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    A light-washed blue jean jacket hangs from a standing coatrack in the open office of brand storytelling agency Kertis Creative in Smoketown. But it’s not just any well-worn blue jean jacket. Sprawling across the back is a hand-painted horseracing scene from the Kentucky Derby. Puffy paint outlines the four horses and their jockeys, embellished with pink and gold glitter. Brushstrokes are light but evident. In the bottom right corner, the artist’s name, Joan Studwell, shimmers in white paint with the date, 1998. “When I was a kid, there was always paint and glitter and art supplies in the house,” Blake Studwell says of his mother, who died in 2017.

    She started her career in hand-painted clothing in the ’90s and initially made and sold custom shirts from her home in Taylorsville, Kentucky. In Taylorsville she eventually opened her own gift shop, Colors of Kentucky, and, later, Colors of the Rainbow, where she sold her designs. “She was very involved with all of her customers. In the gift shops, there were repeat customers and it was important to her to maintain those relationships,” says Blake, who works in Atlanta as a cinematographer. Studwell’s work included a variety of painted items, from sweatshirts to brooches to, of course, jean jackets. “She loved to paint animals and create holiday-themed clothing,” Blake says. His mom’s Derby clothing was sold in gift shops all over Kentucky, and she even had original artwork featured in Cracker Barrels nationwide.

    Today, her clothing designs can be found on online markets like Etsy or, if you’re lucky, you might stumble upon a Joan Studwell original in a thrift store. Wesley Bacon, a senior editor at Kertis, says her team did just that last year, while working on projects for Woodford Reserve for the upcoming Derby season. “Our producer went to Fat Rabbit” — the thrift store in Germantown — “and saw (the jacket) in all its glory. We all chipped in five bucks and brought it home,” Bacon says. The team takes turns wearing it when they work on Derby-related projects in the office. Blake says it makes him proud to see his mother’s work live on. “People want to connect with originality,” he says, “and her stuff was so unique. It has stood the test of time.”

    This originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Blue Jean Baby." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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    About Katie Molck

    Loretta Lynn is the best country music singer of all time and if you don't like pickled foods, you can leave.

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