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Nettie Depp, education and political pioneer, could be first woman honored with statue under proposal before historic properties panel

Published on 04/06/2017 08:52 PM by Kevin Wheatley; Spectrum News (Pure Politics)

FRANKFORT — Education pioneer Nettie Depp might share a space with the bust of former Gov. Happy Chandler in the Capitol’s east entrance under a proposal from sculptor Amanda Matthews, who is working on a life-size bronze statue of the Barren County native.

It’s a project that’s been in the works since 2014, with Matthews and the nonprofit group she founded hoping to make Depp the first woman commemorated with a statue in the Capitol.

The Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission discussed Matthews’ proposal during a meeting Thursday. Her group, the Artemis Initiative, has already raised the $100,000 for the sculpture, and Matthews has completed the smaller maquette model of the statue.

A distant relative of Depp, Matthews said she initially wanted to focus on other women to diffuse any potential concerns on her motives to memorialize her great-great-aunt, but the state Commission on Women unanimously selected Depp for the honor in recognition of her contributions to education and politics as the first woman elected to local office, winning a 1913 race for school superintendent in Barren County seven years before women won the right to vote.

However, the historic properties panel still has some questions and wants to consult with guidelines on placing statues in the Capitol before deciding what to do. Statue weights and exactly how statues are selected for such a prominent display were primary concerns of the panel Thursday.

“I just need to have some clarity because down the road I can see other people from other parts of the state make a case for someone else,” said commission member John Hardin.

Leslie Nigels, the executive director of the state Division of Historic Properties, said the commission may ask Matthews to appear at a future meeting to give her pitch for Nettie Depp’s place in the Capitol.

If not there, Nigels said other state-owned locations could be considered. Depp would be the first female Kentuckian with a statue on state grounds if a deal is completed.

“If we decided against the Capitol as the appropriate place, we would certainly consider if she would be so kind to also consider with us other possibilities and contact, possibly, the Department of Education or some other building within the government,” she told Pure Politics after Thursday’s meeting.

But Matthews, owner of Lexington-based PROMETHEUS Art Bronze Foundry and Metal Fabrication, said she wants to see Depp’s likeness inside the Capitol, where schoolchildren throughout the state could learn about her accomplishments.

“The importance of doing this is because the Capitol brings in about 60,000 students every year to tour the Capitol, and I don’t think those same students tour the education building,” Matthews said in a phone interview.

“The importance for me is for young children at a very impressionable to see monuments of women who have achieved great things, and right now they don’t see any monuments of women in the Capitol or really anywhere in Kentucky,” she added.

Regardless of the outcome, Nigels said it’s time that a prominent Kentucky woman be immortalized in statue form on state grounds.

“I think everyone would welcome that, and we just have to be sure that it’s the appropriate person in the appropriate spot,” Nigels said.

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