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Headley-Whitney Museum Executive Director Christina Bell had a simple idea for an exhibit: 100 works by late Lexington-based artist Henry Faulkner to honor the 100th anniversary of his birth.
She just hoped she could get 100 Faulkner paintings. When she started asking people with Faulkner works about loaning them to the exhibit, she quickly blew well past 100.
“I’ve been amazed at how excited and also very cooperative and happy everybody has been to do this,” Bell says, sitting in one of the Headley Whitney’s galleries bursting with the color and imagination of the rural Kentucky native. “I think everybody was on board to celebrate Henry.”
Faulkner emerged in the art world in the late 1950s and is believed to have produced more than 5,000 works over three decades. He was widely collected and exhibited and had famous friends including playwright Tennessee Williams and movie star Bette Davis who gave Faulkner a cat he named Miss Davis. Animals, particularly his goat Alice, figured prominently in Faulkner’s colorful works that were matched by his flamboyant personality.
Faulkner was also a poet, singer and leading member of Lexington’s queer community in the mid-20th century. A 37-minute documentary by Lexington filmmaker Tom Thurman is part of the Headley-Whitney Exhibit, “Henry Faulkner One Hundredth Birthday Exhibition,” and tells the story of Faulkner from his early years being sent to an orphanage after his mother’s death to his untimely death being hit by a drunk driver in 1981. It touches on details such as Faulkner’s time in a Washington D.C. psychiatric hospital, where he was sent for homosexuality, which was considered a mental illness at the time.
Commenters in the documentary contextualize Faulkner’s work and life for viewers who may not be familiar with him.
“I’ve been surprised, sort of, at how many people, young people, that weren’t around in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s don’t know him,” Bell said. “So that’s pretty exciting to introduce them to him.”
Part of the introduction is stories about Faulkner related to works in the show, like a painting Falkner presented as payment to a neurosurgeon saying, “It will be worth much more than the bill,” or the commissioned painting that Faulkner delivered with chips on the frame because one of his numerous animals had been gnawing on it. The stories simply add to the legend.
“When people talk about him, it is like a true affection and sort of longing for that day and that time when he was such a charismatic figure here in Lexington,” Bell says. “I, like many, have never had the opportunity to see most of these works, many of which are family heirlooms or treasures that people acquired years ago and have never been exhibited.”
Soon after she started calling collectors about the possibility of exhibiting their works, Bell says she started getting calls from people with Faulkners interested in having them in the exhibit. More than 40 collections are represented in the exhibit, including the collection of First Southern National Bank.
The works have been kept together by collection, Bell says, to honor the people who collected Faulkner’s work, and collectors have been a key to bringing the event together.
“It is because of the many patrons that Henry Lawrence Faulkner engaged and the transactions made between them that a comprehensive record of his life legacy is preserved,” Lexington Photographer John Stephen Hockensmith, author of “The Gift of Color: Henry Lawrence Faulkner — Paintings, Poems, and Writings,” wrote in a statement that is part of the exhibit.
Henry Faulkner 100th Birthday Exhibition
Where: Headley-Whitney Museum, 4435 Old Frankfort Pike
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays through Sundays
Admission: $10 adults and free to students with valid ID and ages 17 and younger.
More: The exhibit is a celebration of Faulkner, and there are several opportunities to celebrate before the exhibit closes Nov. 12.
▪ Sept. 22: Happy Birthday Henry, a cake and champagne celebration in honor of Faulkner’s approaching 100th birthday, Jan. 9. 5-7 p.m. $15.
▪ Sept. 27: Movie Night at the Museum: Screening of “Henry Faulkner: Poetry in Paint” followed by a Q&A with director Tom Thurman. 6-8 p.m. $10.
▪ Oct. 3: Luncheon and talk by John Stephen Hockensmith, author of “The Gift of Color.” 11:30-1:30 p.m. $45. Reservations required by Sept. 22.
Lexington Camera Club photo exhibit at the Loudoun House
There are still a few weeks left to see “The Lexington Camera Club: Conjure,” an exhibit of more than 130 photographs by 34 photographers in the Lexington Art League’s Loudoun House Galleries, 209 Castlewood Dr.
It includes a wide range of digital and film photographs by artists from a wide variety of backgrounds. Guest artists are Sam Abell, a University of Kentucky graduate who worked for National Geographic for 33 years, and Bill Roughen, the first art photography teacher at UK.
Gallery hours are noon to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays. Admission is free. Visit lexingtonartleague.org or call 859-254-7024 for more information.