HCC painting gift

An 1892 painting by American painter Gean Smith of famed African-American jockey Issac Murphy riding the champion filly Yorkville Belle has been acquired for the historic Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College, through a gift form former HCC president Jim LaCalle and his wife Lynne. (Harford Community College, Homestead Publishing / February 4, 2013)

Harford Community College officials will unveil a painting in the recently-refurbished historic Hays-Heighe House on campus next week, which was purchased using funds donated by a former HCC president.

Former HCC President Jim LaCalle and his wife, Lynne, worked with Carol Allen, director of the college's library and the Hays-Heighe House, to determine what would be an appropriate gift to help decorate the house, which was built in 1808 and reopened to students, faculty and visitors in 2010 after an intense renovation.

They settled on an 1892 work by American painter Gean Smith of famed African-American jockey Issac Murphy riding the champion filly Yorkville Belle.

"We are delighted that the generous support from Dr. and Mrs. LaCalle made the purchase of this painting possible," Allen said. "Considering the many years that the house (under the name Prospect Hill Farm) was the locus of a major horse-breeding and horse-training operation, it is especially fitting that the first work of art acquired for the house features a jockey and a championship horse. We hope, over time, to acquire additional art work that will help us to tell the story of the history and culture of Harford County."

Murphy, whose father was a former slave who fought during the Civil War, was a three-time Kentucky Derby winner and the first jockey to be inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., according to a news release from HCC.

"The bottom line is my wife and I wanted to contribute. . . . I said, 'You guys decide, and I'll pay for it,' " Jim LaCalle said Thursday.

LaCalle, who retired in July 2010 after working at the college for 40 years, was the college's president when the Hays-Heighe House renovation project started. He served as president for five-and-a-half years and also served as head of the college's continuing education division for many years.

Lynne LaCalle is a former HCC vice president for enrollment services.

Jim LaCalle said he hopes the contribution toward the purchase of the painting will encourage others to "make contributions that allow for the purchase of items that fit the decor of the house."

He said those could include other works of art or period furniture.

"In this case, the art represents the property when it was a stud farm, the racehorse theme," LaCalle explained.

The painting of Murphy will be unveiled this Wednesday during an event from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Hays-Heighe house that includes a talk from racing historian Michael Finney, entitled, "Isaac Murphy's Last Belle: The Story of a Champion Filly and America's Greatest Jockey."

"As a 3-year-old, she went on to win nine out of 15 races, including the prestigious Ladies Handicap, the Monmouth Oaks and the Gazelle Stakes under Murphy," Finney said of Yorkville Belle in a statement.

Wednesday's event, one of several Black History Month events at HCC, is free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended. Space can be reserved by calling 443-412-2539 or e-mailing haysheighe@harford.edu.