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Overview December 11, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — kentuckyfresco @ 1:03 am

Our blog explores the significance of The Fresco Painting in Memorial Hall and it’s connection to the University and the state of Kentucky. We researched the artist behind the work of art: Ann Rice O’Hanlon.  We analyzed the background of the painting as well as the artist’s life long journey, the other pieces that she has created through out her lifetime, but most importantly her purpose behind her work, and each scenes historical value. All these pieces together lead to the large Fresco painting that portrays the scenes from early Lexington and central Kentucky.  It shows how cultural development started and affected the area of Lexington at the time, which was found to be very intriguing since we are from out of state. The Fresco was completed in 1934 which means there is a lot of Kentucky history . During our research we found out why it was chosen to be put on campus in such a populated area, what the purpose of doing so was, and how it makes the people that see it everyday feel. The historical value of the piece is also very important as the events depicted effected the Kentucky we know and see today.





Works Cited

Filed under: Uncategorized — kentuckyfresco @ 12:54 am

Works Cited

“Ann O’Hanlon.” Welcome to O’Hanlon Center for the Arts. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. “Campus Guide – Memorial Hall.”University of Kentucky.Web. 13 Nov. 2011.


City Of Harrodsburg Kentucky – First Permanent Settlement West of the Alleghenies – Home Page.Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

Christian, Michelle. Personal interview. 13 Nov. 2011.

Collins, Lewis, and Richard H. Collins.Collins’ Historical Sketches of Kentucky: History of Kentucky. Easley, SC: Southern Historical, 1979. PDF.

Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. 6th ed. New York City: Coulumbia UP, 2011. Print.

“Gratz Park Historic District, Lexington, Kentucky — National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary.”U.S. National Park Service – Experience Your America. Web. 04 Dec. 2011.

Leech, Janie. Personal interview. 29 Nov. 2011.

“Mary Todd Lincoln House — Lexington, Kentucky — National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary.”U.S. National Park Service – Experience Your America. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

Oral History interview with Ann Rice O’Hanlon, 1964 July 8, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

“SCHOOL: The Story of American Public Education.” PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

Teachout, Terry. “The Decline of the Audience.” (2010): 39-41. Print.

Thompson, E., Berger, M., Blomquist, G., & Allen, S. (2002). Valuing the Arts: A Contingent Valuation Approach. Journal of Cultural Economics, 26: 87-113.

Trowbridge, John M. “”We Are All Slaughtered Men”: The Battle of Blue Licks.” Kentucky Ancestors.Vol. 42. 2006. 58-59. Print. Ser. 2.

“What Was Chautauqua.” Iowa Digital Library – The University of Iowa Libraries.Web. 13 Nov. 2011.

Zawoyski, Alissa. “Samuel Brown, 1769-1830.” Dickinson College Chronicles. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.


The Fresco of the Century

Filed under: Uncategorized — kentuckyfresco @ 12:39 am

The Fresco of the Century: Christa Cabot

Kentucky is a state with a lot of unknown people, places, and objects. After taking a closer look, there is much more to learn about Kentucky and its history than what meets the eye. One such object that is under-known in Kentucky can be found on The University of Kentucky’s campus. Inside the entry-way at Memorial Hall, a well hidden treasure exists. This treasure is a fresco mural painted by Ann O’Hanlon’s. This fresco depicts several significant central Kentucky events throughout its history. Despite its size, it easily goes unnoticed. Most people either walk right by without seeing it, or when they do, they do not really know and understand what is being showcased. But a true Kentucky Historian appreciates its historical value and the significance of the fresco.

The fresco in Memorial Hall was painted by Ann O’Hanlon, a University of Kentucky graduate, in the early 1930’s as a commissioned art project. Its forty foot expanse stretches across an entire wall and depicts many scenes from central Kentucky history. These events and places range from westward expansion to the Mary Todd Lincoln house. Ann was twenty six years old when she completed the piece as “a part of a Public Works of Art Project” ( The historical organization of the piece is one in which can be overlooked if only seen for a moment. Chronologically, the significant events depicted in the fresco begin at the bottom with the settlements of Bryan Station and Harrodsburg and move up to the top showing places such as the Blue Grass Fair and the Mary Todd Lincoln House.

