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    In her temporary studio space in Germantown, Dawn Yates points to a photo taped to the edge of a shelf. It’s of Enid Yandell, an international sculptor and humanitarian from Louisville who died at the age of 64 in 1934.

    For the last 20 years, Yates has split her time between Kentucky and Costa Rica, but on this visit she has vowed to stay in Louisville until she completes a bronze sculpture of Yandell and sees it installed in a public space. “I might lose a husband,” she says jokingly, “but at least I’ll gain a sculpture.”

    Her studio is littered with photos of Yandell and bits of clay worked to various degrees. She picks up a model of Yandell’s head, so small she can hold it comfortably in her palm, and laughs at the sight of it. “I decided the model was too small,” she says, “and cannibalized the clay for the larger model.”

    Yates is a founding member of ENID: Generations of Women Sculptors, a group of artists who educate and mentor local women artists by providing a spirit of support and cooperation, and by sharing professional and technical knowledge. ENID is not a secret society, but despite the success of its shows, the group has — like its namesake — been nearly invisible until recently. ENID got started in the late ’90s, when someone told founding member Ewing Fahey that they didn’t think there were any women sculptors in Louisville. “I could think of 10 off the top of my head,” says Fahey, now 97. To combat this lack of recognition, Fahey pitched a show featuring all female sculptors to Louisville Visual Art. The idea was well-received, and the first ENID show went up at LVA’s Water Tower location. Fahey brags that it was so well-attended the refreshments ran out. Today there are 23 members, 10 of whom were in that first show. They call themselves “Enids,” and they’ve had a show roughly every two years since then.

    Even though the photo Yates pointed to has been cropped down to a close-up of just Yandell’s face, I recognize the image as the one that captures Yandell and her roommate, the Hungarian musician Geysa de Braunecker, posing with a bicycle. Yandell is handsome and serious. “That’s the picture that speaks to me the most,” Yates says in her husky voice. “When I’m tired and I think, I’m not gonna do it, she looks at me and she’s like” — Yates lowers her chin and looks out from under her eyebrows, mimicking Yandell’s unamused expression — “Oh, you’re gonna do it.”

    In 1869, Enid Yandell was born in Louisville to a prominent local family of physicians. In celebration of what would have been her 150th birthday on Oct. 6, Louisville’s cultural institutions have developed programming around her life and art. It may seem to the casual observer that Yandell — the sculptor who created both the Daniel Boone statue and Hogan’s Fountain in Cherokee Park — has gone from unsung hero to having her own Hometown Hero banner on the Harbison building at Seventh and Main streets overnight. In truth, the ENID collective has been working toward that goal for the last 20 years.

    While researching photos for the banner at the Filson Historical Society, Mary Dennis Kannapell, the president of ENID, met Heather Potter, who helped her access the Filson’s material. Potter had also been assisting Juilee Decker with research for her book Enid Yandell: Kentucky’s Pioneer Sculptor — the first Yandell biography, which will be released this month. Potter suggested the two researchers connect. This was in 2018, and Decker pointed out that Yandell’s 150th birthday was coming up. The group couldn’t let the opportunity to finally alert the city to Yandell’s legacy slip by. The Filson curated a show from Yandell’s robust archive (on display until Dec. 27), and Potter sent out emails to more local institutions. Over the next year and a half, others joined in creating programming about Yandell (including the Speed, the Frazier and 21c, to name a few), and commemorative exhibits, tours and lectures will continue through the end of the year.

    “We’ve been a motivating force and that’s a major accomplishment,” Fahey tells me over the phone when I ask what she’s most proud of. “At the end of this eight months, I think people in Louisville will be aware of (Yandell).”

     

    Just as people routinely pass the famous Boone statue without knowing who created it, I’d walked unaware past Yates’ statue of Louisville’s former mayor, Charles P. Farnsley, in front of the Fund for the Arts on Main Street. I’d also driven by The Turrets, a sculpture Fahey collaborated on with Suzanne Rademacher, at the corner of Baxter and Winter avenues. The very public work of the ENID members is hard to reconcile with the lack of recognition of women sculptors that provided the impetus for founding the collective.

    The more I learn about Yandell, the more fitting it seems that a group of women artists would band together in her name.

    While working at the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, Yandell co-wrote a book about being an unchaperoned working woman with her two flatmates. She aptly titled it Three Girls in a Flat. This short book, a fictionalized chronicle of the adventures of the three young women, includes a nearly fatal break-in, numerous awkward social situations manufactured by a meddling neighbor and taking in destitute Italian royalty. But Three Girls also showcases the women’s dedication to their work and one another. The book is as much about how their mutual support helps them achieve their individual goals as it is a privileged glimpse into a specific experience at a specific time in history. As she made finishing touches on the model of Yandell, in preparation for buckling it into the front seat of her car and taking it to Bellarmine, Yates referenced a scene from the book in which Yandell’s character — known as the Duke — argues with Ulysses S. Grant’s widow. “(Mrs. Grant) told her that women shouldn’t be sculptors,” Yates said, “and (Enid) said, ‘Sculpting makes me strong so I can beat biscuits.’” Then Yates mouthed the word “bitch,” as if completing Yandell’s inspiring comeback.

