Carving a Legacy

Louisville sculptor Weir begins work on statue of William Oldham

The statue will go up
at Oldham County Courthouse lawn

LA GRANGE, Ky. (September 2016) – Historical Marker No. 1824 in La Grange, Ky., tells the history of Oldham County. The naming of the county is credited to the memory of Col. William Oldham, a captain in the Revolutionary War who will soon be remembered in a very special way.
Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele would like to see Col. Oldham’s valor and bravery bought back to the attention of the community. He is spearheading a project to place a nine-foot bronze memorial statue with limestone base of Col. Oldham on the Oldham County Courthouse square. The statue will also be lit at night to make sure it is easily seen.

Photo provided

Louisville, Ky., sculptor Matt Weir says he hopes to complete the sculpture in time for next year’s Oldham County Day in July.

“Col. Oldham was brave, and even though he wasn’t a hero, he represents thousands of men who went out into circumstances (war) not knowing the ending, but yet risking everything,” said Voegele. Individuals like Col. Oldham had no idea what they were facing, including death in some cases, but they fought “for independence and principles.” 
When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Col. Oldham and his younger brother, Conway, immediately enlisted. He was among a group of 120 men led by Capt. Daniel Morgan, who marched from Western Virginia to Boston to support Gen. George Washington’s siege of the city. They covered 600 miles in only 23 days.
He fought at Lake Champlain and survived the bitter winter of 1777-78 with Gen. Washington at Valley Forge. Col. Oldham served the Continental forces until spring 1779 when he resigned to move to the Falls of the Ohio with his older brother, Samuel.
He spent time as sheriff of Jefferson County, Ky., and in the fall of 1791 was appointed to lead the Kentucky militia as part of an expedition into the Northwest Territory.
The expedition consisted of approximately 2,000 people, including women, children and civilians. There were 1,700 soldiers in the expedition, made up of army regulars and the militia. While commanding the Kentucky militia, Col. Oldham was one of more than 800 killed in a battle against Native Americans known as St. Clair’s Defeat on Nov. 4, 1791, south of present day Fort Wayne, Ind.

Photo provided

This photo shows a likeness of the Col. William Oldham statue will look like.

Oldham County officially became a county in 1824, having been formed from parts of Henry, Jefferson, and Shelby counties, making it the 74th Kentucky County. Created 33 years after Col. Oldham’s death, it was named in his honor.
The exact location of his grave is not known. He is memorialized at the site of the battle, Fort Recovery, Ind. The only items returned to his wife, Penelope, and their children were a watch and chain.
“He represents the tons of soldiers who fought in the Revolution,” said Voegele. As a result, he got the idea to erect a monument to Col. Oldham “while the courthouse plaza was being built.”
Voegele said the transportation marker that was placed on the courthouse lawn was in need of repair, and he thought it would be “great to have more than a sign to recognize Col. Oldham.” The marker has been placed next to the Fiscal Court building.
Artist Matt Weir has been chosen by Oldham County Fiscal Court to create the bronze statue of Col. Oldham. Weir said he was recommended by a good friend for the project. Voegele also considered Louisville sculptor Ed Hamilton for the job.
“As a sculptor, this is my passion,” said Weir, 36, a Louisville, Ky., native. Weir received a BFA Cum Laude in sculpture from the Hite Art Institute at the University of Louisville in 2004.
“I love getting invested in historical projects.” His goal is to create a piece of public art for the community that is both meaningful to residents and will let them know who and what the name “Col. Oldham” means.
Weir was not given many guidelines for the project. He and Voegele discussed what they knew about Col. Oldham’s identity and the fact that not a lot is known about him because he died young at age 39.

Photo provided

These are the coins that Oldham County Fiscal Court is selling to help fund the creation of the statue of the county’s namesake.

To get some idea of what Col. Oldham may have looked like, Weir turned to a friend, William Oldham, who just so happened to be a distant nephew of Col. Oldham. William Oldham, a Louisville folk musician, agreed to pose in full colonial dress at Locust Grove to give Weir some idea of what he might want to incorporate in the sculpture, from the lay of the clothing to how to hold a Kentucky long rifle.
The statue image “will not exactly be like William. I’m working my way back relying on genetic traits” to create an image, said Weir. He hopes to have the statue finished by Oldham County Day 2017, but if not, it will definitely be finished the following year to unveil at the county celebration, he said.
Voegele said more than $100,000 has been raised through donations so far for the project, but there is “still a ways to go.” He is optimistic that the remaining $35,000 will be acquired. 
Voegele has helped to design a commemorative coin to sell to aid in raising funds for the project. The 2.25-inch coins will be sold for a minimum donation of $35.

“Most people don’t have the opportunity to participate” in a large financial way, he said. “Now they can make a contribution, and take pride in knowing they did contribute. This is the first major public art in the county. There is nothing quite like this.”

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