Season Premiere: Idlewild Butterfly Farm, Antler Art, and More!

By Leslie Potter | 10/08/17 8:30 AM

In the season premiere of Kentucky Life, Doug Flynn visits the Idlewild Butterfly Farm in Louisville. Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles shares what he thinks visitors to the Kentucky State Fair should be sure to see. Artist Dan MacPhail makes stunning art and furniture from antlers. A look back at baseball history includes a tragic story involving two Kentuckians.

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Idlewild Butterfly Farm
Near the heart of downtown Louisville is an urban farm unlike any other. Idlewild Butterfly Farm is home to caterpillars and butterflies, along with a wide variety of tropical insects.

Owner Blair Leano-Helvey explains that Idlewild is three businesses in one. “In 2009, I began Entomology Solutions, which is getting growers off the chemical insecticides and on to bugs that eat other bugs: Bugs instead of drugs.”

Another segment of the business is the collection of tropical insects and arachnids housed at Idlewild’s insectarium. The facility is USDA permitted, meaning they’re authorized to import tropical insects for display and educational purposes, and to sell them to other permit holders, such as zoos.

Among the critters visitors can see in Idlewild’s tropical bug area are elephant beetles, Malaysian walkingsticks, and an emperor scorpion that glows in the dark. And while many people have a reflexive fear of spiders — Leano-Helvey points to research suggesting that arachnaphopia is in our DNA — one of the most popular residents of Idlewild is Blanchula the Tarantula.

But it’s the less creepy-crawly side of the insect business that gets the most attention.
“We’re also a butterfly farm,” Leano-Helvey says. “It is a true farm. We just have little livestock.”

Visitors can come and see butterflies through the various stages of metamorphosis, from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Some of the chrysalises are taken to zoos where people can watch the butterflies emerge. Idlewild also sells butterfly displays, which are popular at weddings and memorial services.

The butterflies are produced in Idlewild’s outdoor flight house. “Butterflies need two kinds of plant,” explains Leano-Helvey. “They need a host plant. Every species of butterfly has a plant that they lay their eggs on to continue the lifecycle. And then you need nectar plants, which provide food for adult butterflies.”

Leano-Helvey adds that if you want to attract butterflies to your own yard, you’ll need to have both kinds of plant.

“There are some flowers that provide more nectar than others,” she says. “Zinnias are a favorite. Cosmos are a favorite. Mexican sunflowers, lantanas. Those are all annuals. We also have great natives that flower late into the season and that’s important, especially when the monarchs start making their migration.”

Kentucky State Fair
Kentucky’s state fair is one of the oldest in the country, and each year approximately 600,000 visitors attend the event, which takes place in Louisville in August. Doug spoke with Ryan Quarles, Commissioner of Agriculture, about what visitors should look for at the fair.

“We’re very good at what we do in Kentucky,” says Quarles. “One thing we can do a better job of is telling consumers how food travels from the farm gate to the dinner plate and the Kentucky State Fair is a great way to explore and reconnect.”

The fair features exhibitions and competitions for all facets of Kentucky agriculture, from crops to livestock to the world’s championship horse show for American Saddlebred horses.

“I always recommend that people start off at the agriculture exhibits,” says Quarles. “Come see the state’s giant pumpkins that won this year. Check out some of our traditional crops like sorghum, and also look at some of our expanding opportunities, such as honey. [Honey is] the fastest growing Kentucky Proud product in our state right now.

“Kentucky is a big livestock state,” adds Quarles. “We have more beef cattle than any other state east of the Mississippi, so we take these livestock showing opportunities very seriously.”

Aside from the agricultural exhibits, the Kentucky State Fair offers exhibits for all things Kentucky in the south wing, rides on the midway, and a bountiful feast of fair food.

Dan MacPhail Studio
Artist Dan MacPhail has found his niche constructing furniture, lighting, and sculpture using antlers at his Dan MacPhail Studio in Ballard County. It may seem like an unlikely medium for someone of his background.

“Almost all the other antler guys have been carpenters or in a trade craft of some sort,” says MacPhail. “I come from a fine art background, and that’s different.” He adds that his knowledge of painting and restoration plays into the work he does with antlers.

“I really wasn’t a hunter and where I grew up there were no deer,” he says. “But I started thinking about what you could build out of antlers if you could get a hold of them.” MacPhail purchases antlers from brokers in Oregon and Idaho.

“He not only takes an antler and puts it together [perfectly] but it’s also the color and painting,” says Dennis Simonson, a customer and collector of MacPhail’s work. “You just think he stacked them there, and the colors are so beautiful you don’t realize he’s altered the colors. You look at other people’s work, they don’t go into that detail like MacPhail does.”

MacPhail attributes his superior results to his extensive experience in the medium. “I can take any antler, they can be rights or lefts, different colors, it doesn’t even matter,” he says. “I’ve been doing it so long that I can just make it work. It just looks like it was meant to flow together.”

One Fateful Pitch
A tragic incident that took place during a game between the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees in 1920 has two Kentucky connections. Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman was originally from Beaver Dam. Yankees pitcher Carl Mays was from Liberty. Their stories are forever intertwined in baseball history.

“Chapman was a career Cleveland player,” says Jeremy Feador, team historian for the Indians. “He was a selfless player, wanting to move guys over on base and amongst teammates, everyone loved him. He was one of those guys fans gravitated to.”

By contrast, Mays was known for being an aggressive player who tried to intimidate his opponents.

“Whether it was justified or not, Mays had a reputation as someone who would throw at you,” says Feador. “When you develop a reputation like that…you don’t get the benefit of the doubt when something happens.”

On a gray, rainy day in August in New York, Mays was pitching and Chapman was at bat. Mays was a submarine pitcher, meaning he used an unusual, low-to-the-ground style of pitching that can be exceptionally tough to hit. On that day, he pitched, and the crowd heard a crack. But it wasn’t the sound of the ball hitting a bat.

“Chapman never moved. He probably didn’t see the ball coming at him,” says Feador. “It hit him right in the head and it rolled out on the field like it was a bunt. Chapman immediately collapsed to the ground and was unconscious.”

Other players ran out to help him and doctors from the crowd rushed down to the field. They got him to his feet and started to walk him off the field, only to see him collapse again.
“They took Chapman across the street to a hospital,” says Feador. “That night they did an X-ray and figured out that there was a [skull] fracture. They performed surgery and removed a piece of his skull, but then it took a turn for the worse and he never recovered. Around 4:00 that morning he passed away.”

Chapman was newly married and his wife, Kathleen, who was pregnant with their first child, was called to come to New York, but she didn’t make it in time to see her husband before he died.

There are several factors blamed for that fateful pitch. At that time, team owners pressured the league to save money by reusing balls. By the fifth inning, when the incident occurred, the ball was covered in dirt and may have been hard to see against the gray sky. Couple that with Mays’ unconventional pitching style, and it seems Chapman may have been unable to see the ball coming at him.

Whether or not Mays intentionally threw too close to Chapman remains a mystery.
“Carl Mays was a really great pitcher who got overshadowed by this incident,” says Feador. “You look at his numbers and there are some people who say he could have been a hall of fame pitcher. But when people think you threw at a guy’s head and it killed him, it doesn’t help your chances of being voted into a hall of fame.”

The Cleveland Indians went on to win the 1920 World Series, wearing stripes on their sleeves in remembrance of their fallen shortstop.