‘The Band’s Visit’ Brings Universal Themes Of Love And Music To Louisville Friday, Dec 6 2019 

In his play “Twelfth Night,” Shakespeare wrote the following line for Duke Orsino: “If music be the food of love, play on.” An allusion to this line is uttered briefly in “The Band’s Visit” — specifically by Avrum (David Studwell) in the song “The Beat of Your Heart” if you’re curious — but the meaning of that line is perhaps the musical’s most potent and palpable theme.

Based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, “The Band’s Visit” swept the 2018 Tony Awards with 10 wins. Notably, it is one of only four musicals to win Best Musical, Best Book, Best Score, Best Actor in a Musical, Best Actress in a Musical and Best Direction of a Musical in the same year. This success is quite the achievement for such an understated show. Fortunately, a minimalist production — by Broadway’s standards — is perfect for a tour. “The Band’s Visit” is the rare musical that loses nothing in being put on the road, making its universal themes of love and music just as accessible to those audience members who can’t make the trip to NYC.

Matthew Murphy

Chilina Kennedy and Sasson Gabay

“The Band’s Visit” is the story of a traveling Egyptian band called the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra. The band has been invited to play at an Arab cultural center in the Israeli town of Petah Tikvah, but due to a misunderstanding, they end up in the similar-sounding town of Beit Hativka. Dina (Chilina Kennedy) takes pity on the stranded bandmembers, feeds them and makes arrangements for them to stay the night before they leave for their proper destination in the morning. The majority of the rest of the play takes place that night as different characters splinter off and experience what pleasures they can find in their circumstances, whether it be the hospitality of a local family, the delights of a quaint, anachronistic roller disco or the simple joys of company and conversation. By the end of the night, intimate secrets are shared, strained love is soothed and ephemeral passion blooms.

From the beginning of the play, Director David Cromer sets a deliberate, idle pace. There are jokes, but the punchlines are almost lazy in their timing, coming from the lips of people who are not strangers to being out in unforgiving sun all day and with nowhere to go. It takes a moment or two to get used to but ultimately serves the tactics of the show well in establishing a strong sense of time and place. All the actors utilize the power of silence expertly, each quiet moment never feeling insignificant or indulgent.

Matthew Murphy

Kendal Hartse, Pomme Koch, James Rana and David Studwell.

The art of Scenic Designer Scott Pask and Lighting Designer Tyler Micoleau work in tandem to create a relatively simple aesthetic that is as breathtaking as it is effective. The color palette of this show is gorgeous: robin-egg blues,  sandy yellows and tarragon transport the audience member to a foreign land.

And if that wasn’t enough, the sensational music and lyrics of David Yazbek (composer of “The Full Monty,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”) does the rest of the job. Yazbek’s lyrics — as well as Itamar Moses’ book — are everything. Vivid and sensual, they are the kind of lyrics that demand to be listened to, and the music, sprinkled with Middle Eastern and more familiar Western jazz motifs only amplify those lyrics, never once getting in the way. It is arguably Yazbek’s best work by far, and Chilina Kennedy’s and Joe Joseph’s (Haled) respective renditions of “Omar Sharif” and “Haled’s Song About Love” are shining monuments in a beautifully immersive score.

Matthew Murphy

Joe Joseph and Sara Kapner

Both music and love are said to be universal languages. If focusing on the superficial, there’s a lot in this show that could easily seem alien to someone in Kentucky. After all, Middle Eastern music sounds strange to Western ears because there literally are sharps and flats that don’t exist in traditional schools of thought surrounding Western composition, but where “The Band’s Visit” succeeds most is reminding that whatever the methods, the reasons behind the creation of music or any art are really what’s universal. Perhaps it is love that is the food of music after all.

“The Band’s Visit” runs in Whitney Hall at The Kentucky Center through Sunday, December 8. For event and ticket information, please visit kentuckyperformingarts.org.

 

 

Book On Early Christianity Inclusiveness Wins Grawemeyer Award Friday, Dec 6 2019 

Every Sunday morning during college, Stephen Patterson would drive to a church and deliver a sermon; then he’d go to another church and deliver another sermon; then, one more sermon at one more church. It was during this time in divinity school, while he was delivering these sermons to pay his tuition, that he figured out he didn’t want to be a minister. He wanted to study Christianity, going deeper into history.

Which is what he did: he teaches religious and ethical studies at Willamette University in Oregon. And now Patterson has won the Grawemeyer Award for Religion from the University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for his book, “The Forgotten Creed: Christianity’s Original Struggle against Bigotry, Racism and Sexism.” In it, Patterson dissects a passage from the apostle Paul.

