a future link between the rosy-cheeked toddler in this Kentucky painting and the Russian imperial court?

The impressive portrait (8’-4” x 6’-6”) of the John Speed Smith Family in Richmond, Kentucky, was painted in 1819 when little Sally Ann Lewis Clay (1818-1875) was only a year old. Colonel John Speed Smith (1792-1854) was well on his way to an outstanding law career, and became one of the prominent men of eastern Kentucky. A descendent of James Speed, who in 1690 immigrated to Virginia from England, John was born in Jessamine County on July 3, 1792, the year Kentucky petitioned the Commonwealth of Virginia to be recognized as a
free and independent “Commonwealth” and join the recently established union as its fifteenth state. A graduate of Transylvania College in Lexington, he had taken part in the Indian campaigns and acted as aide-de-camp to General Harrison in the War of 1812. During President Monroe’s administration, Smith was a Representative in Congress; immediately afterwards, he went on a mission to South America for President John Quincy Adams. President Andrew Jackson appointed him U.S. District Attorney for Kentucky. Smith also served six terms in the Kentucky Legislature, part of the time as Speaker, and four years in the state senate.

In 1815, on his twenty-third birthday, John married Elizabeth Lewis Clay (1798-1887), then seventeen. Eliza was the daughter of General Green Clay, a veteran of both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and a cousin of famous Kentucky statesman Henry Clay and Alabama governor Clement Comer Clay. Green Clay was thought to have been the wealthiest man in Kentucky of his time, reputed to own tens of thousands of acres, several distilleries and a tavern, and many ferries across the Kentucky River.

The charming new home shown off in the John Speed Smith Family portrait had been built in 1818 on land given by Green Clay to his daughter. (The Smiths lived here until 1829, when John built “Castle Union” near Speedwell in Madison County; their original one-story brick Georgian house on North Street at Aspen Avenue in Richmond was demolished in 1957.) The painting reveals in unusual detail a fashionable interior of that time, with patterned carpet, decorated “fancy” chairs, and sheer curtains behind red drapes. Along with the stylish clothing, from the Colonel’s fancy ruffled shirt and gold watch fob to his wife’s empire gown and comb tucked into a modish ringlet hairdo, this portrait gives a glimpse into an unexpectedly refined lifestyle in what was still considered a “frontier” state. The book Eliza is holding indicates her education as well, fairly uncommon for women of the day. This portrait is considered a major visual portrayal of Kentucky life and its significant role in American history.

It is also a remarkable example of early work by Chester Harding (1792-1866) who at this time was still self-taught. Born in New England, he had tried a variety of trades before moving to Pittsburgh, where he began painting signs and houses. Around 1818 an itinerant artist introduced Harding to portraiture, at which he had some success before moving to Kentucky to join his brother, a carpenter and chair maker living in Paris. Harding found that painting was his passion and he became quite a popular portraitist in the region, charging $25 for each, half of what Matthew Jouett in nearby Lexington was getting. Harding earned enough money to afford formal training and eventually went on to great fame after studying in Philadelphia, in London with Sir Thomas Lawrence, and in that “other” Paris (i.e., France) before returning to America and settling in Boston.

But back to the Russian connection with that barefooted little girl in the pink-ribboned bonnet and matching coral necklace … One of Sallie Ann’s future brothers, Green Clay Smith, was a member of Congress when Kentucky-born President Abraham Lincoln was nominated for a second term and he came within one vote of being Lincoln’s running mate. One of Sallie Ann’s uncles, Eliza’s brother Cassius Marcellus Clay, nicknamed “The Lion of White Hall”, became well-known as an abolitionist and was appointed by Lincoln to be Minister to the Russian court at St. Petersburg. (In 1853, Cassius M. Clay granted ten acres to another abolitionist, John G. Fee, who founded the town of Berea and, in 1855, Berea College, the first non-segregated, coeducational college in the South and one of a handful in the nation to admit both male and female students at that time.) As Cassius M. Clay was preparing to go abroad, the Civil War broke out with no federal troops in Washington, D.C., so before departing he organized a group of 300 volunteers, dubbed “Cassius M. Clay’s Washington Guards”, to protect the White House and U.S. Naval Yard from a possible Confederate attack. Sallie Ann’s son, William Cassius Goodloe, withdrew from his senior year at Transylvania to be his great-uncle’s private secretary in St. Petersburg; Goodloe also acted as Secretary of Legation until the summer of 1862, when he returned for a commission in the Union army. After Czar Alexander II issued the 1861 Emancipation Manifesto freeing the serfs in Russia, Cassius M. Clay pressured Lincoln to issue an emancipation proclamation in America; later he was influential in negotiations for the purchase of Alaska. The Czar presented these portraits of himself and his wife, Czarina Maria Alexandrovna, to Cassius M. Clay before his final return to America in 1869. And if the name sounds a bit familiar, it was indeed shared by Louisville-born boxing champion Muhammad Ali and his father, until Ali‘s conversion to Islam in the 1960s.


The portraits of Czar Alexander II and Czarina Maria Alexandrovna are on view in the Kentucky Historical Society’s exhibition “Great Revivals: Kentucky Decorative Arts Treasures” at the Old State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky, until 2015.

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.

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

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 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.

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