Several Louisville arts and cultural organizations have banded together to celebrate a groundbreaking female sculptor by presenting “Enid Yandell: A Life of Art and Activism,” a series of tributes and exhibitions commemorating what would have been the artist’s 150th birthday this fall.
As part of the project, the Speed Art Museum is exhibiting Yandell’s artwork from July 7 through Jan. 12. In addition to pieces from its own collection, the museum hopes to present a plaster bust of John B. Castleman — a former Confederate officer who later became a U.S. Army brigadier general — that Yandell created in 1905.
People involved in the bust project are worried that the controversy surrounding the city’s plan to move a Castleman statue from the Cherokee Triangle may hamper their chances of having the bust restored in time for the Speed exhibition.
Curatorial researcher Johna Ebling, who is working as a consultant for the Speed, said the project is $1,250 short of the amount needed to cover the restoration.
The Louisville Historical League and the Filson Historical Society, which will borrow the bust from the library after the Speed exhibition, have donated money, but Ebling said the project needs public donations.
“The piece belongs to the library. All the Speed was going to do is facilitate the restoration by sending it to a conservator,” explained Ebling. “Technically, the entity that would have to pay for that would be the library, but they are not. The reality of the situation is that if we’re opening in July, the time is ticking to get that work done.”
Mayor Greg Fischer decided in December 2017 to remove the Castleman statue from the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood after it was defaced multiple times in protest of Castleman’s association with the Confederate Army.
But some residents advocated for keeping the statue where it is because of the important role Castleman played in the development of the city’s park system, including helping to create the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
After a two-hour meeting on the matter, the Cherokee Triangle Architectural Review Committee had a tie vote on the application in January. Fischer vowed to appeal the decision to the Historic Landmarks & Preservation District Commission. The commission will vote on the removal application during a special meeting on Thursday, May 9, at 9 a.m. in the Old Jail Auditorium.
Ebling is worried that the renewed furor may stop the public from donating to the restoration project. Not only because of the bust but the fact that Castleman was central to Yandell’s career.
“History is very complicated. That’s especially important for us to remember when working on this project,” Ebling said. “The Yandells and the Castlemans were family friends. Castleman, along with (attorney and historian Reuben Thomas) Durrett, were supporters of Enid’s career and throughout really tried to help her advance that career.”
Although it was a slave state, Kentucky never joined the Confederacy. However, the bluegrass state did provide soldiers for both sides of the conflict. Yandell’s father, Lunsford Pitts Yandell Jr., joined the Confederate Army in 1861 and served as a brigade surgeon.
After the Civil War, Louisville was a magnet for ex-Confederates because it served as the headquarters of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, which controlled all the intact Southern rail lines to the Deep South and was a major hub for riverboat traffic to New Orleans.
The former Confederates, natives and newcomers, became a powerful political, social and cultural force in the city. This had a powerful impact on Yandell’s life and work.
Yandell, who was born in 1870, is best remembered as the creator of the Daniel Boone statue near Eastern Parkway and the Hogan’s Fountain “Pan” in Cherokee Park. But Ebling said she also designed a flattering Confederate memorial that was not ever constructed.
“So much of what she did was really progressive. Then you read about her work for the Confederate monument,” Ebling said. “I wish we had more that was written in her voice. So much of what we have is correspondences back to her. We will never know if that was something she did to get a job or it that was how she felt. But it will serve no one to pretend she was all one thing. There were multiple elements of her work, her life and her personality.”
Yandell completed the Castleman bust when she was in Louisville for the unveiling of Hogan’s Fountain. The artist stayed in the Castleman home and completed the bust in three days. Ebling said the work was never cast in bronze, so the plaster mold is the only version in existence.
Paul Burns, an LFPL spokesman, said he believes the library inherited the sculpture from one of its predecessors, perhaps the Polytechnic Society.
“I believe it has been here since LFPL was founded in 1902; the earliest evidence I could find shows it was definitely here in 1912,” he said. “It was mentioned in the historic minutes of the library governing board from that time. Most recently it was on display at Highlands/Shelby Park until about two years ago.”
Ebling said the bust was damaged by the public touching it.
“I believe when it was at the library, somebody had scratched his nose off,” she said. “With the events with the Cherokee Triangle and Castleman, they decided to put it in storage because they didn’t want it to get destroyed. With something like that, you can push it and it is pretty much in pieces.”
The bust was originally supposed to go the conservator by April 22, but it had to be delayed because of the lack of funding. Ebling said any funds given to the restoration project will go directly to the conservator. Anyone interested in donating funds to have the bust restored can contact Johna Ebling at [email protected]