All winter while cocooned between waiting out a pandemic on the planet, and struggling against an affordable housing crisis in the city, I read memoirs from other people in other times about their travels, and basked in the fantasy of another future ahead of me when I could once again return to unfamiliar lands and breathe new air. Rory from Scotland walked across Afghanistan in 2002 from Herat to Kabul, following the footsteps of Babur, the first emperor of Mughal India in The Places in Between. Kate from Canada pushed the envelope toward a new frontier of colonial imperialism when she disguised herself as a Chinese national to bike across the Tibetan plateau, a territory closed to westerners, in Lands of Lost Borders. Jamie, also Canadian, digs deep within herself to accept the call to adventure as she accepts a teaching job at a remote outpost in Bhutan, and she falls in love with the land and the people, in Beyond the Sky and the Earth. My mind wrapped around these journeys, and my own path remained in the streets, on the sidewalks, and among the people of Cincinnati.
During my two years in Cincinnati, I had heard about Lexington. A thru-hiker on the Appalachian trail named Moose who I met at the Woods Hole Hostel in Virginia had been living in Lexington, and she loved it for the close access to the Red River Gorge. Another person I met from my neighborhood had also once lived in Lexington, and he planned to return once he was financially able to move. On a map, Lexington appears like a blotch of spilled coffee: visible enough, but easily overlooked and ignored. When winter had finally released the Ohio River Valley from its grasp, I decided to drive the I-75 south and explore some of Lexington for myself.
A Dynamic Creative Scene
Lexington offers a rather surprising amount of street art and sculptures, considering it’s a rather small city in the middle of a rather unpopulated state. Perhaps the locally-housed University of Kentucky ushers in a creative streak. Whatever the cause, Lexington is well-decorated with murals, bronze statues, trinkets, colored lights, and props. While walking around downtown, I made a point to visit two murals, both created by the German art duo called “Herakut.” Herakut is Jasmin “Hera” Siddiqui, and Falk “Akut” Lehman. In 2012, Herakut was commissioned to create large-scale public art on two barren building walls. Both pieces feature a child named Lily, who is the main character in a children’s book the duo wrote.
“Lily and the Silly Monkeys” is on the south-facing wall of a building at 156 Market Street. The Christ Church Cathedral spire juts out from behind the mural, adding depth and dimension to the artwork. It is visible from Cheapside Park. “Where Dreams Come From” is on the former Spaldings Bakery building on the corner of North Limestone and E 6th Street. This mural features Lily with waking heads cupped in her hand, and she peers out into the world. A quotation from the book is stenciled around her frail body: “It was a beautiful moment when the little giant woke up to see where dreams come from.”
Another intriguing Lexington art installment is located at Gratz Park, north of downtown. It is a 1933 bronze sculpture featuring a nearly nude boy offering a sailboat to a nearly nude girl called “A fountain dedicated to youth.” The fountain was installed in the honor of the Kentucky novelist James Lane Allen, who was famous for using local dialects in his character dialogue. When he passed on in 1925, he willed part of his estate to the City of Lexington. Nearly 100 years later, and the fountain is still in good condition, but some people question why the children are nude. I guess the American south will never be as open minded as ancient Greece or Rome, and the fountain would lack a certain aura is the children were wearing swim suits, or rain gear.
Check out The Street Art Guide for a comprehensive list of murals and public art around Lexington, published in July 2020. This guide includes location, a brief description, and the artists’ information. Final verdict? Sure, check out the art scene for a few hours… while on the way to somewhere else. Most likely, a traveler will not need more than a little bit of Lexington.