In the heart of Kentucky, gifted sculptor Amanda Matthews ’90 breathes life into metal, creating poignant monuments that transcend memorials.

Through her artistry, Matthews embraces grief and healing simultaneously, creating sculptures that become heartfelt tributes to the departed, inviting onlookers to reflect and find solace in the enduring power of remembering their names for years to come.

After graduating from UofL’s Hite Institute of Art and Design, Matthews used her studio painting degree at Wild Honeysuckle, a studio she owned in Louisville. When transitioning into bronze sculpting, Matthews found a bronze foundry in Lexington that would cast her work.

Almost 20 years later, Matthews and her business partner-turned husband now own that foundry and have renamed it Prometheus Art Studio. As CEO and co-founder of Prometheus Art, Matthews uses her experience and creativity to choose projects that are meaningful to her.

“I design sculptures and monuments as well as the space they inhabit – not just things or objects, but legacies and spaces that help build communities,” she said.

In memory of the fallen

Search for Matthews online and you will find a long list of meaningful projects. Many have a similar theme: The subjects’ stories deserve to be told, and their names deserve to be remembered and spoken aloud, long after they have departed.

Much of Matthews’ work is either located in Kentucky or has ties to the state. Her most recent in-state project, a COVID-19 memorial called United We Stand, Divided We Fall,
is located just outside of the state Capitol Building and was dedicated in May.

After more than 18,600 Kentucky lives were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Andy Beshear sought artists nationwide to send in concepts for a donation-funded memorial designed for Kentuckians to visit, grieve and remember.

“There was national competition to design and build that monument, and I’m so incredibly honored that my concept was chosen,” Matthews said. “Public art is the object, where here what we were trying to convey was more of a sense of community and unity, loss and support.”

The memorial captures the widespread impact of the disease. Around a central orb with the Kentucky state motto are statues representing many genders, ages and races, all designed with a hole near their hearts to show the grief of lost loved ones. Depicted in the “column of support” below the orb are doctors, first responders, leaders and front-line service workers who dedicated their lives to serve others during the pandemic.

“Generations of Kentuckians will come to this area of the Capitol to learn about our heroes as well as reflect on the many great challenges that we face together, including the once-in-every-hundred-years pandemic,” the governor said at the dedication ceremony, also describing the memorial as “phenomenal.”

When her concept was chosen by an advisory panel, Matthews went back to the governor’s office with the suggestion of what she calls extreme accessibility, including paths for wheelchairs, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking, lighting, cane rails on location, Braille and interactive narration.

“When you are trying to represent a community as large as a commonwealth, you have such a breadth of things to consider,” Matthews said. “We needed to make sure that no one in the commonwealth would lack access to this healing space.”

Sculpting the nation’s women

Steps away from the COVID-19 memorial is another completed sculpture by Matthews, the Life Size Bronze Portrait of Nettie Depp. Depp was a public education champion in the state, and her statue is the first monument of a woman in the Kentucky Capitol.

Though her work has been chiseled into Kentucky history, Matthews’ projects reach far beyond the state. Perhaps her most internationally known sculpture is The Girl Puzzle, one of the world’s largest monuments honoring diverse women and girls, located on Roosevelt Island in New York City.

The monument is in memory of Nellie Bly, an investigative journalist and a trailblazer for women. This project took an international call, and after tough competition, Matthews won the contract based on her macro perspective of Bly’s life.

“What the committee saw were a lot of proposals that represented the likeness of Nellie Bly,” Matthews said. “Instead, I put everything into it. I had nothing to lose.”

This mentality created a three-part installation, one part being five 7-foot-tall bronze faces that represent four different lived experiences from different women, as well as Nellie Bly’s portrait. Another part was three large stainless-steel spheres to represent Bly’s life and career, and the final part was the accessible walkway that allows visitors to see each piece from multiple angles.

“What I was offered to bring to this monument, through the stories that Nellie Bly told, is that 130 years later we can see that this work is still pertinent,” Matthews said. “And that Nellie Bly’s life is a wonderful example of who we need to be and how we can build up, support and advocate for others.”

Art as connection

The Girl Puzzle, the Life Size Bronze Portrait of Nettie Depp and United We Stand, Divided We Fall are only a few examples of how Matthews views the world and her art. Matthews is a driven artist, looking to connect humans with one another and to use her work as a catalyst in that pursuit.

Described in her artist statement, Matthews’ work “represents many iterations of the philosophy that we are born from our innate connection with nature and each
other.” Included in this perspective is Matthews’ focus to keep important names in history alive.

“I hope to dot the landscape with monuments, icons and symbols that help people find common ground – (pieces) that speak truth to power, that question systemsof oppression, that dare greatly and allow us to have discussions and build things that are more inclusive,” she said.

In addition to sculpting, Matthews is still a studio painter, as well as a writer, public speaker, producer and CEO of a booming business. Some of her current projects include a book titled “Messengers” and a short film, “The Last Time Your Name is Spoken.”