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Middletown Art Festival

Organizers select local artist
to teach children

New event is organized by Kaelin’s About Art Gallery

By Kathleen Adams
Contributing Writer

MIDDLETOWN, Ky. (June 2005) – On the day when most horse racing fans will focus their attention on New York’s Belmont Park for the final leg of thoroughbred racing’s beloved Triple Crown, equine artist Jan Yarberry will be teaching youngsters how to draw the animals heralded on the race track.

Jan Yarberry

Photo provided

Shelbyville, Ky., artist Jan Yarberry will be a featured attraction at the June event.

As one of nearly two dozen Louisville area artists hand-selected to take part in the inaugural Middletown Art Festival, Yarberry, a retired physical education teacher, will work with budding artists from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 11 at the Frank Otte Nursery in Middletown.
Organized by Deniece Kaelin, owner of About Art Gallery and Discount Framing, proceeds from the art festival will also benefit the St. Mary’s Center, a residential facility for children afflicted with Downs Syndrome.
“We’re dong what little we can to help them (St. Mary’s Center) and showcase local artists,” Kaelin said of the event. “These are artists I have worked with for the past two years at different venues and shows around town. They’ll actually be painting. People can interact with the artists.”
Yarberry’s work ranges from tabletop paintings of famous racehorses such as Cigar and 1994 Kentucky Derby winner Go For Gin to oil canvas paintings of equines with which she shares a personal connection. Asked why she chose to include Yarberry, Kaelin replied, “She brings life to these thoroughbreds. You’re drawn to the picture. The love she pours into this art, it runs cold chills on you.”
A Nebraska native, Yarberry describes herself as “a third generation horseman.”
Studying Yarberry’s bloodlines, it is easy to discern that her link to race horses runs deep and true.
A grandfather on her mother’s side of the family gained prominence as a dairy farmer and began racing thoroughbreds in the Midwest during the Great Depression. One of Yarberry’s aunts took an interest in the new family business, became a jockey and helped open the profession to other women. And her father, the late Warren Yarberry, who started riding thoroughbreds as a 10-year-old in Texas, was named Apprentice Jockey of America in 1939.
Now living in Shelbyville, Ky., Yarberry, 61, recalled in a telephone interview that even though she spent 28 years working as a middle school teacher in southern Illinois while raising two children, she never gave up her thoroughbred roots.
‘I had summers free to race horses,” said Yarberry, who officially obtained her Kentucky trainer’s license some 25 years ago.
The home Yarberry shares with her daughter, Elizabeth, rests on five-acres of land and included within the property is a five-stall horse barn the two women essentially built themselves.

Jan Yarberry Painting

Photo provided

Jan Yarberry painting.

Two retired thoroughbreds – Bleu and Elijan – reside there. Both were trained by Yarberry.
“I bought Bleu for $5,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Sale in Lexington,” Yarberry said. “My kids were in school at the time, and I got physically sick afterward, wondering if I’d paid too much for him.”
But Bleu earned his keep. The 1,200-pound dark bay horse won $30,000 on the race track.
“I had a great time with him,” Yarberry said. “He was my Valium and Prozac. He kept me sane.”
Elijan, on the other hand, cost Yarberry $30,000 and only managed to win one race. His race track earnings amounted to $16,000.
Since Yarberry took up oil painting six years ago, both horses have been the subject of her art.
In fact, a painting of Bleu charging down the stretch titled, “A Kentucky Drive,” is what jump-started Yarberry’s career as an artist.
“I wanted a painting of him,” Yarberry recalled while explaining what initially prompted her to pick up a paint brush. “He’s gorgeous. He’s almost black with a white blaze. He’s a very well-made horse. I took the painting in to get it framed, and another lady came in and asked what gallery represented me.”
While she publicly laughed off the stranger’s comment, Yarberry went home and continued to paint.
A self-taught artist, Yarberry says she took one college-level art course while a student at Kearney State College in Kearney, Neb.
“I painted horses grazing in a field and the instructor said, ‘Jan, I’ll give you an A, but don’t do anymore of these Farmer’s Almanacs in class.’ If the teacher had encouraged me to draw and paint, would I have gotten into it sooner? I think so.”
But throughout her life, Yarberry devoted what little spare time she had available to drawing horses.
“That’s always been my passion. The animal is the art and you want to represent that power and that beauty.”
So far, Yarberry says response to her paintings has been positive.
“When people tell me they like my paintings, it’s like they’re hugging me. It’s a great high.”
While grateful for the accolades, one of Yarberry’s greatest achievements as an artist came recently when her painting “Derby Day 1939” was selected to hang in the renovated Twin Spires Club at Churchill Downs.
The painting depicts Yarberry’s father, who died when she was just a year old, aboard Shadytown in the post parade during the second race at Churchill Downs on Derby Day in 1939.
An archival photograph was Yarberry’s inspiration for the artwork.
“It’s a feeling of accomplishment,” Yarberry said. “My family has always excelled at something. I’m getting recognition through my paintings. I’m finding out where I excel.”
Interior designer Linda Hubbuch of Hubbuch & Co. was responsible for assembling much of the artwork that appears in the new areas of Churchill Downs. She said whenever possible, she relied on local artists.
“She’s very good at what she does,” Hubbuch said of Yarberry. “And I think she’s still developing her style.”
As someone who routinely sets goals for herself, Yarberry is now in the throes of designing a submission she hopes will be chosen as the official 2006 Kentucky Derby poster.
“That would be a sign that the horse racing world thinks I do a good job of depicting a thoroughbred in motion.”
Yarberry, as well as other artists participating in the Middletown Art Festival, have each donated art items to a silent auction. In addition, the day-long festival will feature live music, face painting, clowns and food booths.

• For more information on the festival, call About Art Gallery at (502) 244-4848.

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