Fine arts professors’ work featured in Metro Louisville’s public art exhibit

A hair bun, a banana, and a lion are seemingly disparate objects. But in Prof. Mary Carothers’ (Fine Arts) latest public art installation, they come together to form a kind of historical landscape tracing the history of Louisville, and the Ohio River.
Fine arts professors’ work featured in Metro Louisville’s public art exhibit

Carothers’ piece, “Beneath the Surface,” featured as part of Connect/Disconnect, the inaugural project from Louisville’s Commission on Public Art, is made up of more than 2,300 porcelain casts of doorknobs affixed to rods of various heights, arranged into a flowing topography, each representing an individual’s story in the community.

“The installation's form is inspired by the movement of a river,” she said. “Examining them individually, the knobs each stand like a map pin, marking the land's forgotten stories of life along this part of the Ohio River.”

“Beneath the Surface” was one of five works chosen to be a part of the exhibit. Mayor Greg Fischer will unveil Connect/Disconnect in a press conference Friday at 11 a.m., and the public is invited to a celebration that day at 6 p.m., on the Louisville Loop, between 8th and 12th streets.

Artists were invited to help transform the stretch along the Ohio River, which has been slated for improvement, with temporary art installations that will remain on display for three months. The art is meant to inspire the public to conceive of the space in new and innovative ways.

Carothers, whose work focuses on photography, collaborative projects, and urban and public art, said she chose porcelain as a way to acknowledge the white clay of the Ohio River. The topography of doorknobs is meant to recognize various people and industries connected to her chosen site.

Twenty-five doorknob designs can be found in the installation. Snaome have been collected and some have been designed by Carothers as a way to “surface official and unofficial history,” she said.

Among those she created include a small hand holding a banana.

“Local historian Tom Owen informed me that this area was once known as Little Panama. Bananas were shipped from Panama, up the Mississippi, on to the Ohio River and then distributed from this area to various states in the Midwest,” she said.

door knobs

Carothers designed the hair bun doorknob in honor of Elmer Lucille Allen, the first African American to work as a chemist for Brown-Forman. Allen is now in her 80's and a current student in UofL's Fine Arts Department.

Another doorknob features a lion from Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is from the door of St. Marks Church and was writer C.S. Lewis' inspiration for the character Aslan in the "Chronicles of Narnia".

“Including this knob provided me the opportunity to recall Bloody Monday – an act of mob violence toward Irish Catholic immigrants that occurred here in 1855,” Carothers said.

Carothers worked with three assistants to complete the project: Marie Elena Ottman, an M.F.A. candidate; Luke Seward, recent B.F.A. graduate and Oty Stewart, a ceramics specialist.

Food trucks and vendors will be on-site starting at 6 p.m. Friday to celebrate the opening.