Bernheim at 90: Amanda Uri Bernheim, Championing Art in the Forest

By Bernheim

In Bernheim’s 90 year history, many people have contributed to the creation of the Arboretum and Research Forest.  Without doubt, Isaac W. Bernheim was foremost in that group but he was far from alone.  While most of the others may not have names which are familiar to Bernheim visitors, their vision and efforts have been critical in making this forest sanctuary available to us all.  It is appropriate that we look back at some of those giant contributions.  This is the first of a series of posts that hopes to highlight those efforts and achievements. Click here to read part 2 and part 3.

Amanda Uri Bernheim

Amanda Bernheim

Amanda Uri was born in 1854. A Kentucky native, she was living in Paducah when she met the 24-year old Isaac W. Bernheim.  She was younger, only 18, but with a level of maturity that belied her youth.  After the early death of both parents, she became the primary caregiver for her family of four younger sisters. Isaac was quickly attracted to her and after a courtship of several months they were wed on September 23, 1874.  Many years later Isaac wrote that their enduring romance was guided by the twin stars of Heimath and Liebe, Home and Love.

Despite this long and deep relationship, her inclusion in any list of those who made significant contributions to this forest might seem out of place.  After all, her death preceded the purchase of the land for the forest by six years and the formation of the I.W. Bernheim Foundation by seven.  Still, her importance is without question.  The long walks through nature that she enjoyed with Isaac resulted in a mutual desire to find a way to help others strengthen their connection with the natural world.  Together they planned on converting their large estate in Anchorage, Kentucky into an arboretum and herbarium that could be enjoyed by the people of the area.  Her unfortunate early death in 1922 caused those dreams to be abandoned.  A few years later that vision resurfaced for Isaac and became the impetus for his decision to find an even larger tract of land and fulfill their dreams on a much grander scale.

Amanda was to be honored in this new project by one of its major components:  the Amanda Uri Bernheim Museum of Natural History.  This planned building would be an imposing structure with not only a large museum featuring displays of plant and animal specimens, but also would feature an impressive series of installations illustrating the Native American heritage of Kentucky, a valuable collection of meteorites (that collection is now in the Smithsonian Museum), and examples of notable paintings and works of sculpture with a focus on artists from the state.  It would also feature an auditorium with a performance space for musical artists and lecturers and would include facilities for recording for movies, radio, and television.  The architecture was to be impressive and construction was to be made of the finest materials.  For a variety of reasons including increasing construction costs, the Great Depression, World War II and practicality, this museum was never constructed.  A small temporary nature museum was a popular feature at Bernheim in the early years and some of its original exhibits can now be found in the Education Building.

Mr. Bernheim’s desire to honor his wife and her love of nature and art has not been forgotten and has taken new forms.  It became the genesis for extensive efforts by the Bernheim Foundation to find ways to incorporate art in a natural setting that continue today.  These efforts have taken shape in the Artist in Residence program, the Sunset Amphitheater, the numerous installations of art work throughout the arboretum, the annual CONNECT at Bernheim Festival, and the Forest Giants all spring from the desire to honor Amanda Uri Bernheim, a true giant of this forest.

-Ken Johnson, Volunteer Naturalist

In 2019, Bernheim celebrates 90 years of connecting people with nature. At over 25 square miles, Bernheim is the largest privately held forest dedicated to conservation and education in the region. Our arboretum is home to plant collections of over 8,000 varieties, public art, and educational programming for thousands of students.  Our pristine forest hosts hikers and outdoor adventures alongside research and conservation projects which will serve to protect the environment for future generations.

As a 100% member and donor supported organization, we could not fulfill this important mission without you. We hope you’ll continue to support our efforts throughout the next 90 years.  Join or donate by clicking here.

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