The Kentucky Museum’s US Bank Celebration of the Arts offers opportunity to share grief behind art

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Arthur Trickett-Wile

The Kentucky Museum holds the annual US Bank Celebration of the Arts, a competitive exhibition open to professional and amateur artists from the campus community and beyond Friday evening, Feb. 22 of 2022, on the Western Kentucky University campus in Bowling Green. According to Tim Caboni, the president of Western Kentucky University, this is the first major university event since the campus-mask mandate was lifted afternoon of the same day

Arthur Trickett-Wile, Staff Photographer

Gallery lights cast a warm glow on the artworks, artists and patrons packed in tightly at the Kentucky Museum Friday evening for the annual US Bank Celebration of the Arts.

Among the multitude of artists on display at the competitive exhibition, three shared a common practice: artmaking as a means of healing through grief.

The Kentucky Museum holds the annual US Bank Celebration of the Arts, a competitive exhibition open to professional and amateur artists from the campus community and beyond Friday evening, Feb. 22 of 2022, on the Western Kentucky University campus in Bowling Green.
Robert L. Smith’s photograph of a cottage in the woods of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. Smith said he took up photography to fulfill his late wife’s final wish, and that it has helped him to heal
(Arthur Trickett-Wile)

Long-time Bowling Green resident Robert L. Smith, 78, said it was his wife’s dying wish that he took up photography as a hobby after she passed.

“Even on her deathbed, she was thinking of me,” Smith said.

His photograph, “Cobblestone Cottage,” depicts a small structure tucked away in sunbeam oranges, greens, and yellows of the woods at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park.

Though his wife’s request surprised him, Smith said his quest to fulfill it has helped him to recover. Since her death, he’s traveled to numerous national parks across the U.S. in search of photographs.

“Every time I’m out hiking, looking at all the beauty, I’m thinking of her,” Smith said.

Her process of working through the grief has helped heal others.”

— Roland Hoffman

On the second-floor showroom, Elizabeth Hoffman, a WKU alumna with degrees in graphic design and sculpture, stood before her piece.

Hoffman’s work, titled “Here I’m Happy,” a large tapestry of watercolor pages from her children’s book three-years in the making, placed first in the professional drawing and illustration category.

Its story follows a young squirrel through a journey of mourning—something Hoffman experienced herself following the death of her mother when she was 15. 

“She used all of her emotion to develop the work,” Roland Hoffman, her father and an alumnus of WKU himself, said. “Her process of working through the grief has helped heal others.” 

Hung on a display facing Hoffman’s, Stephanie Ramsey’s “We All Have the Same Emotions” placed second in professional graphic design and digital art.

“All of my pieces are on mental health,” Ramsey, a student at SouthCentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, said. “When my best friend died of ovarian cancer, the first thing I did was draw.”

In part, because of how art helped her to heal, Ramsey said that she hopes to become an art therapist.

Standing between their two works, Ramsey and Hoffman visited throughout the evening, sharing the experiences and stories behind their work.

In a moment of respite from the bustle of the gallery, the two young artists shared a moment.

“Do you do hugs?” Hoffman asked Ramsey, moved to tears.

Staff photographer Arthur Trickett-Wile can be reached at [email protected].