Patterson said apostle Paul was the first one to write down a common sentiment by early Christians: “For you are all children of God in the Spirit; there is no Jew or Greek; there is no slave or free; there is no male and female, for you are all one in the Spirit.”

Patterson said this sentiment, of togetherness, would have been something common and known to followers of Christ at that time.

“He was quoting to them something that they would have recognized as central to their identity and to their self-understanding,” Patterson said. “The book is about how over time, racial or ethnic division, and patriarchy and classicism — how these things reasserted themselves in Christianity.”

He said the sentiment apostle Paul wrote down for the first time, and a sentiment that early Christians believed, can provide home and guidance for today’s Christians and churches.

“It’s a very, very powerful statement of human solidarity — to begin to reimagine Christianity as a force for human solidarity, rather than a force for division — is an important thing,” Patterson said.

Patterson’s other books — there are nine total — explore the teachings of early Christians that aren’t included in the Bible.

“I’ve always been interested in what you might call the hidden histories of erroneous Christianity: the stories that are not highlighted in the texts themselves, the stories you have to dig out of the text. And also stories that were left out of the biblical text,” Patterson said.

Patterson will receive a $100,000 prize, and visit Louisville in April to receive the award and deliver a free public lecture on his work. U of L has announced the other four Grawemeyer winners this week in music composition, world order, psychology and education.

Composer Lei Liang Wins 2020 Grawemeyer Award In Music Composition Monday, Dec 2 2019 

A composer who immigrated to the United States as a teenager in the aftermath of social unrest in China has won the University of Louisville’s 2020 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition for A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams, a work for orchestra premiered in 2018.

Lei Liang, 47, has lived in the United States since 1990 and is currently a professor of music at the University of California, San Diego; he’s also a research-artist-in-residence at Qualcomm Institute, an interdisciplinary research institute where Liang works with scientists to develop a “sonification” of coral reefs.

A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams is inspired by the landscapes of 20th century Chinese landscape artist Huang Binhong, but reaches deeper to explore ecological and spiritual destruction and our relationship with nature. The winning 35-minute work creates an aural landscape with sometimes imperceptible sounds, to the most expansive music an orchestra can produce. Large swaths of sparse textures are punctuated with dark reminders of our changing climate, and delicate reminders of healing and resurrection.

“When creating the work, I wanted to convey the importance of preserving our landscapes, both physically and spiritually,” Liang said, underscoring his ideas that music can do more, “to sustain a place where we and our children can belong.”

The instruments and players of the orchestra are not always used as they are intended, but for the sounds they are capable of producing.  Musicians whisper consonants in rapid succession, brass players speak into their horns, the harpist slides a protractor across the strings, and string players scratch and tap their instruments to create a vast sonic palette. Liang “paints” with the instruments and sounds of the traditional orchestra (and close to 60 percussion instruments), like Binhong, using a range of musical brushstrokes to create texture.

Liang’s preoccupation with Binhong stretches back 25 years to his early college days, and this winning work is the third in a series inspired by the artist, preceded by a set of electronic pieces and a work for piano. Through the Qualcomm Institute and the California Institute of Information Technology, where Liang was composer-in-residence from 2014-2016, scientists used multispectral imaging on 12 rare paintings of Binhong to capture minutiae, from stray fibers to tiny brush strokes, revealing the artists’ creative process with comprehensive detail. Liang returned to the Qualcomm Institute in 2018 as its first Research Artist-in-Residence.

“We dream together about what we can do with these artworks,” Liang says about the connection between a scientific approach to understanding the Binhong landscapes and the creative expression of his music, “[to] not only to preserve them but understanding through this process about our own heritage more deeply, more precisely, and more imaginatively, and perhaps in this process help to create a better world together.”

Lei Liang was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his saxophone concerto Xiaoxiang, and has been awarded a Rome Prize, an Aaron Copland Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.  

Liang’s next project, already underway, is another collaboration with scientists who are studying the arctic. The musical result will be a string quartet.

A Thousand Mountains, A Million Streams was premiered and recorded by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and conducted by Gil Rose on their own label BMOP Sound.

The annual $100,000 Grawemeyer prize rewards outstanding ideas in music, and also world order, psychology, education and religion. Winners will visit Louisville in April to accept their awards and give free talks on their winning ideas.

