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The life and legacy of queer icon Henry Faulkner

Ahead of the Henry Faulkner Centennial Jubilee at the Headley-Whitney Museum, we sat down with photographer and gallery owner John Hockensmith.

Henry Faulkner with one of his goats.

Faulkner was known as an organic farmer and raised goats + rams. | Photo courtesy of John Hockensmith

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Eccentric, free-spirited, charismatic. That’s how many would describe the larger-than-life presence of poet and artist Henry Faulkner.

To celebrate and honor the colorful Lexingtonian, the Headley-Whitney Museum has just opened the “Henry Faulkner: Poetry in Paint One Hundredth Birthday” exhibition, which features ~190 pieces of his work donated by the community.

Celebrate Faulkner

Here’s a few fast facts about the exhibit:

  • Runs through Sunday, Nov. 12
  • Hours: Friday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Admission: $10 or free for members + children 17 and under
A painting of a cat near a newspaper that reads, "Cat Cat Lex Fucatzzi"

Faulkner’s work was as vibrant as his personality. | Photo courtesy of John Hockensmith

Along with the showcase of his actual work, the museum will host a variety of events over the next few months to commemorate Faulkner’s legacy:

  • Happy Birthday Henry Champagne & Cake | Friday, Sept. 22 | 5-7 p.m. | $15
  • Luncheon & Faulkner Talk with John Hockensmith | Tuesday, Oct. 3 | 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. | $45

Faulkner’s life was known to be as animated as his own work. We spoke with his friend + gallery owner John Hockensmith to discuss his impact on the local art community — as well as the legend of his supposed bourbon-drinking goat Alice.

Tell us about your personal connection to Henry

“When I was a young lad in my early 20s, I was like the rest of the community. We were all awestruck by Henry’s stature in the world. When I met him, he asked me what do I do...I had just started a frame shop in Georgetown.”

In 1978, John became the go-to guy for framing Henry’s early work, his “celebrity photographer,” and would soon be displaying his photography alongside Henry’s paintings.

“Henry employed everybody. Everybody worked for Henry and his mind.”

Even after Henry died in a car accident in 1981, John says, “My connection never went away.” He went on to contribute to the biography, “The Outrageous Life of Henry Faulkner” and the chronological art book, “The Gift of Color: Henry Lawrence Faulkner.”


“Runney Meade” by Henry Faulkner. | Photo courtesy of John Hockensmith

He kept returning to your life after he passed. It’s almost like he was a guardian angel.

John laughs and adds, “Also a guardian devil. He was a complex man.”

Many people describe him as this bohemian, free-spirited person. Do you think that his life imitated his art? Or vice versa?

“Henry was art. I don’t know that I could begin to distinguish the person from the creativity. Even in the impetuousness of slamming on the brakes, pulling over in a ditch, and jumping out to pick wildflowers. He authentically lived art...He couldn’t escape that.”

According to John, “The Headley-Whitney collection reflects the joy of Henry’s paintings.”

A painting of two dogs.

“He was an iconic Lexingtonian,” said John. | Photo courtesy of Headley-Whitney Museum

Describe his impact on the local community in three words.

“Pied piper of Lexington...He was an iconic Lexingtonian.”

John makes a point to dispel that “outlandish” rumors of Henry’s bourbon-drinking goat. While the stories around Henry certainly make for juicy urban myths, the real life of the artist didn’t need any amplification. John remembers who he was at the core: an openly gay man who valued the back-to-the-land lifestyle, contemplated life’s complexities, and lived as a spontaneous, bona fide creative.