Fresco paintings are an uncommon creation in modern days. They first came about in Europe many centuries ago. For example, Holy Trinity, which was painted by the great Masaccio in the fifteenth century and is located in the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella, in Florence. A fresco by definition is “the art of painting upon damp, fresh, lime plaster” (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia). Most artists that paint fresco murals must have a well thought out plan for the painting from the beginning because they must work at a rapid pace due to the quick drying time of the wet plaster.

The first layer of scenes located at the bottom show more of the settlement of Kentucky and the hardships the pioneers faced. The commonwealth of Kentucky was on the edge of America’s country lines for some years. In fact, since it was not far from the eastern seaboard, it was known as the frontier while expansion of land westward was still occurring. Westward expansion is the second scene labeled when reading the legend from left to right. The image shows a family of four traveling west in hopes of fulfilling the current “American dream” of starting a farm and building a home for themselves. In the mid nineteenth century, the idea of manifest destiny caught on and Americans began to believe that it was their divine right to expand their territory as far west as the Pacific Ocean. A few scenes to the right of this image, another icon illustrates Ann’s parents in a symbolic form of the sacrifices made by the pioneers choosing to leave their homes to explore new frontier and develop the nation.

Harrodsburg, the oldest town in Kentucky “was founded in 1774 by a stalwart band of pioneers led by James Harrod, of Pennsylvania. It was the only “colonial” city and the first permanent English settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. Referred to as the “Birthplace of the West,” Harrodsburg has a proud and remarkable heritage” ( The Harrodsburg settlers in the painting are shown by a woman retrieving


water from a river in front of the settlement built with high walls and a gate surrounded by many trees. This town impacts history because it led to the formation of more Kentucky villages and eventually cities. The settlement of townships in Kentucky gave the Americans hope for westward expansion to succeed.

Another settlement shown on the lower level of the painting is the village of Bryan Station. One of the reasons why this settlement was so important was the role that the pioneer women played during the Siege of Bryan’s Station. During this battle, the women “carried water from the spring to extinguish fires in the fort from burning arrows” (Trowbridge 58). This settlement was located farther away from water unlike most others. Eventually a monument was erected to commemorate these brave women forputting their lives in danger to help save their neighbors.The siege was important because it led to one of the bigger battles during the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Blue Licks which was in 1782.

The first printing press in Kentucky was established by John Bradford in Lexington and he was the creator of the newspaper called the Kentucky Gazette (Collins). The invention of the printing press was important because it impacted the ability to create mass communication in a simple and effective manner. Newspapers got the news out quickly and more efficiently than before. The printing press also cut down the price of printing books extensively which increased their supply. As an outside influence, the printing press caused many changes in production of information all across the nation including Kentucky.

Knowledge is something that can also be gained in a classroom. The first one-room schoolhouse in the area stands for something more than its title. It is unknown which schoolhouse was actually the first to be built in close proximity to Lexington, but that does not mean it is not important. One room schoolhouses were built to educate children of all ages in close walking distance since automobiles were nonexistent at the time of their creation. The teachers at these schools were former students themselves not long before. They would arrive early to start a fire during the winter months in order to keep the children warm ( One room schoolhouses led the way for other schools to come in the future. Also in the scene with the schoolhouse, there is a little bit of playfulness and joy. A little boy can be seen pulling on a girl’s hair just a few seats away. Of the main images that are labeled in the painting’s legend, this is the scene that seemed to be the most carefree.

Lexington Library

The Lexington Library shown at the upper left portion of the painting is the oldest public library west of the Appalachians and was founded in 1796. Public libraries can often be considered as an essential part of having an educated and literate population. Libraries can be symbols as to the understanding that there is a necessity to have a commonplace where large amounts of books and information can be found. Although libraries today are not used in the same way that they were before, because of the Internet, they are still wonderful places to have group meetings for projects and also have quiet areas to study.

