Tom Eblen: Lexington sculptor seeks — and starts creating — more statues of notable Kentucky women, minorities
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A bronze statue of Catherine Spalding, a Catholic nun who led the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in creating early schools, orphanages and hospitals in Kentucky, will be unveiled Sunday outside the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville.
It is the first public statue honoring a woman in Louisville, and one of only a few in Kentucky.
In the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort, there are no statues of women or minorities. There are statues of five white men there, although officials are discussing whether to evict Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
In 2010, Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Commission on Women announced a 10-year project to add two statues of women in the rotunda. The effort was to begin with a feasibility study.
But when Amanda Matthews checked on the progress of that study last year, she was disappointed. She decided to launch her own effort to show that statues of notable Kentucky women are feasible — and to start creating them.
Matthews, majority owner of Prometheus Foundry in Lexington, has formed the non-profit Artemis Initiative to sponsor creation of such statues for display in public spaces throughout the Commonwealth.
"Because of historical gender inequity, women's history just doesn't have the depth and breadth of men's history," Matthews said.
To help demonstrate feasibility, Matthews has created a model for a statue of education pioneer Nettie Depp. She was elected Barren County's schools superintendent in 1913, seven years before women were allowed to vote.
Depp's four years in office revolutionized that school system. She renovated schools and built new ones, created libraries, improved curricula and a tripled enrollment by aggressively enforcing truancy laws.
She was one of 40 Kentucky women profiled in the film "Dreamers and Doers," which Lexington filmmaker Michael Breeding produced this year for the Kentucky Commission on Women. It is now showing on Kentucky Educational Television.
Matthews said she chose Depp as her example because she had access to family photographs. Depp was her great-great aunt — a relationship she shares with actor Johnny Depp.
"But the entire idea behind the sculpture of Nettie Depp has very little to do with Nettie Depp," Matthews said. "It has everything to do with me as a sculptor and us as a foundry showing people that it's feasible to create statues of women."
In studios at their small farm on Russell Cave Road, Matthews and her husband, sculptor Brad Connell, create their own work, cast other artists' sculptures into finished bronzes and repair statues. They were recently in the news for restoring the bronze children on the James Lane Allen fountain in Gratz Park.
Public art creates conversations and that a broader representation in that art will lead to improvements in Kentucky society.
"Foundry work is a very male-dominated industry," Matthews said. "It has not been without its challenges to be a female owner of a foundry."
The Artemis Initiative, named for the goddess of ancient Greek mythology, has formed a board of directors and received non-profit tax status. Matthews said she soon hopes to get state approval to begin fundraising.
The organization's goal is to fund proposals for creating public art in Kentucky that "elevates the status of women, children, minorities, nature and animals." Matthews believes that public art creates conversations and that a broader representation in that art will lead to improvements in Kentucky society.
"So many under-represented groups of people have contributed to the rich history of Kentucky," she said.
Kentucky has only a few public statues of notable women. Among them: Alice Lloyd, on the Knott County campus of the college named for her; riverboat pilot Mary B. Greene on the Riverwalk in Covington; Mary Draper Ingles, a pioneer woman who escaped Native American captivity, outside the Boone County Public Library in Burlington; and educator Elizabeth Rogers in a Berea park.
There are many Kentucky artists capable of producing this work. For example, there are two noted Louisville sculptors: Ed Hamilton, famous for his statues of great African Americans; and Raymond Graf, who created the Spalding and Lloyd statues.
Matthews emphasizes that she isn't pushing for a memorial to her relative; it is just an example of what can be done.
"My involvement has only been to say that there are people in Kentucky, like myself, and there are businesses in Kentucky, like Prometheus Foundry, who can absolutely make this happen."