In Which A Jet Full Of Priceless Picassos Arrives In Louisville Monday, Nov 25 2019 

This December the KMAC Museum is opening a special exhibition featuring the works of Pablo Picasso.

More than 50 pieces from the Spanish artist will be on display from December 14 through March 22. Executive Director Aldy Milliken said many of the works have never before left Europe.

“These are incredibly personal artworks,” Milliken said. “A lot of these are studies that Picasso used for larger works so they’re simple graphic drawings, there are paintings on paper.”

I tagged along with Millken and his team as they retrieved the artwork from UPS Airlines last Friday.

Milliken said his friend and fellow museum director, Jean-Louis Andral, first suggested last year that Picasso’s works should visit the city named after King Louis XVI of France.

Milliken spent the last year negotiating the terms, fundraising and finding transportation. After reaching out to another friend, a pilot for UPS, Milliken developed a partnership with the company who is now sponsoring the show.

“So for us to contextualize the museum and basically the most influential artist of the 20th century in our city, is incredible, it’s profound actually,” Milliken said.

Last week the works traveled from their home in Antibes, France, to Cologne, Germany, before boarding a UPS 747 and making their way to Louisville, Kentucky. Even the French cultural ministry had to sign off on the exhibition, he said.

On Friday night, Milliken and his team escorted the pieces from the airport to an undisclosed location, where they will be stored until the exhibition begins. You can listen to the journey in the player above.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

UPS employees unload a 747 with shipping containers of Pablo Picasso’s artwork.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

A forklift operator moves crates full of Picasso’s artwork.

Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

KMAC Executive Director Aldy Milliken and Art Handler Katie Blackburn load crates of Picassos onto a truck for transport.

 

This story has been updated. 

Juilliard String Quartet Back For Its 50th Concert With The Chamber Music Society Of Louisville Saturday, Nov 23 2019 

The Juilliard String Quartet makes its 50th appearance with the Chamber Music Society of Louisville on Sunday at Comstock Hall at the University of Louisville. It’s an association that dates to the quartet’s first concert here in 1954, when the Juilliard was still a young and fast-rising string ensemble headed for box-office stardom and recording glory.

It’s kind of hard to imagine a group calling itself a Chamber Music Society moving quickly enough to ink a concert date with a red hot New York musical act. But that’s exactly what happened when U of L music school professor Dr. Gerhard Herz teamed with music patrons Fannie Brandeis and Emilie Smith to sign the Juilliard for a 1954 concert at the old Playhouse theater at U of L.

That was 65 years ago. And, of course, the Juilliard players have changed over time – though not often. Cellist Astrid Schween, who took a seat with the quartet in 2016, is just the fourth cellist in its 73-year history.

Which she very much appreciates.

“These occasions really thrill me,” says Schween. “They remind me of the great legacy of this quartet, and the richness of the relationships that have existed over the years.”

Each season the Chamber Music Society of Louisville brings in one of the world’s elite string quartets to headline a five-concert schedule. That model goes back to 1943, when the society first presented the Budapest String Quartet, which reappeared each season thereafter through 1965 when its members retired. The renowned Beaux Arts Trio was a regular in it heyday, and the Emerson String Quartet, which ranks at the top of the genre in Grammy Awards and box-office success, is a frequent Louisville visitor.  The Emerson will appear here in February and March, and again next fall in a series that honors the 250th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig Van Beethoven.

So for such a small club, in a mid-size city, the Louisville society certainly gets more than its share of time with the world’s top chamber groups.

But none can top the Juilliard in fan loyalty in Louisville. It’s the all-time favorite.

Sunday’s Concert ‘Sandwich’

The Juilliard’s concert program Sunday should be ideal for loyal listeners. It begins with Mozart and ends with Dvorak, with a contemporary quartet by Henri Dutilleux in between. That’s a regular programming sandwich to place the new stuff between old favorites. But it seems to work much better for chamber music than symphonic concerts. It’s as if today’s chamber audiences actually like the idea of trying a new flavor, rather than just putting up with it at the orchestra.

This might be a dumb idea, but it seems to this observer that 20th Century composers like Béla Bartók and Dmitri Shostakovich were able to intrigue audiences with stark and sharp quartets, while little progress was made with symphonic music. In fact, the whole big orchestra genre may have gone nowhere for a hundred years. At least that’s what it says here.

Maybe that’s because chamber music listeners can focus on just four voices in a string quartet. Or three in a trio. They can hear the details of sharp-edged chords and be intrigued by jilting rhythms — rather than jolted.