Slavery is shown in a small portion of the painting. Although segregation is displayed throughout the entire piece, this scene could be viewed as the most intriguing and is located just below the central depiction of the railroad and shows slaves picking tobacco.  As a border state, Kentucky was neither completely for nor against slavery but there was a significant population of them. In


fact, of the four Border States during the Civil War, Kentucky had the largest population of slaves. The slaves in the painting are shown picking tobacco, this was the main cash crop in the early years in which slavery was legal. Tobacco, as well as hemp, were the main crops that required the use of slaves because they were labor-intensive crops. Ownership of large amounts of slaves was uncommon in Kentucky since there were not many large plantations like in the Deep South. An actual black and white picture of slaves in nearly the exact same position can be found on Google Images when searching the Great Depression. The image is within a photographic essay made up of pictures showing what sufferings citizens of America had to face in the early 1930’s.

Another scene located in the middle portion of the painting with all the inventions depicts early experimentation with the steamboat. Although not as successful in transportation as the steam engine which came later, the steamboat made traveling up and down rivers much simpler. The invention of the steamboat increased the level of trade between the Northern and Southern states because two-way travel along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers was now possible. With the creation of the steamboat came the canal craze until railroads came into play. Also located in the center of the piece is an image of a railroad with only whites being allowed to ride on the train. The railroad solidified America as a country of development and innovation. In addition to these advancements in technology, there is also a labeled scene in the middle belt of the fresco that shows Dr. Samuel Brown giving the first smallpox inoculation west of the Alleghenies. He “inoculated more than 500 people by 1802” (Zawoyski).The vaccination was introduced in 1801 and saved many lives.

Ann O’Hanlon seems to value education above everything else. At least that is what can be assumed by looking at all the scenes combined. That is, if she chose which events and scenes to portray. Education can be easily be seen in the depictions of the one-room schoolhouse, the Lexington library, The University of Kentucky the state’s flagship university, men reading under trees for pleasure, the first printing press, Whitehall, The Chautauqua Debate, and the image of the Sayre School orrey. Also called “Barlow Planetarium” the orrey was a mechanical model of the solar system which displayed the educational drive in the space race. Whitehall is also painted at the top of the piece and represents a central lecture hall and place for learning here on UK’s campus.

The Chautauqua Debate was a billiant adult education movement that was in many communities across America. These under-known debates “brought entertainment and culture for the whole community, with speakers, teachers, musicians, entertainers, preachers and specialists of the day” ( Such

Chautauqua Debate

meetings were used to educate the poor whites who did not or were not able to attend schools to learn. Having well educated citizens is an important part of any culture.

The Blue Grass Fair scene shows the richer side of Kentucky and history in depicting a large annual event that prospered into something bigger than probably anyone imagined it would in just one area. This particular scene is located at the top of the painting. Horse sales, shows, and races stand as the single industry that the state is so easily known for. The juxtaposition of the rich side of life with horse racing to the poor side with slaves working in the fields sends such a straightforward message about Kentucky’s past with segregation and separation.

Gratz Park, also painted at the top of the fresco, is one of the more historically significant districts in downtown Lexington. According to the National Registrar of Historic Places Travel Itinerary, it “is one of the most beautiful areas… (which is) comprised of a city park and several large residences.” It was named after an early Lexington businessman named Benjamin Gratz. His home is located on the edge of Gratz Park on the corner of Mill and New streets. Also stated from the registrar, it was said in the words of Kentucky architectural historian Clay Lancaster, “the park has charm, atmosphere, a sense of tranquility and of history, and it provides an oasis of planting tucked into the cityscape.”

At the top right, Mary Todd Lincoln’s house it shown. It is a “simple two story brick building on West Main Street was home to Robert S. Todd and his family, including his daughter Mary, wife of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln” ( The Lincoln house shows the higher class lifestyle. Mary Todd was did not live there her whole childhood, but moved there when she was fourteen years old. This house is important because Mary later went on to be the first lady and represent Kentucky well in the White House with Abraham Lincoln who was also from Kentucky.

