Colonel Harland David Sanders is synonymous with fried chicken, but who is he really? The man started selling his secret-recipe chicken in the 1930s before launching the KFC franchise in the 1950s. Today, his cartoon face — complete with glasses, beard and Western bow tie — is plastered all over the fast food franchise’s branding.
Sanders’ life and lore have been the topic of several recent films. KFC produced a light-hearted mini biopic for Lifetime called A Recipe for Seduction, starring Mario Lopez as Sanders. A more serious film, titled A Finger Lickin’ Good Story: The Life of Colonel Sanders, is on schedule to shoot, making the white-haired Southern gentleman who’s been dead for 42 years all the rage in pop culture, for some reason.
While an illustrated likeness of Sanders is how most people recall his visage, Covington’s indie toy shop Earth to Kentucky is hoping to change that.
The Colonel: A Group Art Show features the work of more than 30 different artists from around the world. Each artist has crafted a unique depiction of Sanders using an action-figure-sized “blank Colonel” resin sculpture made by California artist Scott Cherry as the template. Designs reimagine Sanders as Guy Fieri and The Joker, and there are gold-plated and pinstriped Colonels along with Colonels dipped in acid — it’s all colorful, absurd and strangely appetizing.
Earth to Kentucky co-owner and show co-organizer Dustin Benzing talked to CityBeat recently to discuss more about the exhibit’s origins, artists and weirdest pieces on display. The Colonel: A Group Art Show runs through May 7.
CityBeat: Did you curate this exhibit? Where did the idea come from?
Dustin Benzing: The idea for this show has been around for quite a while, in different forms. My friend Scott Cherry, an artist in California, and I would bounce ideas around for it, but it wasn’t until he sent me a photo of the in-progress (Colonel) sculpture that it really started to come together. I think Scott really worked out most of the framework for how we ended up putting it together and curated the bulk of the lineup. It was a collaborative effort, but I really wanted to give him the reins since the show is built around his sculpture.
CB: How would you describe the original Colonel sculpture? Any interesting notes on the original artist?
DB: The Colonel figure is really fantastic. Scott always manages to infuse so much of his personality into his work. He’s one of the most talented people I know. In addition to his art toys, he does black velvet paintings and has a really fantastic ongoing stop-motion-style comic book called Barbarian Rage. It’s always great when we find a reason to collaborate.
CB: Tell me about your favorite items in the show.
DB: Honestly, this show has so many of my favorite artists, and they all knocked it out of the park. That sounds like I’m just dodging the question, but it’s the truth.
CB: Did any local artists contribute?
DB: We have about six local artists in the show including Maximus Patton (1 Trick Pony), Jake Hill (Skull & Void) and Jonathan Queen, who created the Kenner (toy) mural downtown.
CB: Which sculpture traveled the greatest distance to Kentucky? Who made it?
DB: I think it’s a tie between Jose Pacheco (Pez Banana) in Venezuela and Russell Taysom in the U.K. Both are roughly 4,000 miles from here.
CB: Will the items be for sale after the show completes? If not, what’s their fate?
DB: The pieces in the show will go on sale (April 15) at 5 p.m., both in store and online. They’ll remain on display until the show is done so that people have a chance to come down to the shop and see them in person.
CB: Did you make any designs of your own for this exhibit?
DB: I do have a piece in this show. I couldn’t not make something for it, honestly.
CB: Do you like to eat KFC? Does that even matter with this event?
DB: I haven’t eaten KFC in a while, but seeing some of these pieces has actually made me a little hungry. I’d like to think this show has more to do with the Colonel’s mythic status as a Kentucky icon than his fried chicken, but I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of both.
The Colonel: A Group Art Show runs through May 7 at Earth to Kentucky (836 Main St., Covington). More info: earth2kentucky.com.
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