His work along with that of his contemporaries Van Deren Coke (1921-2004), Zygmunt S. Gierlach (1915-1989), James Baker Hall (1935-2009), Robert C. May (1935-1993), and Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-1972), Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Cranston Ritchie (1923-1961), Charles Traub (b.1945), and Jonathan Williams (1929-2008) numbered nearly 150.
All of the photographs, chosen by curator Brian Sholis, were made while these men worked along side one another in Lexington, Kentucky as members of the Lexington Camera Club. The exhibition brings to light many things, including how a connected and collaborative community raised the bar for all involved. In fact, in the accompanying exhibition catalog, the curator uses the term ‘genius’ to describe the inspiration of that time.
Curious about Guy’s thoughts on the matter and what intrigues him still today about Lexington, Kentucky, I decided to talk a little more in-depth with him. Our interview was lengthy and UnderMain will bring portions of it to you throughout the duration of the show – January 1, 2017.
After hearing Guy’s thoughts on so many things, I began to wonder about that genius thing – if real genius emerges only when you are wise enough to open yourself to it, so humble as to never admit you possess it, and honest enough to be generous with it. We are very fortunate to have Guy in our midst.
Here is just an introduction to my interview with Guy Mendes. Listen and learn how Guy went from being a ‘Kitten’ to realizing – late in life – that he is a native Kentuckian.
Guy Mendes as Kitten, 1966-67, Photo by Rick Bell
When Guy Mendes arrived in Lexington as a young man he intended to play basketball (who knew?) and study journalism. He landed a job with the Kentucky Kernel and, at the same time, walked onto the 1966-67 Kittens – the University of Kentucky’s junior varsity/freshman basketball team.
Guy was uninspired at the time by the classes in journalism, but highly intrigued by his work at the Kernel. The Kernel was – in Guy’s words – ‘a pretty radical paper back then’. It was a daily paper and part of the United States Student Press Association, a nationwide organization that shared a teletype machine from a network of colleges including Berkley, Harvard, Michigan and North Carolina.
His journalistic endeavors led him to cover many noteworthy things including the Vietnam War and Civil Rights, but for the sake of this interview, I was particularly intrigued by his story about the Fall of 1967 – when his interest in journalism led him to meet two men who would change his life forever: Wendell Berry and Ralph Eugene Meatyard.
It was an eye-opening time for Guy Mendes. What he learned then, he still lives by today: it is not what you look at in life, but what you see.
It has been nearly four decades since Kate Savage first arrived from England to take up residence in the Bluegrass State. The innovator behind Art Connects, Savage has made it her personal mission to help artists from all artistic disciplines to come together, collaborate, and discover more opportunities to share resources and expand artistic awareness.She has a passionate love for all art forms, and sees her role as one of a facilitator.
“My father worked for an American oil company back in the ‘50s and I grew up in the Middle East. When I was five, we moved to Bahrain which then was “home” for thirty years.I attended London University where I majored in English with a minor in Art History.I moved to Lexington in 1977, after marrying a Lexingtonian I had met and dated in London,” Savage recalled. “My love of different cultures, my admiration for anyone who could create anything, my curiosity about the ways to communicate through words, performance, visual expression, even silence that speaks volumes, has been a life-long fascination for me.”
It was not long after her move to Lexington that Kate opened her own catering company, Bleu Ribbon Hospitality.Over time an upscale gourmet food shop, Scarborough Fare, grew out of her catering business, and operated for many years on Romany Road. “The origins were in a commercial kitchen on Maxwell Street,” she recalled, “But as the business expanded we moved to the Romany Road location alongside Suggins and Wheeler’s Pharmacy, both iconic landmarks for serious Lexingtonians. For me, working with food became an outlet for creative expression”.
In 2008 she sold her food business to the owners of Suggins.Looking for other ways to stay involved Kate saw a community need and decided to invest her efforts in helping the many different artistic genres in new and creative ways. Thus, Art Connects was conceived.
