They almost tore it down, the 1909 Beaux-arts post office in Paris, KY, long known for tobacco and race horses. Instead they renovated it into the Hopewell History Museum with a big first floor gallery. In it they are currently displaying a recently assembled collection of all Kentucky based artists mostly from just before and after the turn of the twentieth century.
Posted next to each painting is small biography -- academic training, trips to Europe, and the general arc of their careers, and that’s all interesting stuff but the paintings tell their own tale. The fact that some of them are first rate, more resolved and effective from across the room than up close for example, contains its own subtext. These folks made a living at it and it wasn’t because they were good since no one is in the beginning, but because they evidently sold enough work to eventually become good. Still, this isn’t about them.
Somebody bought their art. Since many of the artists lived here, came back to here from other places, and seemed to thrive here with full time studios wouldn’t one suppose there was a native appetite for art. Not just that, but some buyers must have had pretty sophisticated taste since some of the artwork is. Stone fences lined dirt pikes and water was carried when these paintings were hung in parlors and admired by those who had traveled and seen the world. These paintings tell the story of a culture that supported her artists and through them expressed the outlook of their generation.
This is a different time. Does any current generation cycling by see the value of engaging the world of the senses directly and honestly in images made by hand? Well, yeah. Back when these paintings were made building stone walls was winter work for field hands and now it’s a pretty good trade. Back then hand engraving was an art but a common one, and making paintings to be bought and hung in houses provided a living. With new technologies some occupations have become obsolete while others have increased in value and making paintings to buy and take home is making a comeback.