There are also scenes on the very edge that are slim in width but extend from bottom to top completely. The one on the left end shows a made looking inward with a hoe in his hands. In the legend, it says he is Wesley Littlefield, a poet friend of Ann O’Hanlon during the early 1930’s. Wesley represents creativity in Lexington at the time of the painting. He could also be interpreted as a pioneer with the hoe that he is holding being a symbol of the hard times they had to face in order to travel west and start new settlements and stay strong all the while. Despite the hardship they found time to unwind and relax trying to enjoy life although it was hard.

To the far right of the painting not in direct view, lies a woman who symbolizes the artist and a mother figure representing productivity and intellectuality of a female. Early on in history, women and men were not created equal. Women were not given the right to vote until 1920 at the age of eighteen. Women’s suffrage raised their standard of intelligence and was viewed in a new light. Ann O’Hanlon was the oldest of five and she helped “to raise her younger siblings while her mother became somewhat of a local celebrity for the “beaten biscuits” she used to make and sell in order to help make ends meet” (

The overall mood of the painting may be melancholy, sad, and plain due to the difficult economic times of the depression. Each scene has a story to be told and creates a different impact on the history or Kentucky. The value of seeing these struggles for survival and advancement is significant for generations to acknowledge a life being beautiful and peaceful without the complication of excessive consumer goods. The creative ideas and imaginative inventions shown in the fresco can inspire American citizens to take heart in difficult economic times.

Although the painting creates a dour feeling within its main scenes, there also exists a mood of playfulness which is represented by the children in the schoolhouse and the young adults playing croquet and dancing to the upbeat tunes of the slaves. The hardships seem to stand out more when a person is looking at the painting because it was painted during the Great Depression which was a time of desperation for many. According to Mrs. Janie Leech, the state of the economy was severe and approximately twenty-five percent of American citizens were jobless. It all began when the stock market crashed in 1928 on a day that is remembered as Black Tuesday. That time period is often looked over since it was such a time of disparity and loss. Those rough years did not end swiftly like they had hoped. It took a war to end this large downturn. And not just any war, World War II.



Ann Rice O’Hanlon’s Fresco

Filed under: Uncategorized — kentuckyfresco @ 12:11 am

Taylor Melton

Richard Parmer

WRD 110-069

24 November 2011

Ann Rice O’Hanlon’s Fresco

A piece of art oftentimes goes unappreciated or even unnoticed and this can be said about Ann O’Hanlon’s fresco featured in Memorial Hall  on University of Kentucky’s campus. Ann O’Hanlon was commissioned in 1934 to create this magnificent piece of art that has maintained its beauty and uniqueness these past 77 years. It has lasted all these years due to the brilliant techniques of the European type fresco. What people do not know is who Ann O’Hanlon is, why her fresco was created, and what is its significance to the University and state of Kentucky.

O'Hanlon's Fresco in Memorial Hall

Ann Rice O’Hanlon was born on June 21, 1908 in Ashland, Kentucky. She graduated as an art major from the University of Kentucky.  Her undergraduate years were the source of her basic training.  In an interview in 1984, she spoke highly of the instructors she had at UK. She attended the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco now known as the Art Institute  for two years of postgraduate work.  She taught in small colleges including a year at Georgetown University.

Art Institute of San Francisco

She met her husband while in California and they moved back to Kentucky in the spring of 1933 where they spent the next year living as “starving artists”.  Thanks to President Roosevelt’s Public Works of Art Project she was “commissioned” to create the large fresco mural we now see on the wall in the lobby of Memorial Hall.

The government wanted some artwork done and I just happened to be the only person, apparently, in Lexington who was available to do a mural in the library for the University of Kentucky and I was assigned or asked to design a fresco in the concert hall on the campus called Memorial Hall.  It was in the foyer of the building and so I did a fresco—Kentucky’s one and only and probably last fresco (Oral History Interview).

