It’s quite possible that local artist Sallie Clay Lanham has paint running through her veins to a heart of gold.
She recalls her mother telling the story of her as a 4-year-old painting a cow for her father who was in World War II at the time.
“I didn’t know where the udders went, so I put them under the neck,” Lanham laughed, at her home studio in rural Franklin County.
A graduate of Frankfort High School and Cincinnati Art Academy, Lanham has crafted a life out of oils and watercolors — both as an art teacher at Capital Day School and in advertisement art, with her husband of 32 years, Bob.
A little more than three decades ago, while living in Louisville, she was hired to create an exterior painting of a church. Upon completion, she then gave the painting to the church, which, in turn, would sell prints and notecards for profit.
Soon after, she gifted a cousin with a painting of her home. Of course, a neighbor of the cousin saw Lanham’s work and asked for her own painting of her home. Business snowballed from there.
Over the course of her career, Lanham has painted hundreds of homes and landscapes including a whole series of area churches, the Franklin County Courthouse, the former Polosi’s Home Restaurant on Broadway and numerous horse farms.
“Everybody’s story is so unique,” the artist said, adding she has had some odd requests over the years. “One woman, she had a huge house and a huge yard and she wanted all 13 of her grandchildren in the yard.”
Lanham’s biggest brush with fame came when a woman requested a painting of her family’s home in Woodstock, Illinois, as a gift for her husband. The 5,815-square-foot, eight-bedroom, 8½-bathroom home, at 344 Fremont St., was the same one used in the 1993 Bill Murray classic film “Groundhog Day.”
Though she was asked to paint the home prior to it’s popularity, Lanham was on-hand for the filming of the movie.
“The film crew was supposed to come in February, but they didn’t get there until April, so they had to use fake snow to cover the flowering trees,” she said of the movie, in which Murray, as weatherman Phil Connors, relives Feb. 2 over and over again.
Lanham also painted a series for Lover’s Leap Vineyards and Winery in Lawrenceburg.
“They turned out beautiful. The leaves and grapes were all different colors,” she explained, adding she has also shown her artwork at numerous juried art shows and galleries.
She has also had her work spotlighted at Central Bank in Lexington and Capital Cellars downtown.
Many of Lanham’s paintings include water elements. She draws much of her inspiration from Elkhorn Creek, which gurgles near her home on Justice Lane.
“One client I had wanted me to paint the back of his home which backed up to a lake,” she said. “So they took me out on the lake in their boat.”
Around town, Lanham is known as much for her vibrant art as she is for her giving heart. She has volunteered for countless community arts projects, including an annual student art show, Celebration of the Arts and Acres of Art Festival.
She currently serves on the board of directors for the Rotary Club of Frankfort, Kentucky Arts Council and Kentucky Federation of Republican Women. Lanham was a founding member of The Kings Center and has aided the Capital Expo Artist Showcase, Franklin County Arts Consortium, Artist Advisory Committee for Liberty Hall Art Festival and Capital Area Art Guild. She was also key in the renovation and re-opening of the Grand Theatre.
“The theater had been closed off since the ’50s,” she said. “The seats were stolen but in the basement, we found old, old posters (of past shows).”
She was awarded Frankfort Area Chamber of Commerce Artist of the Year in 2008, Kentucky Art Educators Association Teacher of the Year and the People’s Choice Award as Frankfort’s Best Artist in 2011.
“I’m always involved in something,” Lanham added.
Lanham is also co-editor, publisher and art director for “Portrait of Early Families — Frankfort Area Before 1860.”
“The makings of that book were sitting on my dining room table for four years,” she said of the arduous process of piecing the book together.
Lanham has one son, Clay Thompson, and four grandchildren. She and husband, Bob, live on Justice Lane — so named for her father, former Court of Appeals Judge Clay Watson and, neighbor and fellow Judge Roy Vance.