A community gathering spot, Mayfield’s Ice House Gallery, has uncertain future after tornadoes
Nanc Gunn uses her cell phone to take a video, focusing the screen on several men who are hoisting a limestone statue onto a forklift.
“She has some damage from the tornado, but she is intact,” says Gunn, who directs the Mayfield/Graves County Art Guild.
The statue was created for the guild in 1992.
It was a community effort, Gunn explains, led by two area sculptures as they taught others how to sculpt. When the guild moved into the Historic Ice House in 1995, the sculpture was placed on the front porch.
“So it’s been sitting there for 26 years,” she says.
The Ice House was the guild’s home, where they held classes, exhibitions, events and summer camps for kids.
It took a direct hit from the tornadoes that raged through the area Dec. 10 and 11. And parts of the building now look like they had been in a blender. Smaller artworks, including what looks like a collection of brightly colored gourds, are tangled up in piles of siding, wood and other debris.
“We are just going to try to survive,” Gunn says to a group of volunteers from a local concrete company who showed up to help recover the statue. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to survive here or if we’ll find a new location.”
When asked about plans to rebuild, Gunn tells WFPL News, “right now we’re just all in a total state of shock.”
“We’re trying to deal just with what we can do one day at a time,” she says. “Today, the task at hand is trying to rescue the limestone statues that Brent McKinney and Bill Nelson created for the guild. And tomorrow, we aren’t sure.”
Nelson was one of the art guild’s founders.
Eric Schmitt, who owns Schmitt Concrete, has brought his crew and equipment to the Ice House. He says the storm spared his home and shop, so he felt called to put his equipment to use. And in the case of helping Gunn at the Ice House, Schmitt, whose company is a member of the art guild, says that’s an important part of the recovery effort.
“We’re trying to save and conserve as much of Mayfield’s history as we can,” he says.
Schmitt is blown away by how many people have rallied to support the areas impacted by the tornadoes.
“Everybody seems like they’ve pulled together in this community,” he says. “We’ll come back.”
For sculptor and guild member Brent McKinney, it all seems unreal.
“You never expect it to happen to you. You see it on the TV and news all the time,” he says.
He feels “extremely lucky” that some of his sculptures, though damaged, made it through. But he’s mourning the loss of the Ice House, which is more than a place to display art, he says.
“It brings a lot of people together, and it’s been going pretty strong for a long time,” McKinney said. “I just hate to see it end. It brings people together from all over.”
When news of the destruction hit Facebook, many shared memories or messages of support.
One commenter wrote: “It was a special place to visit.”
Another said: “The soul of Mayfield. A great loss…”
Guild director Gunn says she and her husband did what they could to recover other artwork from the destruction, including a painting by Kentucky artist Helen LaFrance.
LaFrance’s work is well known in the art world. She died in late 2020 at the age of 101.
“It was in my office,” Gunn says of the large LaFrance painting they had at the Ice House, “and my husband had to jump through a little window to get to it. It had been stabbed in three places by the ceiling that fell on it. But we got it out.”
She says the work is with a conservator in Paducah to see if it can be restored.
The Kentucky Arts Council sent out an email in the week following the storms, sharing resources for artists impacted, including links to national organizations such as Performing Arts Readiness, National Coalition for Arts’ Preparedness and Emergency Response(NCAPER) and CERF+ The Artists Safety Net.
But Gunn says, “it’s hard to to think about going through all that paperwork.”
“We’re just kind of working day to day, and all of our computers were damaged. So it’s hard to just resurrect the memory of everything that was on the computers at this point,” she says.
Crews transported the front-porch statue to the Graves County Public Library. But before they left, they were able to recover a few more smaller statues on the other side of the building that seem to have been protected by fallen trees.