CHICAGO — Thomas Allen Pauly never thought he'd see his artwork on a bottle of booze.
"It's a weird feeling," the Ravenswood artist admitted. "But it's also pretty cool."
Pauly, 56, a nationally recognized horse racing artist whose work hangs at tracks around the country, including Churchill Downs and Arlington Park, has a painting featured on the front of a commemorative Woodford Reserve bourbon bottle that recently debuted. Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
“Woodford Reserve is honored to collaborate with an artist of such high caliber for this year’s commemorative Derby bottle,” Jason Kempf, Woodford Reserve brand director, said in a statement.
Pauly has been painting horses, jockeys, tracks, owners and other facets of the sport since he was 18. He first attended a race on June 17, 1978, when a friend invited him to a party at the now-demolished Sportsman's Park in Cicero. The friend's father owned a horse called Rusty Win, which won his race. Pauly made a drawing of the horse and sold it to the dad for $50.
"We all got in the winner's circle, and I got hooked," Pauly said.
Pauly is the official artist of last year's Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. His official portrait of American Pharoah will be included in an exhibit that opens May 1 at the Kentucky Derby Museum.
He's also done several paintings for Arlington Park owner and Morgan Park Academy graduate Richard Duchossois.
Pauly, a Jefferson Park native and Schurz High School graduate, will be in Louisville in May to autograph the bourbon bottles. They're covered by his painting "Barreling Down," showing two horses and their jockeys seeking a win at Churchill Downs.
He has one bottle right off the assembly line but said Woodford Reserve is supposed to be sending him two cases.
"It's a really cool honor," Pauly said.
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