Public Art Walking Tour Written by : Patti Nickell

Public art goes back to prehistoric times with the cave drawings depicting scenes of survival in a harsh world.  As the world became less harsh, art became the purview of the privileged – those rich enough to commission works for their homes, or at least flush enough to afford a ticket to an art museum.

The English artist Banksy might be credited for the start of totally egalitarian art – art painted on buildings for everyone to see and discuss.  What was once considered graffiti was suddenly artistic expression.

Frankfort has a number of these pieces of artistic expression in the form of both sculptures and murals which can be seen on a weekly walking tour from May through October.

The one-hour walking tour covering one mile through downtown Frankfort is a joint project of the Franklin County/Frankfort Tourist Commission and the Josephine Sculpture Park. 

Led by Terry Strickland, a former docent at the University of Kentucky Art Museum, the tour features 17 pieces of art – almost equally divided between thought-provoking sculptures and intriguing acrylic murals.

With a variety of themes, the art is designed to foster community and stimulate discussion.  What does the piece mean to the creator? To the viewer?

The newest work on the tour is a sculpture entitled “Ready for Flight” by Florida artists Jim Benedict and Lilly Kuonen.  The two, working under the sponsorship of the city of Frankfort and the National Endowment for the Arts, sculpted a graceful dragonfly resting on freshwater river grass and poised for flight.

The fact that it overlooks an elementary school makes Strickland feel it symbolizes “the need in all of us to test our wings while at the same time having a safe place to return to.”

“Daddylonglegs,” a combination of geometric shapes cast in steel by Philadelphia sculptor John Parker may remind some of the harmless spiders often found lurking in bathtubs, while others see it as one of the frightening, armored transformer robots straight out of a science fiction film.  Which is it – benign or malignant?

Since the “Daddylonglegs” figure is adjacent to the courthouse, you can also peek through the courthouse window to observe a large mobile suspended over a staircase which features the scales of justice, anchored by a gold ball.

Two sculptural pieces located in close proximity on Broadway nevertheless have an entirely different feel.

“Delegate,” is a two-seated bench representing the artist’s (Derek Bell of Lexington) lifelong fascination with furniture as both an architect and urban designer.  The sculpture’s two seats invite weary shoppers to sit and reflect for a while.  Comfort at its best.

The other piece, “Formed to Fit,” by Jennifer Garey of Philadelphia is a cast iron and fabricated steel female leg in heels, representing both a standard of beauty and a cause of discomfort.

Tour guests are encouraged to run their hands down the sculpted leg – as touching on this and all other sculptures is definitely allowed.

“Eggcited,” in front of the Paul Sawyier Public Library, is a definite fan favorite.  Sculpted by Minneapolis artist Kimber Fiebieger, the bronze sculpture of story book character Humpty Dumpty brings smiles to all who see it.

As thought-provoking as the sculptural art is, the colorful murals are equally so.  The mural paying tribute to a Frankfort native George C. Wolfe by Texas artist Jimmy Joe Jenkins, is appropriately located on the top of the historic Grand Theater.

Wolfe is a Tony Award-winning playwright and director whose plays “Angels in America” and “Bring in ‘da Noise/ Bring in ‘da Funk” enjoyed long runs on Broadway.

“The Conversation” is a true conversation starter by Oregon-based David Carmack Lewis.  Painted on the façade of Broadway Clay, it features a Kentucky landscape of white fences, winding river and palisades, along with two empty chairs – one on the ground and one suspended from the sky.  It makes one wonder just who is having this conversation.

“Surprise,” painted on the exterior of Capital Cellars, is a colorful depiction of a small boy pouring from – what else – a wine bottle.  What flows from this magical bottle, however, isn’t wine or even water, but a profusion of Kentucky flowers – from trumpet honeysuckle to sunflowers – much to the delight of the small girl watching him.

A note of special interest about this mural is that the artist, an Italian painter named Pepe Gak, painted the largest mural in the world in Pakistan.

Another mural that bursts with color is “Wanderlust,” by Argentine artist Cecilia Lueza.  Although the building is empty now, it once housed a woman’s clothing store, Nitro, known for its colorful attire.

Perhaps that’s what inspired her to paint a flock of Kentucky birds with their vibrant colors, from the ruby hues of the cardinal to the deep indigo of the blue bunting.

These nine colorful murals and unique sculptures, along with the eight others on the walking tour, are proof of Frankfort’s continuing commitment to public art and securing its place as Kentucky’s Capital of Public Art.

See more at Frankfort Public Art!