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The state seal of Kentucky, used for last six decades, was designed by renaissance woman Nan Gorman


By Ron Daley
Special to KyForward

Kentucky’s “Founding Fathers” could not have imagined that the state seal they mandated in their 1792 legislation would later be designed and drawn by a woman from Hazard.

Nan Gorman, a true renaissance woman and former mayor of Hazard, drew the seal in the 1950s and is still being used today.

Kentucky’s State Seal which remains in use today

The seal has undergone several renditions since the first design by Lexington silversmith David Humphries in 1793 for which he was paid 12 pounds sterling. Nan explains that as a state employee working as an illustrator and writer for the state-sponsored magazine, In Kentucky, she designed the seal as part of her duties.

The seal has had some controversies from the beginning. According to historians, Kentucky’s first Governor Isaac Shelby’s seal image was to include two pioneers in buckskins with their hands clasped as they stood on a cliff. Humphries’ image had the men dressed in swallowtail coats and embraced in a bear hug essentially hiding their heads.

The seal did include Shelby’s choice of the motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” The phrase came from “The Liberty Song,” written in 1768 by John Dickinson. The chorus of the song includes: “They join in hand, brave Americans all, by uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.” This original seal was destroyed in a fire that destroyed the state capitol in 1814.

Nan explains that her supervisor John Wiseman gave her autonomy to work on the seal and she went through state archives to do research for her design which she did in pencil. Her drawing was colorized to feature the two colors blue and gold. Two sprigs of goldenrod, the state’s official flower, in bloom are shown in the lower portion of the seal. Apparently, in response to criticism historic seals, the General Assembly further clarified the look of the seal to minimize variation in the future. They prescribed that the seal should depict “a pioneer meeting a gentleman in a swallowtail coat.” Nan’s design has withstood the test of time.

Kentucky’s State Seal as it appeared in 1793

Popular belief claims that the buckskin-clad man on the left is Daniel Boone, who was largely responsible for the exploration of Kentucky, and the man in the suit on the right is Henry Clay, Kentucky’s most famous statesman. However, the official explanation is that the men represent all frontiersmen and statesmen, rather than any specific persons. Nan explains that the men are simply symbols.

Today Nan draws in pencil and paints with watercolor and oils in her dining room converted into a studio on top Gorman Ridge in Hazard. Her love of art began in the second grade. Nan later received formal training in art and journalism. Her education included Ward Belmont in Nashville, and a Bachelor of Applied Arts from the University of Cincinnati and a summer school session in the Parson School of Design in New York City.

“My father was very talented with varied interests including art, designing medicinal devices in which he obtained patents, horticulture, and travel,” Nan explains. “With many artists in my family, so art easily became a part of my passion and life.”

Nan’s adventuresome spirit allows her to follow her dreams of creative expression. She chuckles when describing how she sold her car as a young lady so she could go to Europe and Egypt where she wrote and illustrated for the Egyptian Travel Magazine. She opened an office in Lexington to promote her Lexington Landmarks art. She studied under the well-known Lexington artist William Welch who gave her studio space. While working with the state she did the art of Governor Lawrence Wetherby’s official Christmas card.

Ron Daley has worked in higher education for 22 years and edited/published a weekly newspaper for 20 years in eastern Kentucky. He works part-time as the strategic partner lead for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, a K-12 consortium of 23 school districts in eastern Kentucky. He is a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame (2017) and lives in Lexington..

Nan has published books with her illustrations. She has made prints from her drawings of local historical places part of her Log Landmark series including Uncle Sol’s cabin at the Hindman Settlement School and the log cathedral church in Buckhorn and Mary Breckinridge’s log house in Hyden. Hazard Community and Technical College has used her winter scenes for their Christmas cards. Nan has helped her daughter Meriwether Hall’s business Ad East, printing and advertising in Hazard. Nan’s artwork can be obtained there.

Nan has played a pivotal role in the political history of Hazard. She was married to Mayor Bill Gorman in 1977 whom she knew from the age of 12. Bill Gorman led the city from 1978 until his death in 2010. Mayor Bill Gorman brought prominence to Hazard with his creation of the WKYH television station which was purchased in 1985 to make way for what is now WYMT Mountain Television.

Nan was the city’s First Lady as she helped the mayor entertain leaders from around the nation. She won as a write in candidate for mayor upon his death and then won a four-year term.

Nan came to Hazard as a baby in 1929. Her parents met while her father was in medical school in Memphis, where she was born in 1928 on Saint Patrick’s Day. He chose Hazard to start his surgical practice because it was a promising boom coal town of 7,000 surrounded by coal camps. Since it was around the time of the stock market crash in 1929 it was a tough financial time for the family.

“I love Hazard, its people, and the amazing history and beauty of the region,” Nan says. “I wish to use my art to remind people here and outside the region to appreciate these assets. Art interprets our civilization and I wish to continue to be part of that effort.”

Nan Gorman’s design captured the intent of the act authorizing the new state’s seal over 150 years later. During the first session of the Kentucky General Assembly the male legislators approved on December 20, 1792 the act reading: “That the Governor be empowered and is hereby required to provide at the public charge a seal for this Commonwealth; and procure the same to be engraved with the following device, viz: Two friends embracing, with the name of the state over their heads and around about the following motto: United we stand, divided we fall.”

Ron Daley has worked in higher education for 22 years and edited/published a weekly newspaper for 20 years in eastern Kentucky. He works part-time as the strategic partner lead for the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, a K-12 consortium of 23 school districts in eastern Kentucky. He is a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame (2017) and lives in Lexington.


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