Kentucky in Wood

"Kentucky woods represent the solid mother earth integrity of the Commonwealth, and the patterns of their grains are symbolic of the currents and cross currents of two and a half centuries of the state's history. At the same time, the beauty and majesty of their patterns reflect the dreams and the aspirations of a people working to develop a common purpose of a civilized society."

Dr. Thomas D. Clark
1981

Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives
Original Wood Sculpture
Unveiled October 8, 1982

History

In March of 1981, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA), in cooperation with the Kentucky Arts Commission, announced a competition to commission a work of art to be made of native Kentucky woods for the lobby of the department’s new facility. The commission was for $15,000 and the competition was open to all Kentucky artists.

In April a jury selected five finalists from 34 entrants. These five were asked to submit models and proposals to the department that would reflect the beauty and heritage of Kentucky’s native woods and the spirit and strength of its people.

In June the finalists made their presentations to five judges and in July the commission was awarded to Bobby Reed Falwell, a sculptor and craftsman from Murray, Kentucky.

The winning entry is a 24-foot long, 12-foot high abstract representation of the state. Composed of six sections, each part can stand alone as a sculpture or be edged together to form a solid mass. On the east side is a dramatic symbolic representation of the sun rising while the western side has vivid colors and shapes representing the setting sun. The artist views the design as a versatile and functional environmental piece as well as sculpture, since it can be used to direct traffic, to serve as a screen or to weave in and out of like a maze.

In addition to the sculpture, there are seven stylized life-sized figures representing the people of Kentucky. They can be placed with the sculpture, giving it scale, or they can function independently, even on another floor.

The sculpture and the figures incorporate 28 native Kentucky woods. The woods were donated by Dr. Thomas D. Clark, noted Kentucky author, historian and teacher, and members of his family. They were cut mostly from his property in Estill County. It was Dr. Clark’s intensity, his belief that Kentucky woodlands represent the character and integrity of the people themselves, and his conviction that woods are functional and useful that inspired Mr. Falwell’s design.

Selection and Preparation of the Wood

Bobby Falwell and Thomas Clark began the process of selecting trees for the project in August, 1981. They roamed the mountainsides and valleys of Dr. Clark’s land searching for the greatest variety of trees offering the most color. In September the majority of the trees were cut and sawed and taken by truck to Quicksand for the drying process. Because of the immense variety of thickness, density and fibers, the wood was air-dried for several months before being loaded into the kiln for the final drying process.

In January, 1982, the wood was transported to Mr. Falwell’s workshop in Murray.

The Creation Process

Much like a dressmaker uses a pattern, Falwell made a full-size drawing of the model to use as a pattern. Woods were selected to fit the pattern based on color and quantity. Some slight rearrangements were made, but the overall image and color distribution of the full-size sculpture is very much like the original model.

The selected materials were cut to be flat and smooth, then glued together in big blocks in varieties of thickness. These blocks, approximately 24 in each of the six sections, were then sculpted, tapered, carved and shaped so that the pieces nestled against one another. By bolting the blocks together the whole section could then be sculpted and sanded as one piece.

The Finishing Process

Each of the six sections was assembled and disassembled many times for hand sanding and a hand rubbed application of several coats of a penetrating oil. The sculpture was then placed in an environmentally-controlled atmosphere where Falwell could monitor the moisture level and its adaptation to the environment.

Facts

  • Each section is on heavy-duty casters for easy manipulation. It is estimated that each piece weighs between 800-1,200 lbs.
  • The sections are designed to allow for "breathing" since moisture affects the movement of different woods at different rates.
  • It is estimated that 10,000 board feet were cut to obtain the material used in the sculpture.
  • The process of gluing the ¾ to ½ inch material together to get a solid block of wood is called "stacked laminating." The same species of wood was used for each block. In other words, if it’s walnut on the face, it’s walnut all the way through to the other side.
  • The shape of the state is not meant to be exact, nor are the colors meant to represent the lay of the land. To be aesthetically pleasing and abstractly proportional were Falwell’s intentions.
  • The Boonesborough board was given to Dr. Clark many years ago and is a board from one of the original buildings at Ft. Boonesborough. He had saved it through the years not knowing quite what to do with it until donating it for this project. As Falwell put the piece through the surfacing machine to clean it up, he found that it was full of buckshot. It is located on the sculpture in the vicinity of Ft. Boonesborough.
  • The chestnut used in the small girl figure is from the last standing chestnut tree on Dr. Clark’s property.
  • Most of the white oak used in the bases came from one large tree which Dr. Clark had been admiring for years and which he referred to as a "graceful old friend."

Woods in Sculpture

Coffee Tree Walnut Boonsborough Board over Poplar
White Oak Cherry Sassafras
Chestnut Pine Persimmon
Red Oak Mulberry Butternut
Poplar Sycamore Pecan
Maple Beech Locust
Ash Hickory Birch
Elm Gum Wahoo or Wild Flowering Magnolia
Osage Orange Red Cedar Kentucky Coffee Tree
    Spalted Buckeye

Acknowledgments

In addition to Dr. Thomas D. Clark, thanks are due members of his family for their contribution to the sculpture: Elizabeth Turner Clark; Elizabeth Clark Stone; Thomas Bennett Clark; Richard Stone, Jr.; Marye Stone; Alice Hemphill Clark; Thomas Clark, Jr.; and Edwin Hemphill Clark.

Judges of the competition:

  • James A. Nelson
  • C. Vernon Cooper, Jr.
  • Thomas D. Clark
  • Nash Cox
  • Larry Gream

In recognition of others who helped make the project possible:

  • Nash Cox and Albert Sperath, Kentucky Arts Commission – Organizing the competition;
  • Julius Friedman, Photographer – Brochure cover;
  • John Gray, Attorney General’s Office – Counsel
  • Larry Gream of Peck, Flannery, Gream and Warren, Inc. – Technical advice
  • Phillip Wells, Arie Atkins, Garry Wellman and Herbert Hobbs – Sawyers (cutting and milling the logs);
  • Robert Howard and Carroll Fackler of the University of Kentucky, Department of Forestry – Kiln drying lumber;
  • Dale Spencer – Transporting of wood
  • Charles Craig and the Alfred E. Craig Sawmill Company – Special materials
  • Norm Sartorius – Assisting Mr. Falwell;
  • Don Henry, Jr. – Chief Apprentice, who worked on the project from beginning to end.

A special thanks ...

... to the family of Bobby Reed Falwell for their loyal support throughout, and to Margaret H. Gaudry, Executive Assistant, for coordinating the entire project for the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.

 

About the Artist

Sculptor, designer and craftsman of wood furniture Bobby Falwell created Kentucky in Wood, on display at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives.

Falwell studied art at Murray State University, and then went on to study woodworking at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. He embarked on a teaching career, teaching at Murray State University for two years then moving on to teach at Northern Illinois University. After eight years at Northern Illinois University he decided to return home to Murray, Kentucky to set up his own shop.

Falwell has crafted furniture, primarily in an art nouveau style, for clients all over the country. When he returned to Kentucky he created and organized an art marketing group, American Art, Inc. along with two other artists, to display and sell members works of art.

Falwell continues to live and work in Murray. He is married to Carol; they have one son, Matthew, and a son named John from Falwell’s previous marriage.