Hit the Road

Day-trip worthy destinations for unconventional arts, outdoor adventure and lots of bourbon

The very name of Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, the 14,378-acre nature preserve just 20 miles south of Louisville on Interstate 65, indicates it is far more than just a park or nature center. 

Make no mistake: Bernheim, run by a nonprofit organization, primarily provides educational and recreational activities related to nature. One look at its website will confirm that. (To reach as many as possible, it has free admission, although there is a $5 environmental-impact fee for most vehicles on weekends and holidays.)

But it is also a great destination for those interested in arts and culture, with such outstanding and imaginatively sited sculptures as Matt Weir’s “Earth Measure.” This large outdoor work, installed in 2013, features carved stacked limestone with circular openings and geometric shapes. It serves as a fascinating perception-altering frame from which to view the surrounding nature.

Sculptor Matt Weir's "Earth Measure" installation - Photo: Steven Rosen

There are other fine and unusual pieces, too, including Sévryna Lupien’s “The Atomic Apartment,” a Mid-Century Modern cloud form, made of PVC, along the outside visitor center window, and Myung Gyun You’s mixed-media “Photosynthesis.”

And there is more. When I visited in early May, Bernheim’s two writers-in-residence — Caitlin Horrocks and W. Todd Kaneko of Grand Rapids, Mich., — were giving of a reading of her fiction and his poetry.  They were standing before some 20 people on a sunny Sunday afternoon, in a window-lined visitor center room that overlooked a vine-bedecked pergola and its buzzing bumblebees.

Horrocks read from her book of short stories, This Is Not Your City, and Kaneko from his poem collection, The Dead Wrestler Elegies. It was pretty unusual to hear poems about Andre the Giant and Gorilla Monsoon and others in this locale.

One wonders what Isaac Wolfe Bernheim, the German-Jewish immigrant who started the I.W. Harper brand of bourbon, would think about his gift of nature being used for abstract sculpture and Gorilla Monsoon-related poetry?

Bernheim created this place in 1929 by buying thousands of acres of overused timber and farmland. He then hired Frederick Law Olmsted’s design firm to plan its public areas, while planners waited for trees to grow back. (Bernheim died in 1945.)

Actually, he might be OK with it, according to Martha Slaughter, Bernheim’s visual arts coordinator. “The artist-in-residence program was started out of a response to Isaac Wolfe Bernheim’s desire to connect people to nature through art,” she says. “Originally he had talked about a museum that would have sculptures of famous people from Kentucky, but that never materialized.”

In 1980, the arboretum’s trustees decided to begin an artist-in-residence program to honor Bernheim’s original vision. “Bernheim is always game to try new things,” Slaughter says. “Instead of having one type of art, we try to create a library of artwork over time so different mediums are represented.”

This year’s schedule of visiting artists, who will share their work and other activities with the public, proves that point. Throughout June and July, Jaime Bull, a recent MFA graduate from University of Georgia, will be on site to create oversize costumes, some humorous and some grotesque, that can be worn or stand alone as sculpture.

From June 15 to July 31, Bernheim will host artist-in-residence Cathleen Faubert, an assistant professor of art, technology and culture at the University of Oklahoma. Her area of expertise is olfactory creations.

“She’ll be doing scent mapping of Bernheim and creating different scents from different parts,” Slaughter says. “And in somewhat of a performance piece, she will set up a lab for the public to watch her work when boiling down different materials and making oils and perfumes out of them. The second part of her project is to create a scent path where people can walk and smell different things.”

A third artist-in-residence this year is Rachel James, who creates installations and sound performance pieces and has contributed to the broadcasts Radiolab and This American Life. She has a master’s degree in arts-informed research from the University of Toronto. She will be at Bernheim Sept. 15 through Oct. 31.

In her application, James said her project would “playfully subvert the traditional format of an arboretum and research forest by producing a mirror research facility and museum exhibit.”

A fourth artist-in-residence, Donald Pollack, is visiting throughout the year to do research for large landscape paintings to be shown next year at Carnegie Center for Art & History in New Albany, Ind.

Meanwhile, Bernheim is preparing for its annual outdoors CONNECT event, from 6:26-10:26 p.m. on Aug. 22. “It is a collision of art, music, science and nature,” Slaughter says. “We provide a platform for a lot of spontaneous fun things to happen.”


For information about specific arts programs or BERNHEIM ARBORETUM AND RESEARCH FOREST’s hours and facilities, visit bernheim.org.


Amish Country


Close to Ohio’s border with Pennsylvania is Holmes County, which contains the largest Amish population in the world (in fact, some estimate that in the next 15 years, Holmes will be the first county with an Amish majority). Only three hours away from Cincinnati, you can pick up some homemade pretzels or furniture or maybe even a quilt — all crafts for which the Amish are renowned — and enjoy the horse and buggies that amble down the streets while reveling in a bygone era.

visitamishcountry.com.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Of the 1.2 million barrels of bourbon produced in the United States annually, 1.14 million of those are produced just a hop, skip and a jump over the river in Kentucky. Like at the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto (population 721), just south of Louisville, where you can tour, taste and even hand-dip a bottle into their famous red wax. 

If you live in Cincinnati (which you do), and love bourbon (who doesn’t?), then a day (or weekend) trip on the Bourbon Trail needs to be on your summer itinerary. kybourbontrail.com.

Yellow Springs

Just a quick hour-and-a-half jaunt north, Yellow Springs is a laid-back getaway. Hike the wildflower-lined footpaths in the 1,000-acre Glen Helen Nature Preserve, grab homemade ice cream at Young’s Jersey Dairy or wander the eclectic downtown with galleries, sidewalk cafés and vibrant shops. On June 13, more than 250 arts, crafts and food vendors, two music stages, a beer garden and strolling street performers will take over the town for the annual Yellow Springs Street Fair. yellowspringsohio.org.