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LexArts and Lexington’s Freedom Train Select Artist

Renowned sculptor Basil Watson commissioned to create monument honoring Lewis and Harriet Hayden and the Underground Railroad

LEXINGTON, May 24, 2024 — Lexington’s Freedom Train Memorial committee, in collaboration with LexArts, is delighted to reveal that Jamaican artist Basil Watson has been chosen to craft a memorial honoring Lewis and Harriet Hayden, two formerly enslaved individuals from Lexington who fled through the Underground Railroad and rose to prominence as abolitionists. The monument will also serve to remember and honor the journey to freedom of other enslaved people in Lexington.


A Call for Art attracted submissions from 96 esteemed artists at local, regional, national, and international levels. Out of these, four artists were selected to develop designs for the site. Following their public presentations, the selection committee, with considerable public input, decisively selected Watson’s design.


“The process of choosing an artist for the Lexington Freedom Train was efficient and inclusive, with a diverse selection committee narrowing down from 96 artists to four exceptional finalists,” said committee chair, Larry Kezele. “The final choice, Basil Watson, has our enthusiastic support.”


“The under-celebrated story of Lewis and Harriett Hayden is a very inspiring story of dignity, courage, resilience, and commitment,” said Watson. “I am excited at the prospect of joining the Lexington, Kentucky community in celebrating this native couple who were so integral in the Underground Railroad, the fight against slavery, and the Civil War. It is an honor and a privilege.” Discover details of Watson’s design HERE.


This significant public artwork is set to become a visual landmark in Lexington, situated on a parcel of land at the southeast corner of Limestone and Fourth Streets. Its anticipated completion in mid-2025 is expected to align with the 250th anniversary of Lexington’s founding, serving as a notable feature of the 250LEX celebrations.


“I am thrilled to be part of an historic art project celebrating the freedom and victory of Lewis and Harriett Hayden,” said selection committee member Garry Bibbs, sculptor and Associate Professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Art and Visual Studies. “The heroic bronze sculpture captures their essence as human beings and tells their powerful story. Slaves had no rights, yet this art is a testament to their enduring legacy.”


The committee has successfully raised almost half of the project’s $550,000 cost, which includes a generous anonymous donation of $100,000 and $50,000 pledges each from Community Ventures and the Knight Donor Advised Fund at the Blue Grass Community Foundation. Donations to the memorial fund are welcomed HERE.    More information about the Lexington’s Freedom Train project can be found at LexFreedomTrain.org

About Basil Watson  –  Art :“The harmonious expression of one’s vision of life.”


This personal description of his lifelong passion is what defines the work of Jamaican artist, Basil Barrington Watson. For more than 45 years, he has been translating life’s most important attributes – positive emotions and attitudes, the spirit of freedom and spontaneity, strength, beauty, energy and vigor – into finely crafted works of art.


Born in Kingston, Jamaica, the son of internationally renowned painter Barrington Watson, it was a natural progression for Watson to study at the Jamaica School of Art. He then went on to establish a successful career as Jamaica’s leading sculptor. The most notable of his achievements on the island include having monumental works on the campuses of the 3 primary universities, as well as signature works at the 2 major Stadia. In 2016, the Government of Jamaica awarded Basil the Order of Distinction (Commander) in recognition of his contributions in the field of Art.


Emigrating to the United States in 2002, Watson established his home and studio in Lawrenceville, GA. Having continued the steep climb to international recognition, he has completed major works in China, Guatemala, the UK, and in various States within the US. Over his 45-year career, Basil has completed several major commissions for various governments and organizations all over the world.