A Kentucky Museum exhibit provides visitors with a glimpse through history


Debra Murray

The Snell-Franklin Decorative Arts Gallery shows decor and furniture from several time periods starting around the 1800s to present.

Debra Murray, Digital News Editor

One of the many long-term exhibits in the Kentucky Museum is the Snell-Franklin Decorative Arts gallery. The gallery is a walk through history; the decorations and furniture date back to the 1800s to present. 

The exhibit was organized by Timothy Mullins, the director of the museum until 2014, and is separated by time period. Whenever a person walks in, they would start at the earliest artworks then move closer to the modern artwork. 

Sandy Staebell, registrar and collections curator at the Kentucky Museum, said the space used for the exhibit was originally just for storage.

“He went through the collection, and basically identified things from about four distinct time periods,” Staebell said. “He was basically trying to come up with a representative sampling of what would kind of help the story of what people were using at a particular period of time.” 

Much of the exhibit was put together with help from students. They put up the wallpaper, and cleaned the furniture prior to the exhibit opening. 

The exhibit, and most of the artwork in the Kentucky Museum, were donated.

In the earliest part of the exhibit, all of the artwork ranges from 1830’s to 1840’s. Almost all of the furniture is mahogany wood which creates a consistent look. Other decorations include two mantle clocks, portraits of a couple, and brass sconces. 

The C. Ray Franklin Collection features works from the 1780s until the 1930s that were donated by Franklin in 1978. Franklin graduated from WKU in 1924, and became a well-known optometrist, and a renowned antiques collector. He consulted Jacqueline Kennedy on restoring the White House interiors. 

The pieces hang in front of a bright blue paint called “Prussian Blue,” a color often used for the nicest room in a house.

Franklin donated the plaster bust of Benjamin Franklin, which is a copy of the famous bust of Benjamin Franklin created by a French artist, Antione Houdon. He donated many pieces of furniture including a mahogany tea table, set of dining chairs and a wing chair.

Another section features furniture used in Shaker communities. Shakers were known for their practical lifestyles, which is noticeable in the clean lines of their hand-made furniture. 

Staebell said the exhibit draws in American religion class visits because of the Shaker furniture.

The C. Perry Snell collection features work ranging from 1300 B.C. until 1929. Snell graduated from Ogden College, a school for men in Warren County. He moved to Florida where he sold real estate. He started going on trips to Europe to find decorations for his Florida mansion, and later donated many pieces to his alma mater.

“In the 1920s, he went to Europe,” Staebell said. “He brought back art to show his good taste and so he wanted to give something back to his alma mater. At that time Ogden college for young men had closed but Western had acquired the campus.”

His collection includes a scaled down copy of the classical statue of Venus, and an oak carving of Madonna and Child, along with many tapestries and furniture pieces.

Currently, the Snell Collection has the oldest official donations at the Kentucky Museum, Staebell said.

Before exiting the exhibit, visitors see the Modern Design collection. As designers moved away from the traditional Victorian revival style, they embraced new materials like chrome, and brighter colors. From this the Art Nouveau and Art Deco became popular.

The collection includes a velvet blue lounge chair, a green sofa, and a chrome sculpture created by Jack Rabinowitz. Rabinowitz created art during the 1950s-60s, he was known for erotic sculputres of the human body.

“This is the furniture they (students working on the exhibit) loved,” Staebell said. “If they could have had any piece in the show, it’s this section because it just speaks to them. It’s the most modern, they can see it fitting in their lifestyles.”

Digital News Editor Debra Murray can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @debramurrayy