Museums in Lexington Kentucky — Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith Museums in Lexington KY
Ryan Smith Museums in Lexington KY

In the United States the Arts and History have become an extras for education. Some history may be taught in the context of other disciplines, yet, humanity’s fascinating and also too often brutal walk through time is relegated to short study. The emphasis on S.T.E.M. education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), is considered as “Common Core” instruction so that students may be prepared for employment in those fields. This approach ignores the truth that infusing Arts with those disciplines actually enhances learning and retention of that learning.

As to history, both archaeological and anthropological, valuable pieces of human and creation history are lost forever every year. The process of exploring what was once while examining what is now, helps humanity to understand what one day might be. Natural “disasters” may destroy villages, towns, and even cities. Human agency as acts of violence or vengeance; human behavior rooted in fear; human action in the name of “progress”; these are also destructive of history.

The world is fortunate that there are still so many people who recognize the value of “Fine Arts” (art, design, dance, theater, film, etc.), and “Liberal Arts” (educational disciplines concerned with broader general understanding, through writing, reading, logic/reason, philosophy, language, music, etc.). The good people of the city of Lexington, Kentucky have recognized the value of preserving the Arts and History through education and edification. From its inception and official first recognition as a town, the citizens of Lexington have been actively involved in preserving their own history, the history of humanity, and the beauty of the arts. Josiah Espy, poet, visited Lexington in 1806 and declared it to be “Sweet Athens of the West”.

In addition to being known as “The Horse Capital of the World, a wealth of museums, galleries, and libraries focused on specific disciplines are to be found in Lexington, both the city and the surrounding areas. To whet your appetite for learning and exploring, here are some of the places you will want to put on your “must experience list”.

Located on the UK campus, this museum houses both permanent exhibits and special exhibitions. The museum is proud of the nearly 5,000 art pieces that are available as part of their holdings. Representative of all cultures, there is representation from both the Americas and many European nations.

Located in Lafferty Hall on the campus of UK, this museum seeks to link the past, the present, and the future. While there is much focus on Kentucky artifacts, there is also a broader scope in the exhibits. The mission of the museum is to provide archaeological and anthropological artifacts and events that will appeal to a diverse community, from the curious visitors to the researching students and professionals. Their collections include many significant artifacts, valuable and irreplaceable, and contain a great number of objects that are tied to prehistoric Kentucky itself.

George Headley III was a jewelry and ornate small art objects designer and creator. Born in 1908, he showed an artistic interest and as a young man studied art in New York and also in Paris. In the early 1940’s he opened his own studio/jewelry boutique in California at the Hotel Bel-Air, where he became a jewelry designer to the Hollywood elite. About 10 years later he returned to his family’s La Belle farm in Lexington where he continued his work. In 1960 he married Barbara Whitney, daughter of Gloria Vanderbilt Whitney, noted sculptor and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. The museum today was opened in 1968 on the grounds of the La Belle Farm, and expanded as its reputation grew.

Benefactors of the museum, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and his wife, Marylou Whitney, helped to shape the museum and the grounds. There is a permanent exhibit of four dollhouses, representing four buildings on the farm that was the brainchild of Marylou Whitney. There is a wonderful permanent collection of decorative and fine arts objects at the museum. The museum also hosts regional and international exhibits. The Marylou Whitney garden is a beautiful space to relax and enjoy the legacy of both the Headley and Whitney families.

The Aviation Museum of Kentucky is located at the Bluegrass Airport in Lexington. There you will find an incredible array of vintage planes as well as watch workers as they restore aircraft. Visitors are able to get up close to “barnstormers”, to “warbirds” and even early airliners. Enthusiastic staff members are ready to share information about the planes, and aviation history as well as future. Thousands of people, from all walks in life, visit this museum each year. The museum also houses the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame, where over 45 Kentuckians have been enshrined to honor their contributions to aviation. Military veterans, plane designers, astronauts, instructors, and those Kentuckians who have changed the field of aviation are honored there. Lectures are held several times a year on topics ranging from aviation history and knowledge to those who come to share their aviation stories.

Perhaps the jewel in the museum crown for “The Horse Capital of the World” is the “International Museum of the Horse”. More than 60,000 square feet of museum space houses the largest and most comprehensive place, worldwide, specifically designed to encompass the history of horses and how they have affected human civilization. The museum holds a massive curated collection of artifacts, memorabilia, and images. Additionally, it houses an ever-growing library and archives that are available to and used by professionals and scholars around the world. There are permanent installations that focus upon not only history of the animal, but also the myriad ways that humans and horses interact and the many sports that involve horses. The artwork displayed by equine artists, both worldwide and local, is astonishing in scope. There are also special exhibits done to highlight specific events and activities in history; these are done so that the ongoing impact of horse and human interaction is both enjoyable and informative.

The museum is located on the grounds of the Kentucky Horse Park. Both the horse park and the museum opened in 1978. For those who enjoy learning, there are several other, smaller museums on the grounds as well, including the very popular “American Saddlebred Museum”. If you are a horse aficionado, fan, or dedicated to learning, the Kentucky Horse Park is for you. Start your exploration at the “International Museum of the Horse”; then lengthen your Lexington stay to explore all that there is to see and learn in the many museum facilities dedicated to the most noble and beautiful animal in the world.

These are simply a sampling of museums available for visitors and citizens in Lexington. Beware. Once you begin your museum tours, you will want to stay in or return to Lexington again. Within short drives of the city itself are so many more museums and facilities dedicated to preserving, as well as sharing, information and artifacts that keep us connected to the past. Come and see how the good people in Lexington, Kentucky are doing their part to keep the past alive for the future to understand. — Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith, Lexington KY raised scientist and speaker with a heavy background in biochemistry and medical training.

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