Three years ago, New York curator Scott Rogers moved to Louisville to found and edit Pitch, the bimonthly journal of Kentucky arts and culture. Anticipating next year’s Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial, the new spring/summer number of Pitch is a fascinating journey into Lincoln’s little known relationship with Kentucky.
The cover shows a seductive portrait of a gimlet-eyed Abe psychedelicized in green and lavender. Block prints of historic wallpapers from Adelphi Paper Hangings decorate the articles inside, where Kathy Nichols examines Lincoln’s visits to his best friend Joshua Speed’s Kentucky plantation, Farmington.
Lincoln flirts with Speed’s sisters, inviting them to lock him in a room, but more significantly, he has his first encounter with slavery, as black Africans are brought in chains to the Speed plantation. "They were chained six and six together," Lincoln writes, "a small iron clevis around the wrist of each, and this fastened to a main chain so that the negroes were strung together like so many fish on a trout line." Lincoln goes on to critique the music and card playing of these slaves, who, he says, "were separated from their families for being too familiar with their wives."
In other articles, Jesi Khadavi examines the downward spiral of Kentucky grande dame Mary Todd Lincoln, incarcerated by her surviving son Robert (three sons predeceased her) in a mental hospital for channeling Indian spirits, and Erin Cho explores the origins of Lincoln Logs, the popular toy invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son John Lloyd Wright in 1918, inspired by a bogus log cabin, alleged to be Lincoln’s birthplace, but really reconstructed partially from logs of Jefferson Davis’ birth cabin! Artist Sarah Lyon contributes a stark portfolio of minimalist photos of Lincoln Log abstractions.
The only false note in this Pitch is an interview with noted alleged plagiarist Doris Kearns Goodwin, in which she plugs her recent book on Lincoln’s advisers in every second sentence. Scott Rogers lets his flamboyant touch show in a portfolio of Le Petomaine Theatre Ensemble, a kind of French Art Club 2000, miming Abe and Mary in Louis XIV makeup like so many farceurs.
Overall, issues of Pitch are as golden rich and tasteful as the bourbon ads that pay part of its costs. Scott Rogers, once a hard-bitten contemporary art curator at Bergdorf Goodman, has transformed provinciality into a glam asset with his magazine. His Abe Lincoln tribute demonstrates how art and design can penetrate even the presidency in a year when another adopted son of Illinois aspires to the White House. Go to "pitchmagazine.org" to inquire or subscribe.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).