Bluegrass born: Thomas Hart Shelby and Sally Van Winkle Campbell collaborate on Saving Kentucky [Books]

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This article appears in the November 2010 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.

Photographer Thomas Hart Shelby is a descendant of Kentucky’s first governor, Isaac Shelby. And writer Sally Van Winkle Campbell is the granddaughter of famous Kentucky bourbon distiller “Pappy” Van Winkle. So it’s not exactly shocking that the two did a book together about the commonwealth. Some eight years in the making, Saving Kentucky ($60, Limestone Lane Press, savingkentucky.com) tells 13 stories from across the state — Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in Barren County and Henry County’s Smith-Berry Vineyard and Winery, to name two. “It’s a book about where people came from. These people are doing different things that are important to saving the heritage of Kentucky,” Campbell says. “There are so many stories out there, thousands of stories. You could do a million of these books.”

Much of the 235-page coffee table book (with a portion of the proceeds going to Kentuckians for the Commonwealth) focuses on the family history of its subjects and why they think it’s important to preserve Kentucky’s land and, as Campbell puts it, “way of life.” Norma and Jon Brumley, for example, own Water Works Farm in Shelby County, which, among other things, raises free-range chickens and had Norma cleaning eggs by hand in the farmhouse kitchen, one at a time, until she got a commercial washer. One familiar face, Kathy Cary, owns the Louisville restaurant Lilly’s. “These people, they’re so proud of where they’re from. And it’s authentic. It’s a voice that comes through with each of the stories,” Shelby says. “Sometimes people try to hide from their past — from the fact that they’re from Kentucky — but they should appreciate it and cherish it.”

Shelby, for his part, got involved with the book because he was “homesick” for the state. Though he has since moved back, Shelby was a New York-based advertising photographer when the project got under way and wanted an excuse to make trips to the Bluegrass. “I always wanted to get out of Kentucky, to go to New York and become a famous photographer,” he says. “While working on this book, what I learned was to value my Kentucky heritage and inject it into what I’m doing, no matter where I am.” And now, when he travels for his photography jobs, Shelby plans to bring copies of Saving Kentucky with him, dropping them off in hotel lobbies in France and Jamaica and Barbados. “There’s going to be a little bit of Kentucky all over this world,” he says.

Photo: Courtesy Saving Kentucky

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