The month of May is known for many things. In the U.S. we have May Day, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day among other celebrations. Canada has Victoria Day, Denmark Liberation Day, Mexico Cinco de Mayo, and in Ireland, the first day of summer. But here in the Commonwealth, May means one thing: the Kentucky Derby. Actually the festivities begin two weeks before the famous Run for the Roses, but on the first Saturday of May it’s safe to say the majority of Kentucky’s population, along with race fans from around the world, are glued to the television for the “The Fastest Two Minutes in Sports.”
While I am not a race fan, in particular, I do enjoy the revelries, and as a true Kentuckian, I felt the need to commemorate our state’s biggest event in miniature. It actually happened quite by accident in 2010 when the Kentucky Horse Park was chosen to host the World Equestrian Games. State tourism officials knew that the KSB Miniatures Collection had a room box depicting a Kentucky horse farm library and asked if they could display it at the games. Of course I was thrilled, but as I got to thinking about the half a million people who would be visiting the event, I decided to embellish the scene to be specific to the Kentucky Derby.
The room box was initially created by Ray Whitledge as A Gentleman’s Study. Ray, who was an interior designer for 30 years, made several furnishings in the scene including the sofa, striped chair, draperies, and books. The desk chair is a John Hodgson resin casting which Ray upholstered. His vision was a masculine library, which he accomplished beautifully. I simply added items to give it a Kentucky horse farm feel, and later made it synonymous with the Derby by adding 1:12-scale reproductions of the trophy, the garland of roses that drapes the winning horse, mint julep cups to serve the state drink, and for fun, a fancy hat like those that many stylish women at the Derby wear.
The artisans who transformed the room box from a horse farm library to the library of a Derby winner’s owner were Pete Acquisto from Arizona and Linda Young from Florida. Pete, who has created silver and gold pieces in miniature for more than 40 years, had never made a trophy. But after researching the original and analyzing photographs from the Kentucky Derby Museum’s website, he took on the project. It would be a replica in 18K gold gilt over sterling silver in precise 1:12 scale. Pete spent three months fabricating the tiny trophy and later would say it was one of the most challenging pieces he had ever completed. Especially trying, he said, was the soldering of the reins. I am honored to have the only trophy the prolific artisan has ever created. He also reproduced the charming sterling silver mint julep cups, which in full-size are chilled metal vessels typically used to serve the state’s signature drink.
Linda Young, known professionally as Lady Jane, was the brilliant mind behind the miniature rose garland. What made it even more wonderful was that she is a Derby fan. She actually consulted with the floral designers who craft the real-size rose blanket and in her research found that exactly 564 roses of a specific color were used to create it along with very specific greenery and ribbon. After buying herself a dozen Freedom roses, the variety used for the Derby garland, she matched color and spent three months perfecting the technique that would eventually combine 564 roses, greenery, and ribbon into a 2-inch by 11-inch replica of the famous Kentucky Derby garland of roses. It is absolutely stunning and was quite the hit at the World Equestrian Games in 2010.
As I write, Kentucky Derby festivities are already underway throughout the state. Odds are leaning toward American Pharoah and his misspelled moniker, but I like Carpe Diem, if simply for the name’s meaning, which is seize the day. After all, that is how the Kentucky Horse Farm Library room box came to be in the first place. Mind you, I won’t be making any big bets on Derby day, but I may just put on a fancy hat and toast the exquisite room box and talents of Ray Whitledge, Pete Acquisto, Linda Young, and all the others whose art contributed to a Kentucky Horse Farm Library.