The Dutilleux quartet was first recorded by the Juilliard.

“It’s a very beautiful, very haunting work,” Schween said. “Every possible instrumental effect is used to create atmosphere and textures and sentiments. It’s colorful, it’s subtle … it’s emotional.”

Just in those words – atmosphere, textures, sentiment — one can see the contrast with classical Mozart, with everything fitting perfectly in place.

Schween says the Mozart quartet K.458, is often called the “Hunt” quartet, and echoes the famous Mozart horn concertos.

“It’s a great sort of outdoor tour de force,” says Schween. “The opening movement of the ‘Hunt’ calls up an image of horn calls and an outdoor kind of energy. Then the second movement is one of the most beautiful of all Mozart quartets.”

Like her fellow Juilliard quartet players – including violinists Areta Zhulla and Ronald Copes and violist Roger Tapping — Schween teaches at the Juilliard School, the famous conservatory in New York City. And she says she embraces the Juilliard teaching role as ardently as the performance legacy of the quartet.

Schween, herself, was brought along by famous musical mentors, including cellist Leonard Rose and maestro Zubin Mehta. She studied in London with the late Jacqueline du Pré, classical’s music’s most beloved cellist, who died of multiple sclerosis at the age of 42, at the height of her career.

“Of course, we had many meals together — tea time, lunch, dinner — in and around my lessons with her,” recalls Schween. “I remember on one occasion having to cut our afternoon a bit short so she could rest and get ready for her upcoming tea time guest — who, as it happens was the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles, an avid amateur cellist and friend of Jacqueline.”

A Sense Of Home And Belonging

The featured number on the Juilliard program is the Dvorak “American String Quartet.” And Schween is just the cellist/teacher to talk about it.

The American Quartet was composed by the Czech-born composer Antonin Dvorak during the period he lived in America in the 1890s – a time he composed the “Symphony from the New World” and his heralded cello concerto, which Schween has performed and taught throughout her career.

Dvorak was commissioned to compose and conduct in New York, but he spent his summers in tiny Spillville, Iowa, a farming community founded by Czech immigrants. Many musicologists feel it was out on the vast farming swath of the Middle West, near to the homeland ranges of great American Indian tribes, that Dvorak picked up the themes, and ”feel” of America. And he was certainly the first prominent European composer to “discover” the roots of African-American jazz and spiritual music. Dvorak felt a personal mission to foster American composers to tap into their native roots.

And American audiences have ever since hung on to every note.

“When we hear Dvorak’s ‘New World’ symphony, and the American string quartet and quintet, we hear Dvorak’s impression of American music in all its different guises and shapes and expressions,” Schween explains. “And yet, the music is also unmistakeably Czech. I can’t think of another composer who so accurately captures a sense of home and belonging.”

The Juilliard concert for the Chamber Music Society is at 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 24 at Comstock Hall, in the U of L School of Music. There’s a pre-concert talk at 2 p.m., and an onstage reception for the players and audience following the concert. Tickets: $40; Students $5, and U of L students free. More information on the Chamber Music Society’s website.

Sculptor Returns To GalaxyCon Louisville With Dragons In Tow Thursday, Nov 21 2019 

Sculptor John Marks sculptures of How to Train Your Dragon's "Toothless" and "Light Fury"On Thursday, sculptor John Marks will drive from Indianapolis to Louisville towing two giant dragons, large enough for people to ride. The dragons are composed of nearly a thousand pounds of silicon, latex and foam, and they aren’t Marks’ first large-scale sculptures: some people have cried in front of his previous works; others have proposed in front of them. For the second year in a row, Marks’ huge creations will be on display at GalaxyCon Louisville, which kicks off Friday. 

Marks said he has found artistic success, but it might not have happened if not for a failed costume, a $3,500 loan and the decision to quit a more than decade-long career.

Marks, 51, earned an art degree from the University of Missouri, and left Missouri at the age of 25 for a special effects school in Florida. But the industry disappointed him. It was competitive, stressful and didn’t have much job security, which prompted Marks to leave. Decades later, he was working as a lifestyle coach and a personal trainer.

Sculptor John Marks with his sculptures of How to Train Your Dragon's "Toothless" and "Light Fury"John Marks

Sculptor John Marks with his sculptures of How to Train Your Dragon’s “Toothless” and “Light Fury”

“My day was the same place, everyday, all day long, and [I] had gotten kind of burnt out,” Marks said. 