    During her studies in France, Yandell wrote reviews of the Parisian art scene, lamenting the lack of women in the French shows and commending the work of the Girls Club in her own part of town. She told one reporter in 1924 that sculpture was “a lovely occupation for women, if they have love for form. It requires much study and is wonderful for developing the mentality.” In an email, Louisville artist Jacque Parsley shares a favorite Yandell quote: “It is the development of character, the triumph of intellectuality and spirituality I strive to express.”

    Yandell completed her four-year degree in sculpture in just two years and received a prize for her work upon graduation. She won major monument commissions and was one of the first women admitted into the National Sculpture Society. Despite the success, her uncle, who’d taken a patriarchal role in the family after the death of her father, said that she had disgraced the family for being the first woman in the family to make her own money. Couldn’t she, he asked, just sculpt for fun?

    There is a long history of women being asked to work for free, and the Enids have their own stories of irksome inequality. In 1962, when Louisville Magazine was still a business publication owned by the Chamber of Commerce, Fahey was its editor. “We had a staff of four women,” she says. “My boss boasted that he could hire more talent for less money by hiring women.”

     


    Yandell with her 25-foot statue of Athena, reportedly at the time the largest statue ever made by a woman.

     

    Almost as soon as she became a sculptor, it became professionally imperative for Yandell to leave Louisville, and though she came back to visit and continued to create monuments for the city, it was by leaving that Yandell became an important local artist.

    Kannapell, ENID’s president, writes to me in an email: “During (Yandell’s) student days at the Cincinnati Art Academy, finding people to model nude was a challenge, and she would drive her carriage around Cincinnati looking for models late at night with a gun under her blanket for protection!” According to an often-referenced article by Kentucky historian Nancy Baird, one of Yandell’s aunts joked that perhaps the pistol was for coercion, not protection.

    Yandell’s adventures are numerous and rousing. Many of the Enids punctuate stories of their namesake with, “I mean, she studied with Rodin!” (Potter from the Filson says that, contrary to a lot of reporting about Yandell, there is no proof she studied with Rodin. It is more likely they met and moved in the same circles.)

    During her time in Paris, Yandell dedicated herself entirely to her craft. “Study and work. These must be the art student’s watchwords,” she wrote to the Courier-Journal, right before she created what was reportedly at the time the largest statue ever made by a woman — a 25-foot statue of Athena, atop a 15-foot base, for Tennessee’s centennial. (It was never cast in bronze and deteriorated within a year.) In one photo, Yandell stands before her Athena, the head of which looms behind her. Yandell looks defiant. It is this image that Yates is working to bring to life.

    Yates’ dream location for the sculpture is Louisville’s Central Park. “When Enid was living in Louisville on Broadway, now the Brown Theatre, she would have frequented the closest park to her, and that would (have been) Central Park at the time,” Yates says.

    Much of Yandell’s work featured women, including a massive woman emerging from under the wings of angels in the Struggle of Life fountain located in Providence, Rhode Island. She created a bust of women’s-rights activist Emma Willard and even proposed a “Lost Cause” (Confederate) monument for Louisville, the highest point of which would be have been crowned not by a soldier but by a woman both grieving and preparing to move on toward peace, though it never came to fruition. Despite all the doe-eyed nudes crowding museum walls, sculpture remains largely dedicated to the heroic depiction of men. In Louisville, the first — and at present, only — public sculpture of a woman in celebration of her achievements is a life-sized bronze of Mother Catherine Spalding, which was unveiled four years ago in front of the Cathedral of the Assumption on South Fifth Street.

    When I ask Yates what she needs to complete her project, she looks around the controlled mess of her temporary studio and eventually gives a number: $150,000. She compulsively checks her phone, waiting for confirmation that a letter of recommendation has come through for a grant application.

    I ask Yates when she anticipates the Yandell statue being realized. “There is no timeline,” she admits, but offers an ideal window: “End of fall 2020. That’s enough time for me to do it, and it’s the year of women.” (2020 is the centennial of women’s suffrage and the ratification of the 19th Amendment.) She then does a joking whistle and twirls her finger in the air before saying sarcastically, “We get a year!”

    Seeking support and funding for art is well-worn territory for artists, and Yandell was no stranger to this less glamorous part of the job. In addition to raising money for her statuary — Boone, for example, wasn’t bronzed for 13 years after she created a temporary version for the Columbian Exposition — Yandell sought funding for her humanitarian efforts. She chose to stay in Paris at the outbreak of WWI to help feed artists and find housing for children separated from their parents. In November 1915, she wrote to a Chicago audience: “When you in America realize that 5 cents a day may actually keep an artist alive and preserve his talent for the future, you will also realize, I think, that it is a good bargain for the world, as well as a humanitarian act.” She helped organize dinners so that the artists would not be made ashamed for receiving charity, and to engender a sense of normalcy and camaraderie in otherwise trying times. It is estimated that she served more than 175,000 meals to artists, and helped more than 1,000 children find housing.

    Yates, who does her own arts activism in Costa Rica, points to this part of Yandell’s story as a source of inspiration, while lamenting that “it killed her career.” Correcting this misconception is one of Decker’s goals with her new biography. Decker says, “It’s not that she stopped working. Now, things changed…People weren’t buying silver loving cups after WWI so much, but she had a solid art practice until the end of her life.”

    Even as Yates tells me that WWI ended Yandell’s artistic practice, she admits Yandell didn’t give up entirely. “She couldn’t help herself,” Yates says. “I mean if it’s in you, it’s in you. It’s a lifestyle. It’s who you are.”

     

    This originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline “Enid Endures.” To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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