Louisville Photo Biennial Exhibition on display at Education Center from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily

By Jenny Zeller

One GIANT Vision: Images from the First 90 Years at Bernheim

Bernheim is the living legacy of philanthropist and visionary, Isaac Wolfe Bernheim. After emigrating from Germany at the age of eighteen and only $4 in his pocket, he moved to Kentucky and went into the distilling business. Over the years, he achieved great success with his Bernheim Brothers Distilling Company and his popular brand of bourbon, I. W. Harper. Grateful to the people of Kentucky for allowing him the opportunity to be successful, Isaac W. Bernheim demonstrated how to think forward and act big when he purchased the original 12,000 acres of degraded land that would become Bernheim Forest in 1929. His vision for Bernheim was for it to be a place for all people regardless of race, creed or social status to “further their love of the beautiful in nature and in art, and in kindred cultural subjects, and for educational purposes, and as a means of strengthening their love and devotion to their state and country.”[i]

In 1953, staff naturalist Lew Mueller introduces a young visitor to a snake.

In celebration of our 90th anniversary, we share a selection of photographs that celebrate milestones and memorable moments from Bernheim’s first 90 years. One GIANT Vision not only documents Bernheim’s history of fulfilling its mission of connecting people to nature but also that of the photographic medium, which has experienced many phases both as an art form and a means of documentation since its practical introduction in the late 1800s.

An illustrated Bent Twig Nature Trail map from the late 1960s.










Like Bernheim, cameras and film have evolved greatly over the past 90 years in the pursuit of memorializing special moments. Using images only found in the Bernheim archives or taken by board, staff and visiting artists, One GIANT Vision tells Bernheim’s unique story through analog methods of monochrome and color film, slide transparencies and finally with video and still images captured with digital cameras and cell phones.

Built in 1963, the Garden Pavilion was designed to look like the cross section of a clematis stem when viewed under a microscope.

Ninety years after Bernheim‘s founding, and now over 16,000 acres, Isaac W. Bernheim’s vision continues to be carried out today. The Olmsted-designed arboretum now contains more than 8,000 varieties of unique trees, plants and shrubs. With over 40 miles of hiking trails and abundant nature-related art and educational opportunities, Bernheim encourages deep personal interactions with nature. Ongoing plant research, stream restoration projects, sustainable building practices and land conservation efforts establish Bernheim as a nationally treasured leader in ecological stewardship. Additionally, Bernheim’s contributions reach far beyond the boundaries of our forest. Beneficial projects and initiatives such as green roofs, the Harmony in Practice program and the Children at Play Network help our surrounding communities connect with nature. Throughout Bernheim’s evolution, the camera has been an essential tool for documenting the impacts of these efforts and preserving memories made in nature. One GIANT Vision invites viewers to visually celebrate Bernheim’s past efforts and encourage their participation of Bernheim’s next 90 years.

With 96% sun coverage, Bernheim’s Solarbration drew over 3,000 visitors to witness the total solar eclipse in August, 2017.

One GIANT Vision can be seen at Bernheim’s Education Center daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.


[i] Quoted from Isaac W. Bernheim’s 1939 letter to future Board of Trustee members describing his vision and trust of Bernheim Forest.


One GIANT Vision: Images from the first 90 years of Bernheim is a featured exhibition in the 2019 Louisville Photo Biennial, a regional festival occurring in over 50 venues throughout the greater Louisville, Lexington and Southern Indiana area from September 20th through November 10th. Through exhibits, receptions, workshops and educational opportunities, the Biennial celebrates the medium of photography in all of its richness and variety, and its ability to touch and enrich our lives.


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