He continued using his skills to make small art projects, and saw an opportunity in making a large rendition of the comic-book superhero “The Hulk”.

“I ended up making the Hulk, about [a] seven-foot creature,” he said. “Originally it was going to be a costume and then I realized I overshot it.”

It was a gamble; Marks took out $3,500 in loans to build the figure, fill it with foam and sculpt it. But when he debuted the green giant at the 2012 Indiana Comic-Con, attendees loved it. And Marks made a lot of money. 

“I found my niche then,” Marks said. “[I] did better over a weekend than I did over three months of my regular job, so I quit my job two weeks later.”

Actor Verne Troyer poses in front of John Marks "Hulk" sculptureJohn Marks

Actor Verne Troyer poses in front of John Marks “Hulk” sculpture

Marks has traveled to conventions across the country since then, building around 40 sculptures from commissioned work, fans’ ideas and his own ideas. Some are eventually put into storage, giving Marks a chance to add variety and to tour with his other work. One such project was “The Iron Giant”, a hulking $7,000 robot figure he brought to Louisville’s first GalaxyCon last year.

Sculptor John Marks with his sculpture of "The Iron Giant"John Marks

Sculptor John Marks with his sculpture of “The Iron Giant”

Marks estimates the dragons, modeled after creatures from the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies, cost around $7,500 in materials and took more than 1,500 hours to build. He wouldn’t say how much profit the sculptures earn him, but said the money he gets from people paying to take pictures with his sculptures more than cover the cost of materials. Marks said reactions to his work motivate him, and fans support keeps him going.

“You have other people that walk around the corner and you see their faces light up, and mouth drops, and they get truly emotional. You can’t beat that,” Marks said, adding that the convention and his sculptures give attendees a chance to escape reality. “There’s something very freeing about the con[vention] … it’s a release to let your hair down and just be somebody else for a little bit.”

Louisville Tourism expects GalaxyCon, which starts November 22 and ends November 24, will attract 25,000 people and make an economic impact of around $738,000. Marks said pictures with his sculptures start at $5 and go up to $20 for a picture on top of the dragon. 

The dragons will go into storage at the end of the year. Marks said they will likely be replaced with two sculpted creatures from the cartoon “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.”

Despite Rough Edges, Griot Project’s ‘Before It Hits Home’ Will Make You Laugh, Think And Feel Thursday, Nov 21 2019 

The Griot Project’s mission is to continue the rich history of telling good stories for the betterment of the community. This time, the story they’ve chosen to tell is “Before It Hits Home,” written by Cheryl West and directed by Louis Robert Thompson and William Mack. The play which follows the last few months in the life of Wendal Bailey, an African American bisexual male in his early 30’s with AIDS.

Over the course of the play, Bailey has to come to terms with the diagnosis of AIDS, and how it affects his relationships, his family, and his life.

The play was first performed in 1990 and landed off-Broadway in 1992, a time when AIDS was starting to be seen and felt and acknowledged in far-reaching communities, and the Griot Project thought it was still an important story to tell today.

Courtesy The Griot Project

Morgan Younge and Jan Louden

The production took place in the back room of The Table in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood; it’s an expansive space, with some tables and chairs pushed to the back, three rows of chairs set up for an audience facing a simple living room set, and some flats to delineate the playing area. During a preview performance, the play struggled often, but it was difficult to tell if the problems stemmed from tentative scene-changes, dropped lines, or the script itself.

It was clear, though, that from the set to the performances, this was not a production that intended to make things pretty, but to make things true. And in the moments when the cast felt comfortable with the lines and the technical issues didn’t get in the way, the performances absolutely sung. The strongest performance was of Reba Bailey, played by Jan Louden. She brought both a comforting and maternal calm to her performance, while still able to emotionally escalate when the scene called for it. Morgan Younge, as Maybelle, provided great comic relief, without upstaging the seriousness of the subject. Though it took a while for Julian Long to be planted in his character, he was still able to have some beautiful emotional turns. The direction kept the performances grounded in the moment, without playing the end, and created a show where the cast performed as a team. They listened to each other and were in it to fail or succeed together, making the story and relationships the most important thing about this production.

Courtesy The Griot Project

Isaiah Archie and Rachel Vidal

In the talk-back after the show, one of the actors shared that the directors started the rehearsal process by having the actors first understand their characters, their relationships with the other characters in the play, and their character’s relationship with the AIDS virus. This connection the actors gained from the very beginning is the backbone of this production, and it is this connection that will touch almost every audience member. It’s not simply about AIDS, but about family, forgiveness, and the desperation to be accepted for who we are, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t relate to some aspect of this story.

