Dunnigan statue ‘home’ in Kentucky; at UK till Feb. 9

Lexington sculptor Amanda Matthews laughs while moving her sculpture of Alice Dunnigan into the William T. Young Library on Jan. 19, 2019. The statue was previously on display in the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Photo by Arden Barnes | Staff

Bailey Vandiver

During her life, Alice Dunnigan excelled at walking through doors people didn’t think she could or should go through, such as in the White House or Supreme Court building.

Decades after her death, she had the same experience in sculpture form: After several minutes of angling and measuring and removing of handles, the crate that held Dunnigan’s statue made it through a door in the basement of William T. Young Library… just barely.

The statue of Dunnigan, sculpted by Lexington sculptor Amanda Matthews and her husband and business partner Brad Connell, now stands in the library’s rotunda and will for about 10 more days. 

The statue was originally brought to campus for a celebration of Dunnigan’s life on Feb. 4, but the event was canceled. 

Mike Farrell, interim director and professor in the School of Journalism and Media, said that Dunnigan is “very significant.”

“You can start with the fact that she is a role model for African-Americans, for women, and for young people who were born in poverty,” he said. “She overcame all three of those to rise to the height of journalism and cover the White House.”

Matthews and Connell completed the bronze statue of Dunnigan last fall. Dunnigan is a Russellville, Kentucky, native who moved to Washington, D.C., and became the first black female journalist to gain credentials to the White House.

Clark, a leader in the West Kentucky African American Heritage Center in Russellville, came to Matthews with an idea for a project to honor Dunnigan. Matthews and Connell began working on the statue, which is based on a photo of Dunnigan standing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

Originally, the statue was planned to go straight to its permanent home in Russellville. Instead, it spent most of the fall in Washington, D.C., on the fourth floor of the Newseum.

Matthews said she and Connell met with Newseum staff when they uninstalled the statue.

“They said she had been a really big hit at the Newseum while she was there and they hated to see her go,” Matthews said.

Matthews and Connell brought the statue back from D.C. in a bright yellow Penske moving van. It was a long process transporting the statue from the van at the Willy T loading dock up to its spot on the first floor, behind the security desk.

“It did feel like bringing her home,” Matthews said about bringing Dunnigan, who she said “seems like an old friend at this point,” back to Kentucky.

UK employees and Matthews’ friends and family helped transport the statue. Among the helpers was Natalie Fields, Matthews’ elder daughter and a civil engineering junior at UK. She said it’s exciting for her mom’s art to be on her campus.

She said her mom has art all over Lexington, but not always in such a recognizable place.

“This one’s cool because I can be like, ‘Hey you know that statue literally in the rotunda of the library? Yeah, that’s my mom’s.’ So that’s exciting. I’m going to brag about it a lot,” she said.

The statue’s next stop is planned to be the Truman Presidential Library in Missouri, but the government shutdown had stalled those plans. The statue will be put in its permanent place in Russellville in early August.