“Art Connects started about a year-and-a-half ago by originally introducing the Talk and Tour Series.These were lectures that were paired with an exhibition within driving distance, be it at the Speed, Taft or Cincinnati Art Museum, that subsequently were followed up with tours.The next of this ongoing Talk and Tour Series: Talk a Walk on the Wild Side, will begin with the “Talk” segment on Nov. 15 at the Main Branch of the Lexington Public Library and continue with the follow-up Tour on the 17th of the Cincinnati Art Museum. This Talk and Tour Series will explore the current exhibition: Kentucky Renaissance: Lexington Camera Club and Its Community. 1954-1974that includes works by such well-known photo-artists as Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Guy Mendes and James Baker Hall as well as the concurrent exhibition: Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth, that opened on October 15th and will run until January 8th 2017. Guy Mendes, one of the youngest members of the Lexington Camera Club whose work is included in the photography exhibition, along with Ann Tower, the owner of Ann Tower Gallery who for many years was the art critic for the Lexington Herald-Leader, will be co-Talk and Tour hosts.
The next program that Art Connects introduced,Paint the Town,hasbecome an established annual event held in June. It is the revitalization of a similar but bygone event started by Gallery B. “This event is held for Plein Aire artists,” said Savage.“These are artists who work outside their studio in the ‘fresh air’, like van Gogh and Monet.For the last couple of years as many as 50 artists have participated, coming from as far afield as Bowling Green and Cincinnati.They set up their easels within an eight-block designated area of downtown and paint from 8am-2pm. Works are then turned in – often still wet – curated, hung and judged anonymously as Best in Show, 2nd and 3rd Place, as well as a People’s Choice.Cash prizes are awarded by the guest judge at the Opening Reception held that same evening. The works remain on exhibition through the July Gallery Hop and are for sale,” she said.
Paint the Town focuses on a particular group of painters and the community is encouraged to come to downtown Lexington, stroll the streets and observe as art is made. “It’s astonishing how much talent there is right here in our Bluegrass backyard, and I marvel at what can be produced in just six hours,” said Savage.
Also engaging Savage’s energy is the Art Connects Mobile Gallery. This is another mutually beneficial program that connects artists with opportunities to exhibit their work outside the mainstream venue of a gallery show.Savage takes original artwork by local artists into corporate spaces, and rotates the work every three months.Turning business and office walls into mini galleries and creating a curiosity and a conversation.This is a subscription service, but to date all participants have renewed their annual subscriptions.
“Meditation Meadow” by Jana Kappeler, exhibited at Hilliard Lyons
“Work accumulating against a studio wall is of little benefit to the artist.” Kate said.“It’s so fun when I show up with replacement art to see the excitement and interest generated.This is a program that is really helping to stimulate an interest in art for people who previously probably didn’t bother notice or reflect on what was hanging on the walls.”
Collaborations and partnerships are key elements of Art Connects efforts.Through a sponsorship from Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, who expressed an interest in collaborating with a non-profit’s endeavor, Art Connects sent out a Call to Fayette Co. High School Artists. Students were invited to produce a “Kentucky December Holiday” themed artwork. More than 40 students representing every High School in Fayette County responded with Letters of Intent.Works have been submitted and will be evaluated anonymously by a seven-panel group. Cash prizes will be awarded to the three winners at the Wells Fargo Holiday Party in December.“This is philanthropy working” said Savage, “I give to you and you turn around and give to someone else.”
Savage’s efforts to facilitate networking among various artistic disciplines responded to an identified need. The Kentucky Arts Council’s extensive statewide 2014 Creative Industry Reportincluded data from a survey that asked individuals across Kentucky where they saw gaps and needs in services and support. Opportunities to network with other artists rated among the top five priorities. “So I started what are now the Art Connects Networking Lunches,” Savage said. “The initial series of three was this past Spring and we have just wrapped up the Series for this Fall.”
The Networking Luncheons ($25 including lunch) are open to the public. “Alice Gray Stites, the Chief Curator and Director of Art Programming forall 21c Museum Hotels, was the first guest speaker a week before the 21c Hotel Museum in Lexington opened. It was a sell out and set the bench-mark high,” Savage said. “Others have featuredJoel Pett and Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon. Well-known Metropolitan Opera tenor, Gregory Turay with Tedrin Blair Lindsay as piano accompanist were the November presenters and they, needless to say, ended the series on a high note!”
Savage’s work is driven by a desire to discover new ways to bring people – artists and communities – together in collaboration, corroboration and cooperation. “There’s no reason why we can’t work together and support each other across the artistic disciplines. It keeps me busy; I do my own website and social media, newsletters, solicitations and I love the all of it. My personal philosophy is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’”
(Featured image at top of page: “Gratz Park” by Heather Tackett)