It might seem like a risk to do a play that covers such serious subject matter as we approach Thanksgiving, when other groups stick to safe and fun holiday fare. And it might seem like a risk to invite an audience to watch a clunky preview a week before opening night, but the Griot Project doesn’t seem to be afraid of risk.

If this production comes together as it promised in the preview, it will be well worth the risk they took. It will make you laugh, think and feel, and isn’t that what great theater should do?

The Griot Project will perform “Before It Hits Home” at The Table, 1800 Portland Avenue, on Friday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 24 at 4 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 1 (World AIDS Day) at 4 p.m. Tickets are $20, and a discussion with the actors and community advocates will follow each performance. More information on Facebook. 

Telling ‘Tales From The Turf’ At The Speed Museum Sunday, Nov 17 2019 

The paintings of thoroughbred horses in the exhibit “Tales from the Turf,” which opened Friday for a three-month run at the Speed Museum, may seem very familiar to many visitors — by where they’ve seen them before.

Maybe in the Turf Club at Churchill Downs. Or the Clubhouse at Keeneland. Or hung in the study of a traditional Kentucky home with cherry-paneled walls and antique reading lamps.

And, indeed, it is in exactly those kinds of places that curator Erika Holmquist-Wall found many of the pieces for the show.

Courtesy Speed Museum

“The Jockeys” by Lee Townsend.

But now the Speed has hung them in an order that tells a tale of high-blooded horses in Kentucky. It’s a story of how livestock farmers became breeders, and good grazing land became stunning horse farms — where valuable stallions rule all they may survey.

And that’s where Edward Troye comes in.

“Troye was born in Switzerland, but studied in England and then came on to America, finding his way to Kentucky,” says Holmquist-Wall. “He made a kind of business out of painting horses, especially the stallions the breeders were wishing to promote.”

Which is exactly how it’s done today in the high-stakes thoroughbred breeding business. Except in the early 19th Century, when Kentucky was just growing up its horse business, there was no brilliant color photography or high-definition video, as today, to promote the farms and their mares and stallions. Troye, and other painters represented in the show, filled the need, and more — leaving behind art that’s beyond mere advertising illustration.

We Hate The British And Want To Be Just Like Them

Troye (1808-1874) painted in the style of famous English painters like George Stubbs, and later Alfred Munnings. A framed Troye painting in Kentucky would be regarded in the same way as a Stubbs in Great Britain. And the subjects would be the same: inkling horses, dogs, cows, donkeys … even cats.

“Paintings of animals were really popular in the early 19th Century, kind of romantic painting,” says Holmquist-Wall, as she points out a trio of paintings from Britain. One is a scene of a boy at a rural fair, with workhorses, and a dog scampering about. The next is a horse in a pasture, its natural setting. And the third is horses racing, with spectators now in the picture, along the rail.

“You have this interest in animal art, with painters like Stubbs and James Wall taking it along, and then John Sartorius, who is painting a racing scene — so it’s kind of a documentary — ideas and movements that wanted to come together.”

Holmquist-Wall notes that the landed Virginians, who came on to settle Kentucky, had come from Great Britain. They fought Britain to gain independence and were now seeking to establish their own identity in America — but still looking back from whence they’d come.

“The Virginians fancy themselves as gentlemen farmers and they’re looking to the Brits,” explains Holmquist-Wall. “They’re most recent enemies, of course, but how do you cultivate an identity? Establish an image of ones self? Basically, how do you do it?

“Well,” the she continued, “the first thing is a gentleman farmer has dogs and horses. And you have your land set up so it looks like the Brits. All this influence starts coming out. And at the same time these British paintings were crossing over the Atlantic, coming to America and being collected by Americans.”

And, again, that’s where Troye and other painters come in — as America nurtured its own art and artists. Virginians and Kentuckians were adorning their studies with modest-sized paintings of horses and hunting hounds, while in the North big wall spaces were being cleared to hang monumental Hudson River Valley style paintings.

Sticking with his style, Troye painted every major Kentucky horse of the day, including the foundation sire Lexington, and Lexington’s sons Kentucky, Norfolk and Asteroid. The most popular horses got more than one canvas from Troye, painting for multiple buyers. (Just like Monet never ran out of lily pads and Van Gogh saw plenty of starry nights.)

Courtesy Transylvania University

Famous racehorse and fabulous foundation sire Lexington, by Edward Troye.

