Artworks are part of redone Downs

The massive renovation of Churchill Downs includes $1 million of commissioned art. The artists were hitting the homestretch this week, painting, uncrating and installing their work.

Here's an early look at what you'll see (well, depending on your seats) when the track opens for the spring meet on April 30.Ken von Roenn, an internationally recognized architectural glass designer from Louisville, is creating a 16-foot-long suspended glass sculpture with an abstract equine theme.It is in the new ground-level entry rotunda at Gate 17.

Von Roenn's piece uses a special kind of glass called dichroic glass along with holographic film, stainless steel and aluminum. Dichroic glass is microscopically coated in such a way that it both transmits and reflects light, making each piece unique to its circumstances.

The vibrant colored layers of glass are collected into a fountainlike composition -- almost a chandelier -- centered under the peaked skylight roof of the rotunda. The intention, Von Roenn says, is "to create a sense of entry and to embody the excitement of Churchill Downs."

After weeks of meticulous prep work, Lloyd Kelly, an international painter and printmaker with a lifelong love of horses and racing, is using a mix of oil and enamel on brushes to create an effortless-looking calligraphic mural at the top of the escalator from the Gate 17 atrium to the second floor.

Kelly, who divides his time between Louisville and Middleburg, Va., describes his mural as a "cross-genre," with elements of poetry, Asian calligraphy and folding screens. The work includes bits of famous writing about the Derby, including a snippet of "My Old Kentucky Home."

Four black-and-white horses galloping in a frieze over the main opening to the second floor are painted with a flowing brushwork to resemble line drawings. They present phases of the gallop, including the big, lunging stride of Secretariat, which is shown in the first horse on the left. The horses and all the lettering have had to be subtly distorted for the space to avoid the look of "pin-headed horses on great big hooves," Kelly noted.

Pierre Bellocq, of Princeton, N.J., a world-famous turf caricaturist and cartoonist better known by his moniker "Peb," worked for six months on a 7-foot-tall, 36-foot-long painting of all the jockeys who have won the Kentucky Derby. The mural is on the second floor, in the hallway behind the food court.

In town to touch up the mural, Peb was using acrylic paints stored on his typical artist's palette: a recycled cardboard egg carton. As he worked, he described his thinking for the panoramic composition. He said he made Eddie Arcaro (who is tying his stock in the center of the mural) so prominent because he won the Derby five times, and "that was better than putting Arcaro in five times."

Peb placed the last three Triple Crown winners -- Secretariat with Ron Turcotte (1973), Seattle Slew with Jean Cruguet (1977) and Affirmed with Steve Cauthen (1978) -- around the triangular rim of the Triple Crown cup. He styled the early jockeys, the ones he knew only through photos, as a cluster of solemn-faced 19th-century photographer's victims.

Peb, who will be at this year's Kentucky Derby in his capacity as art director and caricaturist for the Daily Racing Form, will stay on to paint the winning jockey on the currently riderless golden horse at the far right of the mural. He'll also change the sideways "8," or symbol for infinity, on the saddle cloth to the right number.

Craig Colquhoun, an English expatriate who creates presentation and art glass in Naples, Fla., is unpacking a project he dreamed about for 25 years: a 30-foot-long, 10-foot-wide flame-work glass replica of Churchill Downs on what he calls "the magical day," Kentucky Derby Day.

The track full of detailed but diminutive horses and the 5,000 spectators in the stands are individually crafted in clear glass embellished with color touches. Colquhoun had previously done a replica of Wimbledon in clear glass, but "I knew if I was going to cover the magical day, it had to be in color," he said.

Colquhoun has been working on the Downs project steadily for four years. His dream became a reality at the beginning of that time when he linked up with a business partner, stockbroker Bill Elett of Naples, who is an art collector. "I wanted to do it (for years), but I didn't have the money," Colquhoun said.

Colquhoun's work, on loan to Churchill Downs, is near the elevators on the fourth floor. "The perfect scenario … would be for it to remain at Churchill," he said. If that happens, he has a new dream: to create flame-work portraits of a real crowd to fill in the empty seats.

600450 Artworks are part of redone Downs
Date: 18 April 2005

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