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More than 100 objects of Kentucky Art donated to Speed Art Museum
Paul Sawyier (American, 1865–1917), Riverbank Scene, Watercolor on paper mounted on board. From the Noe Collection, Gift of Bob and Norma Noe, Lancaster, Kentucky

LOUISVILLE, KY.- The Speed Art Museum announced one of the most important gifts in the history of the Museum and the largest donation of Kentucky art ever received by the Speed. Given by Robert and Norma Noe, this extensive collection includes 119 examples of early Kentucky furniture, paintings, silhouettes, textiles, ceramics, and silver. Artworks from the Noe Collection are currently on view in the exhibition Kentucky Antiques from the Noe Collection: A Gift to the Commonwealth.

Dr. Charles L. Venable, Speed Director and CEO remarks, “The gift of the Noe Collection more than doubles the Museum’s holdings of Kentucky-made decorative arts and paintings from the nineteenth century, giving the Speed the best collection of this kind anywhere. We now will be able to provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience and enjoy the state’s artistic heritage as never before. We are extremely grateful to the Noes for both their generosity and vision.”

Echoing Dr. Venable, the Speed’s Curator of Decorative Arts and Design, Scott Erbes, notes, “Bob and Norma Noe’s love of their home state and their passion for collecting led them to find and preserve great early Kentucky antiques. The masterworks they acquired illustrate the wonderful visual diversity that characterized nineteenth-century Kentucky. Through the Noes’ generosity, these treasures—the shared legacy of generations of artists, artisans, owners, descendants, and collectors—will remain accessible for generations to come.”

Exhibited through the years at the Speed and other museums, the Noe Collection is widely recognized as one of the finest private collections of nineteenth-century Kentucky decorative arts in the country. This donation represents a landmark in the 86-year history of the Museum. In 2007 the Noes promised to give their collection to the Speed over several years. With the museum’s long-anticipated expansion underway, the Noes decided to fulfill their promise ahead of schedule so that the public could begin to enjoy the collection. Following the completion of the Speed’s expansion project in 2016, additional space will be available for exhibiting early Kentucky art.

Through the Noes’ generosity, the Speed has dramatically advanced towards its goal of becoming the nation’s collection of record for important Kentucky art and design. The Noe Collection will also be integrated into the museum’s Kentucky Online Arts Resource (, an image database devoted to documenting Kentucky art.

Robert and Norma Noe
Kentucky natives Robert and Norma Noe didn’t intentionally set out to become collectors. As newlyweds in 1955, they needed to furnish an apartment and thrift led them to old furniture. Later, living for decades in the Washington, DC, area enabled the couple to visit museums and make purchases from antique dealers and auctions. They came back to Kentucky in 1979 as experienced collectors, and their love for the state and its history soon made them Kentucky collectors.

On collecting Kentucky art Robert Noe remarked, “There is an emotional reason for collecting Kentucky objects. We are Kentuckians and that was here and very few people were collecting it at the time, so we decided to become Kentucky collectors.” He went on to say, “Most of our family has stayed in Kentucky. They have lived here and that’s why we’re here and so we have a love of the state…a connection with the state that goes much deeper than just collecting antiques. It’s here, it’s in our soul.”

Over the next thirty years, the Noes built their landmark collection of nineteenth-century Kentucky furniture, paintings, silhouettes, textiles, ceramics, and silver. Eventually, they decided they wanted to share with others the joy of discovery and appreciation they had experienced, leading them to promise their collection to the Speed.

The Noe Collection
Early Kentucky furniture forms the core of the Noe Collection, adding more than forty examples to the Speed’s collection. Many can be documented to particular families, locations, and cabinetmaking traditions, helping visitors, scholars, and collectors better understand the patterns of migration, trade, and taste that shaped early Kentucky furniture. Several pieces, visibly characterized by their distinctive, spidery legs, come from a related group of furniture associated with the northeastern part of the state. The most ambitious example from the Noe Collection, a chest of drawers made between 1795 and 1810, is exuberantly inlaid with leafy vines as well as segmented fans executed in contrasting light and dark woods.

The Noes’ gift also includes five sugar chests and two sugar desks. These distinctive regional forms were designed to store and protect sugar, a costly commodity in early nineteenth-century Kentucky. Placed in the dining room or parlor for all to see, sugar chests and desks kept the sugar close at hand for sweetening social lubricants like tea, coffee, and alcoholic drinks. The Noes acquired many richly inlaid examples, including one that descended in the Madison County area, one of the state’s more prosperous counties during the early nineteenth century.

Along with a number of painted portraits, the Noes’ gift includes remarkable cut-paper silhouettes of many important nineteenth-century Kentuckians. Among them: Cassius Clay (1810-1903), cousin of Senator Henry Clay. A vehement opponent of slavery, Cassius Clay published an abolitionist newspaper. His views led to a duel and one attempt on his life. Clay’s elegant silhouette was created in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1845 by the prominent American silhouette artist, William Henry Brown (1808-1883).

The Exhibition
Kentucky Antiques from the Noe Collection: A Gift to the Commonwealth will remain on view through February 5, 2012. Organized geographically, this exhibition illustrates the breadth and depth of the Noe collection, highlighting artists and artisans that influenced the lives of Kentuckians from 1800 to 1900. Paintings and works on paper depict many individuals who shaped the state’s history, such as Daniel Boone and Henry Clay. Pieces from the Noes’ collection of early Kentucky furniture range from richly inlaid sugar chests, corner cupboards, and bureaus to simple Windsor chairs. Stoneware, silver, and samplers—from Maysville to Louisville—round out the exhibition.

Kentucky Antiques from the Noe Collection also features a portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Matthew Harris Jouett (1788-1827). The painting is a copy after one created by Gilbert Stuart. Jouett studied with Stuart in Boston for several months between the summer and early fall of 1816. When Jouett returned to Kentucky, he not only produced portraits of Kentuckians, but made additional copies of Jefferson’s likeness.

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