One of the many benefits of our life in Nantucket is the opportunity to meet and interact with so many interesting people from so many different parts of the country and even the world. Over the last several years I have developed a friendship with a woman named Mary Moss Greenebaum who is a true force of nature. Although she was born a New Yorker, Mary has spent most of her adult life in Kentucky where she founded and produces the University of Louisville Kentucky Author Forum, a non-profit, nationally-recognized literary event. The Author Forum concept is to pair an author and an interviewer with their conversation taking place at The Kentucky Center in Louisville before a live audience. The event is also taped and distributed by Kentucky Educational Television and airs on PBS member stations across the country. Mary had been trying to lure me to Louisville for some time but this year she baited the hook with an upcoming Author Forum event featuring John Irving, one of my favorite authors, who would be discussing his newest novel "Avenue of Mysteries". And so on a rainy November morning we left Manhattan and flew to Louisville.
As a little background, Louisville is home to the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Louisville Slugger, the University of Louisville and American whisky maker Brown Forman. It is the largest city in Kentucky and is situated southeasterly between the border between Kentucky and Indiana which is the Ohio River. Although technically a Southern state, Louisville is often referred to as either one of the northernmost Southern cities or as one the southernmost Northern cities.
An enthusiastic Mary, still somewhat in disbelief that we took a break from our busy work schedule and made the journey, greeted us at the airport. She had guessed that we would not be served lunch on the plane so she had made a reservation at Jack Fry's, a well-known local restaurant established by a man named Jack Fry and his wife upon the end of Prohibition in 1933. Jack's love of prize fighting and ponies was immediately evident by all of the historic photographs covering the walls of the interior. Local lore is that Jack was also known to conduct his bookmaking and bootlegging affairs discreetly from "the back room". My grandparents used to take me to places like this when I was young so I immediately felt at home. After enjoying a delicious meal, it was no surprise to learn that Jack Fry's, which has changed ownership through the years, has been recognized by "The New York Times", "Bon Appetite", and "Southern Living" and has been consistently awarded a "Best of Louisville" award by "Louisville Magazine".
Re-embarking on our tour, Mary drove us through the large stone gateways marking the entrance to Audubon Park, a small city surrounded on all sides by Louisville and named after wildlife painter John James Audubon. Audubon Park was developed in the early 20th century and, once Louisville Gas and Electric laid gas mains and installed streetlights, it was estimated that a new house was begun every two weeks. The charming homes, on straight tree-lined streets named mostly after birds, appear to have all been designed by architects as opposed to many of todays builder-designed subdivisions. Styles include Neo-Classical, Dutch Colonial, Neo-Federal with a Craftsman house here and there. The city was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Our next stop was the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville which opened in 2006 and was built by contemporary art collectors Laura Lee Brown- great-granddaughter of George Garvin Brown who co-founded the liquor company Brown-Forman- and Steve Wilson who has worked for four Kentucky governors. The husband and wife team wanted to reimagine and rehabilitate a series of 19th century tobacco and Bourbon warehouses along downtown Louisville’s West Main Street into a boutique hotel and a contemporary art museum. They engaged New York architect Deborah Berke to help execute their vision. The result is an innovative hotel which oozes of Southern hospitality and is "all anchored by world-class contemporary art by today’s emerging and internationally acclaimed artists". The readers of Conde Nast Traveler voted the Louisville hotel among the top hotels in the world in 2009, 2010 and 2011 readers’ choice awards.
Of particular interest to me was "Wheel of Fortune", a site-specific installation by artist Anne Peabody which is a physical record inspired from her memory of the tornado that leveled much of Louisville on April 3rd, 1974. The work consists of broken eggs, flashlights, dolls’ heads, turkey basters, and batteries made of wood as well as found objects that swirl together that form a massive funnel cloud in the hotel atrium. The artist has said of the installation, “I wanted to look at the clash between devastation and beauty, and the unexpected consequences of disaster. I started from my own childhood memories of the 1974 tornado, which left my house untouched but my neighborhood devastated and my yard filled with other people’s possessions. While Wheel of Fortune grew out of events in own my life, I want to speak to the experience of anyone touched by the bizarre dislocations of calamity.”