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Loose Nuts: Bert Hurley’s West End Story

Next Upcoming Date: Friday, January 24 2020

This exhibition brings to light the work of Bert Hurley (1898–1955), a virtually unknown African American artist from Kentucky. Born in Louisville, Hurley worked at the city’s L&N Railroad office building for nearly 40 years, first as an elevator operator and later as fire warden, overseer of night porters, and departmental correspondent for the company’s Employes’ Magazine. In addition to his work for L&N Railroad, the reticent Hurley was also known in the African American community as a talented artist and musician. He created holiday posters that decorated L&N’s elevators, graphics for World War II fund drives, and painted decorations for gatherings of the city’s African American social organizations. Hurley also painted portraits and made religious paintings and sculpture, most of which are lost today.

This exhibition will feature Loose Nuts: A Rapsody in Brown, a richly illustrated and handwritten 125-page novella by Hurley set in Louisville’s West End during the 1930s. This area—traditionally home to the city’s predominantly African American neighborhoods—was also the site of a thriving African American business district that included offices, restaurants, theatres, and nightclubs.

The satirical Loose Nuts is part mystery, part journalistic investigation, and part courtroom drama. The manuscript features a cast of real-life Louisvillians, including Hurley himself in the role of a hard-nosed reporter for the West End Tatler, a fictional newspaper. The novella features full-page pen-and-ink, crayon, watercolor, and ink wash drawings throughout.