Clark County artist Holly VanMeter works in her great-grandfather’s 130-year-old carriage house.
Originally the carriage house sat behind her family’s larger home, often referred to as the Witherspoon house, at the corner of Boone and Belmont avenues. It was moved to Burns Avenue nearly a century ago, VanMeter said, and today is home to Witherspoon Moon Studio.
“I was born here,” VanMeter said. “My parents lived here. My grandfather lived here. I have deep roots in this place.”
Family items are scattered throughout the studio, VanMeter’s artistic home away from home. Portraits of her ancestors sit about, sometimes with the clothes they wore on display nearby. There are mementoes and knickknacks throughout.
Down the hall and to the right is a room decorated with holiday-colored LED lights. Branches with twinkling white lights wrap up the walls and across the ceiling creating a sense of whimsy. In the corner is a tiny bathroom where the tub is filled with beads and necklaces. A “cat lady” painting hangs nearby.
There are shelves filled with decorated miniature shoes, thanks to her participation in a public art project in Lexington.
In each corner of every room is something new to be discovered — a watercolor painting of asparagus, a rack of blank notecards featuring playful high-heeled shoes, landscape scenes of rural Clark County and brightly-colored florals.
On this winter day, VanMeter’s 17-year-old cat, Favorite, is padding around the place, waiting for someone to get up so he can claim their warm chair.
The actual studio is a small room at the back of the house, behind the kitchen and off the bathroom.
VanMeter has long been a watercolor artist and frequently works in pen and ink as well. Lately, she’s been making mixed-media ornaments, large elaborate affairs with jewels and other baubles.
Her latest project has been making oversized painted bookmarks on watercolor paper.
VanMeter said her family encouraged her artistic tendencies when she was a child, which was crucial since there were no art classes in the local schools.
“My grandmother was an artist,” she said. “I would get a pencil and a piece of paper and scribble all over it.”
Her formal art education came much later.
“I went to the University of Kentucky and I never considered working as an artist,” she said. “I ended up getting married and having kids. When I was 34, I started an art correspondence course and got a degree. It was the basics of art.”
An artists’ weekend at Jenny Wiley State Park near Prestonsburg proved to be another critical push.
“It was the first time I’d been around a lot of other artists,” she said. “There was only one other artist in Winchester.”
Then VanMeter got serious about her art.
“When I first started getting serious, I actually did a lot of pencil,” she said. “When I started getting into color, I started watercolor. It’s my favorite medium.”
Through the decades, her art has gone nationwide, often ending up in unusual places. Following a show of her work in Atlanta, a New York agency called about selling prints.
“When they first called, I wouldn’t talk to them because I wasn’t sure what it was about,” she said. “They gave me back my originals and I got royalties.”
The artist said she got calls from friends who found her art hanging in hotel rooms. A couple of them even wound up on television.
“I was watching TV one day,” she said. “It was a soap opera and I saw one of my pictures there. They started showing up on TV sets.”
One even appeared on “Dallas,” hanging in Miss Ellie’s bedroom, she said.
VanMeter has participated in a couple public projects, painting two horses and two wildcats for separate programs in Lexington.
“In order to do one, you have to present your idea,” she said. “You have to do a small version of it. Then it goes before a jury. If a sponsor picks it, then you get to do it.”
Her best-selling piece came, without warning, from the art show at the Daniel Boone Pioneer Festival.
“I was doing a painting for the festival and I decided to do this painting of an Ale-8-One bottle with a rose,” she said. “I thought about selling it, but people started reacting to it like crazy.”
VanMeter decided to keep the original and sell prints. It proved to be a great decision.
“People have bought five at a time,” she said. “I’ve probably sold 900 of them and I’m still selling them.”
These days, VanMeter is still doing what she wants with her art. The bookmarks and Christmas ornaments are perfect examples of her artistic freedom.
“I’m still very into my art,” she said. “I’m at the point now I don’t take a lot of commissions. I want to work on what I want to work on. I’m freer in my art because I do what I want to.” §