LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation is working to commission artwork to memorialize the people enslaved at Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate in Lexington. 

What You Need To Know

  • The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation will celebrate 100 years in 2026

  • The foundation submitted a Requesting For Qualifications for public artwork to commission a memorial for people enslaved

  • Jim Clark serves as the executive director for the foundation
  • The artwork will be unveiled by 2025, the year of Lexington’s 250th anniversary 

The memorial will honor the 120 people Henry Clay enslaved throughout his lifetime. LexArts will help facilitate the call for artists and the selection process.

The Foundation’s goal for the project will be to connect with Ashland’s enslaved descendants by incorporating stories or artifacts passed down through families.

A sign explains that Ashland has been registered as a national historic landmark. (Spectrum News 1/Diamond Palmer)

“This process started a few years ago during the tour that was launched in 2020, called Traces: Slavery at Ashland,” Executive Director Jim Clark said. “And when we created Traces, we really wanted to focus on the individuals of who they were as human beings as opposed to just people who helped Henry Clay become successful as a farmer and plantation owner.”

Clark has served in the role for eight years and says since then they’ve been able to find people with connections to Ashland. Last year, we took you on that tour with Lexington NAACP president Whit Whitaker—revealing the dark history.

“Don’t allow that pain to deter you from learning about history and deter you from participating in your own legacy,” Whitaker said. 

The history of Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate dates before back before the year 1809. But that year is when Clay finished building the first part of his home. And since then there’s never been a place to memorialize enslaved African-American men, women and children at the estate.

Clark says although it’s taken a long time, he hopes it can be a bridge for central Kentuckians to finally connect with the stories of their ancestors. The project is being made possible with support from the Kentucky Humanities and National Endowment for the Humanities as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

“I think one of the best things that could come out of this is Ashland developing stronger ties to the Black community. The way in which Henry Clay’s life is documented, there’s thousands of documents that tell us all about Henry,” Clark explained. “When we look at those who were enslaved, we actually find either that things were not well documented or things were erased.”

Three experienced public artists will have their proposal commissioned. The artwork will be unveiled in 2025, which coincides with Lexington’s 250th anniversary. The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation’s 100th anniversary will follow in 2026.

The selection factors will include resonance with the project description, artistic distinction, public safety, low maintenance, durability and integration to the site and its intrinsic character.

The request for RFQs will end on Feb. 28, 2023. This will allow artists to submit their resume, previous artwork and a statement. You can head here for artists’ submissions. For more information about people enslaved at the Henry Clay Estate, you can click here.