The Kentucky Arts Council’s Derby blanket project has evolved quite a bit since it started five years ago. While the Derby-themed canvases vary in design and skill level, all are a unique representation of the group of students from each school, grade or community that helped to create them.
Ranging from fun and whimsical to intricate and detailed, the finished “Derby blankets” are placed atop picnic tables that have been converted into horses with an attached head and tail for the annual Governor’s Downtown Derby Celebration in Frankfort. Each year, the blankets that are returned to the arts council are different. And each year, a story emerges that brings new meaning to the project.
This year, that story came from Knox County Middle School (KCMS).
Decorated with horses wearing yellow and purple hats, the KCMS horse blanket includes a special note, “Dedicated to Harley Laxton for her courageous battle with cancer and her continuing progress.”
A seventh-grader at KCMS, Harley Laxton was diagnosed with a high grade glioma tumor in November of last year. A cross country runner, Harley first noticed symptoms during runs when she would lose balance or fall. After multiple appointments and testing, doctors confirmed that she had a tumor wrapped around her spinal cord. While removing the mass through surgery wasn’t an option, doctors were able to perform a biopsy and recommend alternative treatments.
Harley, who once ran 3 miles a day, currently uses a wheelchair. She is not able to shoot her bow or spend a lot of time outdoors right now, things she loves to do. However, her mother says she keeps herself busy painting, drawing, making crafts and watching movies. Despite the changes her illness has brought, Harley keeps a good attitude. Part of that good attitude shows in her commitment to continue going to school as much as possible.
“Harley has a spirit like no other,” says her mother Vandy Laxton. “Her outlook is positive in every way! She is truly a shining light in my life and brings love and laughter to every day.”
Harley receives chemotherapy every two weeks in Lexington, and in the six weeks since she had radiation treatment, her tumor has been reduced to almost a third of its original size. Harley’s mom, Vandy, attends school with her daughter to help the 13- year-old maintain a normal schedule and keep up with classes. Harley’s latest report card read all A’s.
“Being at school with her friends and peers has given her the courage and strength to keep moving forward,” Vandy says. “We are so thankful and Harley is so excited that her friends and classmates have dedicated their art to her!”
Knox County Middle is just one example of the schools that have inspired and surprised us with their blanket creations during the last five years. From raising autism awareness to memorializing classmates that have passed away, this unique arts education opportunity has allowed students to express a wide range of complex emotions through their artwork. This year’s blankets, including Knox County Middle’s, will be on display at the Governor’s Downtown Derby Celebration on May 3. To see them online, visit the arts council’s Facebook page.
Alex Newby, Communications Assistant