AIR at 40: 1993 Artist in Residence Madison Cawein

By Jenny Zeller

1993 Artist in Residence Madison Cawein

After nearly a decade of hosting photographers, Bernheim’s Artist in Residence program expanded to include other mediums and a number of painters, printmakers and interdisciplinary artists followed. In 1993, Madison Cawein one of Louisville’s most respected artists was selected to receive the fellowship. Interestingly enough, Cawein’s work as a painter of botanical subjects is skillfully photo realistic in its approach and full of thought and reflection. His art seems to exist in that  moment right on the cusp of transformation, an idea that is important for Cawein. It is his hope that the viewer will be open to the changes in perception that can occur as his art is re-experienced from time to time.

“Bernheim Thistle: Twilight of the Invader”, oil on canvas, 60″ x 96″

This residency at Bernheim was incredibly important to Cawein, and even described as pivotal in his career and rich in its harvest. At the time he became incredibly interested in the evidence of the human role in managing nature at Bernheim and was most interested in thistles and water lilies. Thistles are herbaceous plants of the daisy family, vestiges of the farms originally purchased by Isaac W. Bernheim. “Thistles need sun to thrive and spread and because the forest was allowed and encouraged to return, the shade of the trees caused them to die out–hence the title Twilight of the Invader.”

“Equinox Lily”, oil on canvas, 11″ x 14″

“I was most attracted to the waterlilies at Bernheim not only for their beauty but because they were so rich in metaphor. The reflections embody the ancient wisdom of Hermes Trismegistos : “As above, so below” which is similar to part of the Christian Lord’s prayer “on earth as it is in heaven” since the reflection (sky/heaven) is literally flat on the surface of the earth. Another metaphor arises out of the fact that the lilies are tropical, not native to Kentucky, and in my time were not taken in for the winter but were allowed to die and then replaced each year. Around the autumn equinox, as days became shorter and temperatures dropped, the lilies responded by blooming like crazy. I found it impossible not to anthropomorphize, and viewed this  as a metaphor for courage.”

“The Indomitable”, oil on linen, 60″ x 96″

Cawein exhibited his first series of photographs as art printed on metal and glass at Moremen Gallery in downtown Louisville in 2019. He credits the elements of those photographs; flowers, water and reflections; beginning for him at Bernheim, although his vision for the images have evolved a lot since that time. Cawein has shown his work extensively since 1983 and has work in numerous collections around the world included the Speed Art Museum, Brown-Forman Corporation, MCA Records, and HRH Queen Elizabeth II to name just a few. Cawein now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but is represented by B Deemer Gallery on Frankfort Ave in Louisville, KY.


2020 marks the 40th anniversary of Bernheim’s Artist in Residence program. Established in 1980, this internationally renowned program annually awards artists the opportunity to live and create site-specific work inspired by their total immersion experience at Bernheim. Throughout 2020, we are celebrating the contributions of the program’s past that has allowed our visitors to experience nature in a new way while enhancing awareness of Bernheim’s mission of connecting people to nature.

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