She was paid on straight commission, $38.00 a week.  Her husband assisted by doing the initial plaster work even though he was not trained in that line of work.  He had studied fresco so he did the prep work and she painted.  His work was completed during the first half of the day while she worked the last half of the day making it so they did not see each other for eight-month period of time while the fresco was being completed.  Typical of an artist’s perfectionism, she was not particularly satisfied with her work, but over time she came to appreciate it and enjoyed the “mellowing” of the colors with the passage of time.

The actual subject matter of the mural was not exactly what the artist initially considered for the project.  She was thinking of including geography, geology and agriculture in the shape of the state of Kentucky, but with the input and suggestions by Edward Rannells, Kentucky’s local head at the time, she changed her course to the finished artwork now adorning the Memorial Hall lobby.  She originally wanted to include all things Kentucky, but not necessarily have it be an historical overview.  In the end that is what was agreed upon and she incorporated all the things that were indigenous to Kentucky, invented in Kentucky or by Kentuckians.  It became the figurative piece of art with human events that Edward Rannells had wanted.

Edward Rannells

O’Hanlon included events such as the Chautauqua, where oratory, drama, and music were featured through the combination of lectures, concerts, and public events, and the Lexington county fair with it’s red horses from Man O War in her artwork, along with many other historical events in close relation to the area surrounding Lexington. “It’s one of the richest spots in the whole United States, it seems to me when I started digging into it, in historical material and very wonderful things had been invented, had been discovered there (Oral History Interview).” Her research took three of the eight months she devoted to working on the fresco and from that three months she acquired enough information to do up to six frescos, according to her husband.

As far as the construction process, O’Hanlon went about her own way of doing things. A typical fresco is made with lime putty because general dry limes and other limes that can be made with a water-based solution are not the best for this type of painting. O’Hanlon used the wrong putty anyway but not before testing it in the basement of Memorial Hall to see if it would hold up, which she later discovered it did when she returned to her work 30 years after it’s completion.

Not only did O’Hanlon use the wrong putty, but she also used some colors that are not traditional to the fresco. Due to the fact that Kentucky’s entire heat source comes from coal, it was very risky for her do a fresco type painting, especially with a unique color scheme. Luckily enough for O’Hanlon heating techniques have improved over the years making the quality and colors of her fresco flourish apposed to diminishing.

Since O’Hanlon did all of the painting herself, she would complete a very small portion of it a day because the content of her work was so detailed and contained so many different stories and anecdotes.  Planning out how she would fit Lexington’s history on a forty feet by eight feet in height, forty feet long, wall took a great deal of time.

I started at the bottom with the earliest coming in by the pioneers, into the wilderness and gradually, as I moved up the wall, I also moved forward in time. Its sort of the top layer of the design actually was contemporary. The lower layer, within the design was the first historical introduction of the white man at any rate into the Indian country. And the center panel is going vertically, which could have been seen from way out the door. These panels and the center panel give this kind of content, table of contents, as you moved from bottom to top for the whole mural. It was lots of fun to do and in a sense very abstract (Oral History Interview).

The layout of the fresco was somewhat determined by the history and form, referring to the shape and size, of the images to be included. O’Hanlon sketched out drawings as she researched and meant for them to be freely interpreted by her as she was painting it and by those who would view it. Her images were drawn according to the local area’s landscapes and architecture whether they were rural, urban, or directly from the town. She liked to include material surrounding her to make her work more personal to its location.

At one end of the fresco is a man who held a hoe and at the other is a woman who held a history book and a rake. These could be symbols of the working people in the Lexington area since they were both portraits of people. The man was Wes Littlefield, a poet in the Lexington area that O’Hanlon knew. In addition to Wes Littlefield, O’Hanlon included professors on the university’s campus who “happened to impress her with the quality of their faces” in the fresco.

