Organization pushing for first historical statue of a woman in Lexington

Published: Aug. 23, 2018 at 3:18 PM EDT
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Most every city has some type of public art, but across the country and right here in Kentucky there are hardly any historical depictions of women.

Right now there is a national effort to change that spurred on by the Me Too movement and the upcoming 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote. Here in central Kentucky there is a strong push to carve out a place for women.

Public art is meant to inspire, educate and even start a conversation. In Lexington it’s a hot topic right now.

“We have statues of jockeys, we have men and we even have a camel, but there is nothing with a historical achievement of a woman anywhere in Lexington," said Jennifer Mossotti, 9th District Councilwoman.

What councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti is talking about is not just a Lexington issue, it's one nationwide. In fact, the Smithsonian says out of more than 5193 monuments in the U.S. less than 7 percent recognize women.

In Kentucky, records from the Kentucky Historical Society show there are only four statues dedicated to women and out of 2500 historical markers, only 30 represent women.

Lexington artist Georgia Henkel is the Chair for the Urban County Arts Review Board. She says history is complicated and the history of exclusion is even more complicated.

"Part of it is because many of these larger than life bronze monuments were commissioned and erected prior to women’s right to vote, prior to 1920 and so we are just now getting around to reconstructing our history with a more diverse point of view," Henkel said.

The outcry for more representation of women is part of a nationwide push spurred on by the Me Too Movement and the upcoming centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.

This spring a piece honoring women was installed in Lexington's Wellington Park, but it’s not a historical depiction. A nonprofit headed up by Mossotti, Breaking the Bronze Ceiling hopes to change that. The goal is to get a monument erected in Lexington by 2020. Already Mossotti and others have secured $100,000 from the city and are actively fundraising.

"We've done a great many important things in history and for us not to show this and let our young ladies and our young men know we are part of history is not the right thing do, it needs to be corrected," said Mossotti.

Amanda Matthews, a Lexington sculptor, is also passionate about using art to tell a more complete history including more women.

At her Prometheus Foundry, Matthews is hard at work on the details that give her pieces life. In 2015 Matthews started the Artemis Initiative. One of its goals is to honor women in sculpture it the state.

"I have always pulled for the underdog. The voices of history who are so muffled and so quiet they rarely get heard from, the people who have truly done amazing and remarkable things," Matthews said.

She has been fortunate enough to be commissioned for not one, but two pieces that will honor Kentucky women.

Nettie Depp, a pioneer in Kentucky education and the first woman to run for public office will also be the first woman to stand in a statue in the State Capitol when completed.

And there is also a piece of Kentucky native Alice Dunnigan. She was the first black woman to receive press credentials to the White House. Her statue is headed first for the Newseum in Washington and then back to Kentucky.

"I think especially with these women I feel a very shared history, a real kinship," said Matthews.

In the Bluegrass there may not be a statue on every corner depicting the great women of our state, but their accomplishments have not been forgotten. It’s now a new generation working to make history for those who came before them.

"This is something we think is important for our community, important for the women in our community to let them know we value them and value their contributions," said Jennifer Mossotti.

Right now there is no timetable on when Nettie Depp's statue will be placed in the Kentucky State Capitol. The Alice Dunnigan piece will be installed in the Newseum September 21. On Monday, August 27 Lexington will celebrate Women's Equality Day and the nonprofit Breaking the Bronze Ceiling will host a fundraiser and program at the Kentucky Theater. The film Suffragette will also be shown.