SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) -Typically the first Saturday in May the Kentucky Derby is run, but due to coronavirus, the 146th run for the roses took place September 5 at Louisville’s Churchill Downs. The famed race has a tie to right here in Savannah.
A mint julep is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby; Kentucky bourbon being the main ingredient.
Presentation is key for the julep. The same could be said for the official Woodford Reserve Kentucky Derby bottle.
“SCAD really changed my life in a lot of ways. It allowed me to become the person I am today because of the people I met and my illustration professors,” Sullivan explained. “I think just allowing me to realize I can do both, you know? You can have, you can be good at two totally different things...and it doesn’t have to be sports or art. It can be anything.”
The Louisville native came to Savannah in 2005 to play baseball.
“It was the first art school I’d heard of that had a sports program, so that’s how I found Savannah.”
Sullivan was drafted by the Atlanta Braves his junior year. After spending time in the minor leagues, he came back to SCAD in 2014 to finish his illustration degree.
“Then I started to paint athletes. SCAD is a magical place. It really is.”
Sullivan returned to Kentucky a few years ago, and began to paint another kind of athlete: thoroughbreds.
Last summer Woodford Reserve took notice of his work and reached out. By August 2019, Sullivan had created the bottle design for the 146th running of the Kentucky Derby, not knowing that with a delayed race date, his bottle would become a collector’s item.
“That’s pretty special, and obviously, you know, here in Kentucky, things aren’t- Derby week isn’t the normal Derby week, so it’s special. It’s bittersweet for sure too, because I was so looking forward to all the festivities and stuff, but we’re celebrating as best we can.”
Sullivan said this milestone, along with an MLB series he completed (part of which is displayed at Truist Park) are “full circle” moments for his career.
“Being from Kentucky and realizing how important the Derby is in our culture and the history in Louisville- it is a huge, huge deal. I’m so honored to be a part of it.”
He said the original painting was about 8-feet long, and took him almost a month to complete before Woodford began bottling in September.
“My inspiration was like, lets focus on the horses and when they were in the flow and kind of when everything was on the line, everybody is coming down the track, this is it, you know? This is that moment.”
Sullivan said he drew inspiration from five different photographs to create his painting. You can find more of his work here.