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One thing that people like about the Kentucky Derby, aside from horses, of course, is the glamour surrounding the event.
Everyone is excited about maybe getting a chance to glimpse of a celebrity or two, or to dress up in fancy hats or just enjoy a tasty mint julep.
Wakefield-Scearce Gallery has had its share of celebrity visitors during past Derbies, and employees enjoy recalling the stars and what kinds of trinkets caught their eyes at the gallery.
“We have had Stephanie Powers and Robert Wagner and even Lauren Bacall come in,” said Patti Wilson, a decorator at the gallery.
“And of course, William Shatner, but he’s a local, you may as well say.”
Wilson said that when stars drop in, they are mostly interested in small collectable items, usually silver.
“There was a lady in Bloomfield who used to hold a large Derby party each year, and celebs would come in here with her, but she no longer does that,” Wilson said. “Now, they mostly just fly in for the Oaks, they go to parties that night, go to the Derby the next day, and they don’t linger as much these days.”
Wilson said that although the smaller items are big with celebrities, the late actor Robert Urich, who died in 2006, was an exception.
“He bought a bunch of furniture from us, and we shipped it to a cabin out west somewhere that he was building,” she said.
Matthew Burnett, the gallery’s chief financial officer, said he remembers when John Lovitz of Saturday Night Live fame came in a couple of years ago.
“I walked around with him, and he wanted to buy a gift for some people he was staying with,” Burnett said.
He added that the public, as well as celebrities, enjoy browsing through the gallery’s selection of sterling julep cups and other Derby-related items.
“They’re a good traffic generator for us,” he said. “People want to have a good time and enjoy themselves, and here they can experience the feel of the Derby and maybe pick up a julep cup.”
Wilson said the gallery sells a lot of julep cups, even though they start at $850.
The gallery began having a silversmith manufacture its julep cups as soon as the facility was founded in 1947 by Mark A. Wakefield and Mark J. Scearce, who bought a portion of the old Science Hill School, with Scearce acquiring the rest of the property in 1965.
Each julep cup is named after the president who was in office at the time the cup was made, and has the president’s name engraved on the bottom.
“We have them for every president since Truman,” Wilson said.
The gallery displays its copy of the Kentucky Derby Trophy, made by the gallery in the early 1970s, each year at Derby time, and has other Derby items scattered throughout the gallery as well, with price tags ranging from modest amounts to more expensive, such as hand-painted china with horse patterns and julep cups just shy of $2,000 each, to dish towels in the gift shop with mint julep recipes on them.
“This is our Derby room; we are rather proud of it,” Wilson said, glancing around at the horse art and sculptures and a huge bouquet of red tulips adorning the central table.
“Churchill Downs uses roses for the [Derby] winner, but they decorate the grounds with tulips,” she said.
And then there is the Derby apparel at W Cromwell and the Country Lady, with scores of brightly colored neckties decorated with horses and jockeys, and, of course, the ever-popular hats.
“How do I look?” asked Wilson, trying on a stylish hat and pirouetting before a mirror in the shop, the County Lady, owned by Geri and Billy Andriot. “I’ve had my eye on this one.”