Woman with History Book and Rake

Man with Hoe

O’Hanlon’s fresco also depicts quite a few African Americans. Her relatives had African American servants throughout her childhood; therefore, she had a great deal of respect for them. At this time, it was well before racism had reached Kentucky. Kentucky was more accepting than the bordering southern states. There was segregation, but not in the fashion the more southern areas possessed.

The fresco was the only project in Lexington at the time, which might have been why O’Hanlon was free to include anything she wished to. She never had to submit a design; her only duty was to keep working. It’s apparent that she put a lot of thought into the fresco from the quality of each scene she includes and they set up and locations of each on the wall.

The wall in Memorial Hall O’Hanlon was given to work on was located in a narrow foyer which would be heavily populated by people during events and the time before or after class. O’Hanlon’s idea was that when there was a large group of people in there, their eyes could focus on any part of the fresco and would be able to find a complete story to be told; her intent was to have the piece not have to be in an empty space to able to send a message (Oral History Interview).

During the eight months of the fresco’s creation the people of Lexington gave no attention to the masterpiece in work or the artist behind the work. Even the University of Kentucky’s art department showed no interest in their very own graduate’s piece which was a soon to be historical art landmark on campus. Ann O’Hanlon described the town and it’s people as apathetic. Not one of the art students came over to watch the fresco being created.

The only audience O’Hanlon had while working was the university’s African American janitors. They would come in every night for their shift and watch her paint and occasionally bring her a snack. According to O’Hanlon, their curiosity was about the fresco’s design and the process in which it was being done. She received endless questions about it from them, which in turn kept her spirit up and gave her motivation and confidence to keep working on it.

O’Hanlon was on the final leg of the fresco when a former professor came in to see what she had been working on. In an interview she said, “He was slightly speechless and finally he said, ‘Well I didn’t realize this is what you were doing over here’, and then he said, ‘I’m amazed’, and proceeded to write a whole page article in the city paper on the thing.”

After the completion of O’Hanlon’s work in 1934, public interest increased slightly. However, it never sparked enough of an audience to be recognized like it should have been thus being one of the reasons O’Hanlon and her husband left Lexington as quickly as they could.

A study of Kentuckians stated, “Individuals may value the existence of arts events because they attend events, they wish to maintain the option to attend events, or they simply perceive cultural or other benefits from the existence of the arts, even if they do not attend” (Thompson et. al. 88). This applies to O’Hanlon’s fresco in the sense that it was never publicized in the right manner; therefore nobody was intrigued to see it, cared about what it was or who did it, or even knew it existed.

In fact, use of Kentucky averages may represent a lower bound estimate [of interest/support in the arts] given the lower income and education levels in Kentucky, and perhaps, a smaller public arts good, that is, a lower level of arts performances and exhibits available to state residents (Thompson et. al. 89).

Terry Teachout states, “It is possible, then, that we are witnessing not merely a decline in public interest in the fine arts but the death of the live audience as a cultural phenomenon”. O’Hanlon experienced this lack on interest from 1934 when she began the fresco until 1998 when she passed away. The sad part is that her fresco is still suffering from the absence of interest it receives.

When interviewing my photography teacher, who is a large part of the art department, about the fresco she admitted to never actually taking the time to go see the piece of work, but she had seen it in passing. “Whenever I enter Memorial Hall I always happen to be running late or going for an in-and-out reason, which is why I’ve never gotten to chance to stop and take in it’s beauty; I might have to do that now”, she said. This provides proof that sometimes it only takes knowledge of existence and the suggestion from another person to peak one’s interest for an individual to go visit a historical piece of art.

Ann O’Hanlon was a very talented mural painter of Kentucky and California who just did not get the credit she should have. Her fresco’s created was not an idea that she had always dreamed of creating; it was merely work the city assigned her to. O’Hanlon took the job and made it not only her own, but Lexington’s own. After months of research, sketching, and planning she was able to spend several more months creating a masterpiece that depicts all things Lexington to be a historical center of the University of Kentucky’s campus.

Memorial Hall


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