Throwback Thursday – Henry Faulkner, a famously bizarre Kentucky artist and poet

A famous Kentuckian was a midcentury bohemian artist and poet. Born in southcentral Kentucky in nearby Allen County in 1924, Henry Faulkner’s legacy can still be found nearly a century later. 

He was born to Bessie Lee Pursley and John Milton Faulkner, but was orphaned by age six and placed in homes around Kentucky. He used his Kentucky upbringing as inspiration for his art and poetry. Faulkner grew up in several foster homes around the Commonwealth thru the Great Depression and WWII. His creativity and artistic nature led him to New York, San Francisco, Key West, and even back home to Kentucky in Lexington. It is estimated that he created 5,000 paintings. 

His abstracts and vibrant colors caught favor with the Hollywood elite and celebrities. He was known to be great friends with Tennessee Williams, Ezra Pound, and Bette Davis. In fact, Bette Davis once gifted him a Siamese cat, whom he named “Miss Davis.” But perhaps the most famous animal or pet in Faulkner’s life was his goat, Alice.  Alice liked to make appearances at A-list parties, and she was often seen both enjoying bourbon and in his paintings. Famous actor Vincent Price had a Faulkner collection. Even Faulkner’s painting of Ernest Hemingway now hangs in the Hemingway Museum.

Faulkner’s Kentucky roots inspired his paintings, especially scenes from Clay County, small townships, the Hunt Morgan house in Lexington, and other recognizable Bluegrass scenes. According to Sam Terry’s Kentucky blog, Faulkner spent time in a psychiatric hospital and prison, which most likely also impacted his creative works. Biographer Charles House in, “The Outrageous Life of Henry Faulkner,” tells his life story.

In 1981, Faulkner was killed in a Lexington car accident. All of his poetry was bequeathed to actress Bette Davis, while his many farms and homes all over the world were given to Tennessee Williams, James Leo Herlihy, Alice Delamar, and Daphne Phelps. He is buried in Allen County next to his mother at the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist church.