Troye and the others were very naturalistic in painting the sculpted bodies of thoroughbreds. Sleek and fleet. And you see that in the show. But viewers will quickly note that the heads are not as realistic. They’re long and exaggeratedly slender. That’s an idealized look of the day. Conformation should be correct, but the heads should be elegantly dished, as if rich in blood of Arab stallions.

The eyes, on the other hand, look right at the viewer, projecting a lofty “look of eagles.”

A Bad Day At The Sale For Johnny Reb

The “Tales from the Turf” show includes three Troye portraits of Asteroid, the undefeated racehorse and famous stallion. Two are hung side by side, and in both of them Troye includes a group of mounted, gray-coated horsemen galloping across a field in the distance, referencing the stallion’s kidnapping by Confederate raiders during the Civil War.

Courtesy Speed Museum

The Edward Troye painting of Asteroid includes confederate raiders in distance to left. The famous stallion was stolen by the Rebels during the Civil War, but rescued with a tiny ransom paid for such a valuable horse.

Asteroid’s owner sent out riders to look for the horse, and when they found him, the horsemen negotiated a ransom of $250 to get the horse back. The rescuers told the Rebels the horse had no real value but the owner was sentimental about it as a pet — conveniently leaving out the part about Asteroid being one of the top stallions in the world.

Which proved, once again, that outsiders stand little chance when buying and selling horses in Kentucky.

As Troye’s fame grew, the painter picked up a patron in Bluegrass horseman Alexander Keene Richards, who built Troye a studio and stocked him with commissions. Keene Richards even took Troye along with him on an overseas tour to see the horse operations in Arabia and the Middle East. Troye painted a portrait of the Sultan of Turkey’s favorite horse. He also painted a picture of Keene Richards dressed in Bedouin garb, holding a racehorse. Both are in the Speed show.

‘Modern-Day’ Racing

Patrons for whom the horse portraits might, by this time, be looking a little too much like the Turf Club, need only turn a corner in the gallery to find newer “Tales from the Turf.”

The story takes on a racing-age feel. The second half of the 19th Century and into the 20th (the show goes up to the year 1950) finds the advent of “modern” racetracks, and horse racing as a major spectator sport.

Mark your timeline with the death of Edward Troye in 1874 and the founding of the Kentucky Derby in 1875, then march forward through horse history. This is a time of famous jockeys, owners and trainers — and matinee-idol racehorses.

We encounter three from the Speed’s own collection:

  • An 1838 painting of the Oakland Racecourse, Louisville’s first major track.
  • The original Latonia Race Course, in Covington, Ky., with high Ohio River hills in the background.
  • A Currier and Ives print of 1881 Kentucky Derby winner Hindoo, one of the greatest Derby winners. It’s a small treasure.

The Oakland course was located west of today’s 7th and Magnolia streets, and was apparently a very festive racing venue.

Courtesy Speed Museum

The first important racetrack in Louisville was the Oakland Course, shown here in 1838. The clubhouse is in the foreground, with track in the beyond.Located near today’s 7th and Magnolia streets.

“You see the road in front of the clubhouse and all the carriages and people coming and going on race day,” says Holmquist-Wall. “The racetrack is beyond, in the distance. The focus here is very clearly on people and the occasion. Documenting the moment.”

Displayed with the painting of Old Latonia are the brushes and pallet of its painter, Charles W. Waite.

“This painting was hanging in a tavern in Covington for about 80 years,” says Holmquist-Wall. “The artist traded it to the tavern owner to settle a long-building bar tab. We purchased it and sent it to a conservator who took off about 80 years of nicotine.”

I particularly enjoyed the paintings of gamblers and spectators by artist Lee Townsend. These are people who very clearly will not be occupying the Royal Box at Ascot. Look for a charcoal picture titled “Bookmaker T.J. Shaw.” All the men in the ring are wearing the same kind of hats. It’s neat.

‘The mostest hoss’

Then there’s Man o’ War, with his longtime groom Will Harbut – captured in two far-different paintings by Vaughn Flannery.

One is a very “emotive” scene in the stall, with horse and groom. Harbut was a wonderful storyteller, speaking for “Big Red” with the thousands of visitors who came to see the horse at Faraway Farm, near Lexington. The faithful groom assured everyone that Man o’ War was “the mostest hoss.”

The other, in brighter oils, is Harbut leading Man o’ War out of the barn into the sunshine.

Courtesy Speed Museum

“Will Harbut Leading Out Man O’War, 1950” by Vaughn Flannery.

