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Kentucky Women


29.5" x 14"

I was awarded a residency at the Bernheim Research Forest and Arboretum in 2019 for their 2020 40th anniversary year which coincided with the women's right to vote anniversary. My proposal was  to create ten banners for prominent Kentucky women and match them with ten native Kentucky plants that represent their achievements

Dr. Grace James

(1923-1989) began her pediatric practice in Louisville when city hospitals were legally segregated. Despite these obstacles, she was the first black woman on the faculty at the University of Louisville School of Medicine. She dedicated her practice to unwed mothers and the poorest of children. She was outspoken about black infant mortality, and the underserved black community at large. She gave her indigent patients food, clothing and toys. She founded the West Louisville Health Education Program and headed the Council on Urban Education. Grace is represented by Harbinger of Spring, an early bloomer in dense forests, as Grace was an early spokesman for African American health. 

Jean Ritchie (1922-2015) brought the music of Appalachia to the world as an author, songwriter and performer. She elevated the playing of the mountain dulcimer to an artform. She was a Fulbright scholar, and National Heritage Fellowship recipient. A preeminent folk singer, her high alto sang with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie among many. Her songs included the Cuckoo, High Apron, and Jubilee about farm work, all which are represented in this panel. Her protest songs rallied environmentalists to object to the coal mining destroying Kentucky lands. She is represented by the Paw Paw tree, the only indigenous fruit tree in the US, it has beautiful blooms and sweet fruits reminiscent of Jean’s sweet voice.

Sally Shallenberger Brown (1911-2011) dedicated her life to historic preservation and environmental protection. She served on dozens of conservation organizations including the Nature Conservancy from which she got the highest award. Sally fought hard to preserve the Kentucky River Palisades from development. She served as a UN delegate in Romania and Mexico. She was an early supporter of international treaties to reduce emissions of gases and combat global warming. The American Yellowwood which represents her nature, has the Latin name kentukea ‘of Kentucky’. It is a flowering tree with white flowers, great foliage, and spectacular fall color.

Alice Allison Dunnigan

(1906-1983) African American daughter of a tenant farmer and laundress who rose to a full-time position for Lyndon Johnson’s administration. She graduated from the Kentucky State University despite being allowed only ten years of education. As a teacher, she created fact sheets of historical contributions by African Americans for her black students which was later published as a book. In 1936, Dunnigan began writing freelance articles for the American Negro Press. Eventually she wrote for the famous Chicago Defender, securing a Capitol Press Pass and was the first African American to gain a Congressional Press Pass. Alice is represented by the rare Cranefly orchid. The beautiful flowers struggle to emerge in the spring much as Alice struggled to be heard in her life.  

Willa Beatrice Brown
(1906-1992) challenged society with her great skill and determination at a time when black women were treated harshly. She received a master’s degree from Northwestern University and her pilots license in 1937 making her the first black woman to be licensed to fly in the US. In 1939, she received a commercial pilot license, another first. She was the first black officer in the civil air patrol in 1941 and trained more than 2000 black pilots including many Tuskegee airmen. A lifelong advocate for gender and racial equality she ran for US Congress three times and taught in the public schools until late in life. Willa is represented by the Shooting Star, as she herself, went flying into the stratosphere with her achievements.

Florence Brandeis
(1861-1941) was born into a prominent Jewish, Louisville family (and was a first cousin to Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis). She studied medicine and was one of the first women gynecologists and pediatricians in Louisville. She built public health services and advanced women in medical careers. She worked to improve sanitary standards in schools throughout the region. She was active in the Women’s Suffrage Association to help women achieve parity in society. Florence gets the
Tri-lobed Hepatica plant, since its name is derived from the resemblance of the leaves to a liver. It seemed appropriately medical and beautiful.  

Suzy “Suzanne” Post

(1933-2019) was an award-winning civil rights activist in the struggle for discrimination and social injustice, Post was known as Louisville’s conscience. Post had children in the public schools when she was chosen as the only white plaintiff in the case to desegregate Jefferson County schools in 1975. During the Vietnam War, Suzy helped hide soldiers and helped many avoid military service. In 1969, she became the president of the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union, title she held all her life.  She represented those arrested at open housing marches, worked for the Equal Rights Amendment, and actively monitored discrimination against women. Suzy’s plant is Jacob’s Ladder which decorates a garden with its delicate flowers and leaves resembling a ladder always striving to climb closer to justice.

Judi Conway Patton
(1940- today) was the First Lady of Kentucky from 1995 -2003 and was able to push 20 bills through which strengthened protections for children, domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.  She also established an orphanage named Judi’s place. Her Cherokee ancestry spurred her to establish the Kentucky Native American heritage commission, as she felt that the Native American voice should be represented in Kentucky government. Judi gets the showy synandra, a flower which has large white or pinkish blossoms in the spring.

Sadie Price (1849-1903)
A nationally known botanist, Price discovered numerous rare plants and is credited with classifying Kentucky’s flora. She was a brilliant artist and produced more than fifteen hundred drawings in pencil and watercolor. Her collection of plants and specimens numbered over 3000. She taught art and nature classes, lectured on botany, wrote papers, published three books including the Fern book shown here and discovered the two plants shown here Oxalis priceae and Apios priceana. 

Amanda Bernheim

(1854-1922) was the inspiration for the Bernheim Forest. She and Isaac took many forest walks which inspired Isaac to buy a former iron ore mine and hire Frederick Law Olmsted to transform it to today’s beautiful forest. She gave birth to seven children and always continued her long walks in nature. Amanda gets the Kentucky Coffee tree since it used to be the state’s tree. The tree has beautiful flowers and the beans of the tree can be roasted to create a dark “coffee like” brew.

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