Alison Davis Lyne Portraits of
2005 Kentucky Women Remembered Honorees
for the Kentucky Commission on Women
In the fall of 2004 I was commissioned to paint the portraits of the 2005 honorees selected to be a part of the Kentucky Women Remembered Exhibit which is on permanent display in the Kentucky State Capitol's rotunda side hall.
The honorees were selected by the Kentucky Commission on Women from nominations from various sources. The nomination packages included lists of past accomplishments on the part of the honorees, their contributions to the state of Kentucky and their own communities. When faced with so many fine accomplishments, for each recipient, I found it hard to choose just a few ideas to represent the "visual character" of these honorees. I made some color sketches for the committee to review. Upon approval of the sketches I began work on the portraits.
My first portrait was of Dr. Lilialyce Akers, Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Louisville. Dr Akers has been described as a petite woman with a soft spoken voice which hides an iron-willed woman who speaks passionately about the rights of women. She taught at University of Kentucky and Morehead State University before joining the University of Louisville in the 1970's. She went on to be named Director of Women's Studies in 1978. She worked for passage of the ERA in Kentucky, helped to organize the first trade show of women owned businesses in Kentucky in the 1980's, and attended the United Nation's World Conference on Sustainable Development(Earth Summit) in 1993. As a result of her attendance at the Earth Summit, she urged then Governor Brereton Jones to call a national conference on sustainable development. Dr. Akers went on to be Program Chair for this very successful conference. Dr. Akers is a representative to the United Nations where she focuses on the work of the UN Commission on Women. Since Dr. Akers has spent so much of her life's work on the global stage I wanted to emphasize that aspect, showing her standing beside a full color picture of the Earth. I also drew in a flag of the UN, and a sketch of a poster from the 1993 Earth Summit. I indicated her involvement on women's issues showing a young African mother and child. I showed the Kentucky connection with the logo for the fight to get ERA ratified here in Kentucky, and noted her long time involvement in the Business and Professional Women organization. I was lucky enough to get to meet Dr. Akers at the portraits unveiling, and recognized in her at once an "iron will in a soft spoken petite woman". She was most gracious and I am honored to have gotten to paint her portrait and try to convey something of her life's accomplishments.
My second portrait subject was Mary Elliott Flanery (1867-1933), first woman elected to the Kentucky state legislature in 1921.She was concerned with Kentucky marriage and divorce laws and sponsored the Shepard-Towner Maternity Act and also sponsored the bill establishing Morehead State Teachers College. Before being elected to the legislature she worked as a journalist at the Ashland Daily Independent from 1903 through 1926, and continued to post columns "Impressions of Kentucky's Legislature" while serving in the legislature. She raised four daughters and a son, while also being active in work for women's rights and public service. This Boyd County representative said when elected: "I can hold my own with the boys in Frankfort". She ran on slogans of "...the things that the good people back home needed , hard roads and plenty of them, good schools and more of them and a real Eastern Normal School"! You can see more about her, along with many other notable Kentucky women in a recent book by Eugenia Potter, Kentucky Women. The black and white photo that I used to work from for Mrs. Flanery's portrait was a wonderful resource and I used it with the kind permission of University of Kentucky, Special Collections and Digital Program, University of Kentucky Libraries. The crisp photography of the 1920s is a great basis for a full color portrait and to show a "glow" on Mrs. Flanery's cheek . To show the "hard reality" of Mrs. Flanery's service in the state legislature I painted in the brass plaque on the back of Mrs. Flanery's wooden legislature seat,(Thanks Ashley !)that records her service: "This seat occupied by Mary Flanery first woman member of the General Assembly Boyd county 1922-1924".
The third honoree was Jean Thomas also known as "The Traipsin' Woman". Jean Thomas was instrumental in preserving and promoting eastern Kentucky traditional mountain music. In 1932 she created the first annual American Folksong Festival in Ashland Kentucky. She was the author of eight books about eastern Kentucky music in general (transcribing and collecting old mountain songs)and specifically about William Day aka Jilson Setters, a blind fiddler from Rowan county, whom she "discovered" and shared with the country. Mrs. Thomas died at age 101, after a lifetime of learning, and sharing her impressions of life in eastern Kentucky mountains and showcasing the magic of "mountain music". I decided to use one very dramatic photo of Jean Thomas in her preferred "costume" of a black silk dress with white cuffs and collar. She also always had at hand her black bag with the legend: "The Traipsin' Woman" which was supposedly embroidered by a member of the famous McCoy clan (i.e. of the Hatfield and McCoy feud) Since she was sitting it just seemed a natural to pose her with a background of Kentucky, along with a vignette of the American Folk Song Festival that she started, along with some of her books that she wrote. The dulcimer is a typical mountain musical instrument. I hope that this Kentucky Women Remembered recognition will help bring a spotlight back to the mountain music traditions that Jean Thomas helped to preserve.
On March 4th 2005 we were lucky enough to get to attend the unveiling of all three portraits at the Capitol Rotunda. The welcome was given by Pat Freibert, KCW Chairwoman, with an overview of the Kentucky Women Exhibit given by Cynthia Blevins Doll, Kentucky Women Remembered Committee Chair. After each honoree was announced and described by Ms. Doll, their portrait was unveiled by Governor Ernie Fletcher. After the unveiling ceremony Governor Fletcher signed a proclamation declaring March, Women's History Month in Kentucky. Afterwards there was a great reception in one of the main halls of the Capitol. After all the formal ceremonies were done Frank and I went back to the Rotunda and he snapped this great picture of the three portraits with the statue of Abraham Lincoln looking on. It was a great memory of the day.
As in past years, I have very much enjoyed learning about and painting the portraits of these very impressive and inspiring Kentucky women.
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