Two more to mention: One, because he’s the subject of controversy today, is Gen. John B. Castleman and Carolina, the saddlebred mare he bred, stepping into the spotlight as they capture the championship of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. It is Carolina that is the horse depicted in the much-vandalized statue of Castleman on Cherokee Road.

The other is a Morris painting of Whirlaway, at Santa Anita Park, in California. Most fans know 1941 Triple Crown champion Whirlaway was primarily raced in the east by Calumet Farm.

So the Santa Anita setting seems odd.

But it’s back to the beginning, says Holmquist-Wall.

“Just as Troye was painting the portraits of famous stallions to enhance their stature,” she explains, “that’s exactly the same with Whirlaway, being painted by a great artist in an important horse-buying state as he is about to conclude his racing career and head to on to be a stallion in Kentucky.”

It’s about capturing “Mr. Longtail” (and you can see how long Whirlaway’s tail is in the Morris painting) in the best light.

Tales from the Turf: The Kentucky Horse” is on display at the Speed Museum through March 1, 2020. For more information, visit speedmuseum.org.

New Murals In Louisville’s Russell Neighborhood Aim To Empower Residents Through Art Thursday, Nov 14 2019 

Artist Kacy Jackson in front of his mural at 800 S Preston StreetA project underway in Louisville’s Russell neighborhood will add four murals to local railroad overpasses to help beautify the area. The artwork is part of Vision Russell, an initiative funded by city and federal dollars to revitalize Russell. 

Russell resident Victor Sweatt is one of the participating artists; he said his passion for art has sometimes, unwittingly, led him to work through the night. Amid dozens of his art pieces in his studio, with sky-blue paint caked onto his fingernails, Sweatt said his mural will focus on the neighborhood’s history. He said many young people do not see themselves in art or television, and he wants to change that through his art. 

“For me, it’s just really about empowering our kids — our people,” Sweatt said. “I’m just giving them a taste like, ‘Here, you can do it too. It’s right here in front of you. It’s right here in front of you. These people grew up in your city. You have access to this.’”

Visual Artist Victor Sweatt next to one of his art piecesKyeland Jackson | wfpl.org

Visual Artist Victor Sweatt next to one of his art pieces

Sweatt’s mural will be on the railroad overpass at 14th and Magazine Street. Artists from VIA Studio and Often Seen Rarely Spoken will paint two others, and Kacy Jackson will paint a mural at 14th and Muhammad Ali Blvd. Jackson’s mural will focus on local figures like retired Louisville Central Community Center CEO Sam Watkins and neighborhood matriarch Lucille Leggett. 

“My goal is basically to uplift the community, [to] put a little more light into that tunnel,” Jackson said. “I want to make sure the kids see it, I want the neighborhood to see it and I want people to actually engage into it.”

Officials expect the murals will be completed in December. There’s a clean-up of the murals’ railroad overpasses planned for this Saturday morning from 9 to 11. The cleanup is open to the public.

Here’s What’s Coming To The 2020 Humana Festival Of New American Plays Wednesday, Nov 13 2019 

Actors Theatre of Louisville has unveiled the lineup for the 44th Humana Festival of New American Plays next year.

Artistic Producer Emily Tarquin says the program includes five world premieres.

“This year, and maybe we feel this way every year, but these five plays feel super distinct.  And — as best we can — as representative of as many people and stories as you can pack into a five-play festival.”

Actors Theatre of Louisville

Robert Barry Fleming

This is the first Humana Festival under the direction of new Actors Theatre Artistic Director Robert Barry Fleming.

It kicks off with “Are You There?” a collection of three short plays exploring how high-tech communication affects our social interactions, written by Vivian Barnes, Jonathan Norton and Gab Reisman. Other world premieres include:

Nicole Clark is Having a Baby by Morgan Gould: “A deeply felt, unapologetic comedy about mothers, daughters, and the trauma of fatphobia.”

Where the Mountain Meets the Sea by Jeff Augustin: “This music-filled play traces a Haitian immigrant and his son’s complicated bond, and their life-changing journeys across America.”

FLEX by Candrice Jones: “A powerful new play about swagger, strength and sticking together” in the world of women’s basketball.

Grace by Nolan Williams Jr.: “A soaring musical celebration of family, faith and African-American food traditions.”

The festival also includes panel discussions, keynote speakers and other events.

The Humana Festival of New American Plays runs from March 1st through April 12 at Actors Theatre.

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