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Carpenter Foundation awards grant to Kentucky Museum to complete ‘buon fresco’ mural

The Kentucky Museum was awarded a $30,000 grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation to support the creation and installation of a “buon fresco” mural.

This is in collaboration with artists Mike Nichols, a professor in the Western Kentucky University Department of Art & Design, and Alice Gatewood-Waddell, a local artist and WKU alumna who received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art Education in 1974.

WKU Professor Mike Nichols with a previous fresco project. (Photo by Mike Nichols)

Fresco painting is prized for its permanence and has been used throughout history to enhance architecture. In fact, it is part of the architecture as both paint and stone wall are fused together as one. Some notable eras of fresco painting include Ancient Rome, Renaissance Italy and the Mexican Mural movement, which inspired fresco paintings throughout North America, including the United States during the Works Progress Administration era.

Nichols uses these same time-honored methods to make frescos. At the Kentucky Museum, the fresco will be built using five layers of lime plaster with one week of curing between each of the first three layers. With the buon fresco (true fresh) method, the fourth and fifth layers of plaster will be applied on the same day in sections referred to as “giorante,” which are small enough to be painted before the plaster dries. Painting on wet plaster ensures the pigment will be permanently part of the wall.

The subject of the mural will be designed by Gatewood-Waddell to reflect the diversity of south-central Kentucky, celebrate the community’s unique heritage and inspire visitors to consider Kentuckians of all backgrounds as equal partners in building an inclusive, equitable and collaborative future. Gatewood-Waddell will also work with Nichols on the production of the fresco.

“The mural process offers unique opportunities for our faculty, students and community to discuss topics related to the history and future of our community while witnessing a centuries-old artistic tradition,” said Brent Bjorkman, Director of the Kentucky Museum. “Given that the fresco process is a rare, educational and interesting art form, the work will be primarily conducted during hours of operation throughout summer 2021 to ensure that the community can observe and interact with these celebrated artists.

“The work will also be documented through videos, oral history interviews and time-lapsed photography, allowing the Museum to create a digital archive of the process that classes and researchers can use long into the future.”

Work on the mural is scheduled to begin in early summer 2021 alongside work to repaint the lobby and install new ADA-compliant furnishings. “The result will be a lobby that truly reflects our vision as a welcoming gathering place to discuss the past, present and future, while fulfilling our mission as a hallmark of applied learning at WKU,” said Bjorkman.

This is the third grant the Kentucky Museum has received from the Carpenter Foundation. In 2018, the Kentucky Museum was awarded a grant to offer free admission to the public for three years. In 2019, the Kentucky Museum received a grant to restore the Felts Log House. That restoration work will begin in spring 2021. The Carpenter Foundation was established in 1975 by E. Rhodes Carpenter. The Richmond, Va., based company, now known as Carpenter Co., has a location in Russellville, Ky.

From Western Kentucky University

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