Making Time: The Art of the Kentucky Tall Case Clock, 1790–1850


Free for members!

Book a group tour.

February 2 – June 16, 2019
Location: Special Exhibition, South Building 

Making Time: The Art of the Kentucky Tall Case Clock, 1790 —1850 is a first-of-its-kind exhibition devoted to early Kentucky tall case, “grandfather” clocks. The exhibition showcases twenty-seven clocks made across a wide swath of Kentucky from the 1790s through the 1840s. The majority of the clocks come from family and private collections and have rarely, if ever, been shared with the public. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated scholarly catalog that presents significant new research on early Kentucky cabinetmaking and the state’s watch and clock trade.

When shown side-by-side, the clocks reveal the expert hands of many Kentucky artisans; illustrate the hidden world of gears, bells, weights, and pendulums that kept the clocks running and chiming; and record the complex webs of craft, taste, trade, and technology needed to make these practical works of art. Throughout the exhibition, the clock cases illustrate the talents of early Kentucky cabinetmakers, both native-born and those who came to the state in search of success. These artisans transformed local woods like cherry and walnut into towering cases that frequently incorporate flourishes like inlaid decoration, carved ornament, and richly figured veneers. The results range from urbane, Federal-style creations to more idiosyncratic, often boldly inlaid forms. Numerous Kentucky silversmiths are associated with the intricate movements housed within the various clocks.

Engagement Opportunities:

  • Public tours from Curator Scott Erbes as part of Sunday Showcase:
    • March 24, April 14, May 19, and June 2 at 2 pm
  • Podcast: Tock to the Tick: Poetry Inspired by Making Time
    • A collaboration between the Speed and Young Authors Greenhouse
  • Just in Time: Exploring Kentucky Tall Case Clocks
    • Learn the backstories behind early Kentucky tall case clocks with the experts who created the exhibition. Enjoy a morning of presentations focused on the art, history, and technology of these Kentucky treasures; an opportunity to purchase signed copies of the exhibition’s accompanying catalog; and an afternoon tour of the exhibition with its creators. May 19, 2019.
  • Open Studio: Clock Creations
    • In honor of the closing of the exhibition all ages are invited to design and build a working clock from your own imagination! FREE as part of Sunday Showcase. June 16, 2019.

— The exhibition and accompanying catalog were organized by Scott Erbes, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Speed Art Museum, in collaboration with independent researchers Clifton Anderson, Greg Black, Bob Burton, and Mack Cox.
— The exhibition catalog is sponsored by Jean Frazier.
— Support for the exhibition is provided by Mack and Sharon Cox, Holly and Joe Gathright, Woodford S. Van Meter, Richard H. C. and Elizabeth Clay, Bob and Norma Noe, and the Kentucky Bluegrass Chapter 35 of the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors.
Exhibition season support provided by:
Dav Fam Art Fund
Cary Brown and Steven E. Epstein
Paul and Deborah Chellgren
Debra and Ronald Murphy
Eleanor Bingham Miller