Keith Anderson: Woodford Reserve’s First-Ever African American Artist On His 145th Derby Bottle Design

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Words, Tyler Zielinski

Photography, Courtesy of Woodford Reserve

The Kentucky Derby is, without a doubt, the classiest sporting occasion that America has to offer - it’s like America’s Wimbledon. It is an event for the affluent, or relevant, and comes across as such in the shape of $1,000 Mint Julep Cups which sell-out on Derby Day (although they are for charity) and exquisitely-dressed attendees who are there to indulge in a day filled with betting, drinking, and camaraderie.

For the last twenty Derbies, Woodford Reserve, the current presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby, have released a commemorative Derby Day bottle design created for this celebrated cultural occasion, which is designed by a selected artist. The last two years, Woodford Reserve have selected the artwork of local Kentuckian & Brown-Forman’s (the parent company of Woodford Reserve and other brands) Keith Anderson - the first-ever African American artist to have designed a Woodford Reserve Derby bottle. Designed with the spirit of The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports History in mind, Keith Anderson features a colorful depiction of thoroughbred horses racing across the track along the front of the bottle. Anderson has been with the Brown-Forman company for 12 years working at the Bourbon Street Café (the café inside the Brown-Forman corporate campus) showcasing his artistic talents from inside the restaurant to canvas and now Woodford Reserve’s commemorative Kentucky Derby bottle for the 145th Kentucky Derby.

This historic cultural milestone is one that we at BOND OFFICIAL desired to capture; and so we had to pleasure of sitting down with the artist himself.

Keep scrolling to read what Keith Anderson has to share about his past Derby experiences, his accomplishments, and advice for fellow creatives like himself.

How many Derbys have you attended in your life? Do you have one that is more memorable than others, and why?

”I’ve been to 15 Derbys - and each is memorable in a different way. But, the best was six years ago when my brother and I placed a big bet, and we hit the Trifecta. It was raining money -- literally.  Everyone should experience The Kentucky Derby in-person at least once in their lifetime.”

What's your favorite aspect of the Kentucky Derby?

”I love everything about it -- the traditions, colors, fashion, horses, history. Derby is not just a two-minute horse race, in Louisville it’s a two-week party. But the best part is how Derby brings everyone together for one day -- for one day we are all Kentuckians. And you can’t help but get misty-eyed when the horses step onto the track to the strains of “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Can you elaborate on your inspiration behind this historic bottle design?

”This year’s design came to me Derby week of 2018 when I was at Churchill Downs watching the horses run on the track. Their sheer power and their colors struck me as they raced by me -- and that is what I tried to capture with my artwork. The color green of the turf was very visually striking -- and that color pops on the bottle.”

What did the design process look like? How long does it typically take to align on a final concept?

”I had a vision for what I wanted to do -- and it only took two weeks to translate what was in my head to canvas. I did a few sketches first to show and then spent two weeks in my basement art studio getting it just right.”

Can you share how it feels to be the first African American to design the bottle, and why this milestone is a significant one for you?

”It’s such an honor, and it’s a legacy I’m leaving for my 3-year-old daughter. I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky -- home of not only Derby, but Muhammad Ali. As Ali said, leave the world a better place. I feel I am doing that through my artwork. This has been one of the highest honors of my life -- and it has opened so many doors for me and my artistic career. I hope that I have inspired other artists, too.”

Would you consider this project to be your proudest artistic accomplishment?

”Absolutely. I’ve been involved in many artistic endeavors and art shows, but having my work on the Woodford Derby bottle tops them all. Just think -- my artwork on shelves across the United States and the world.”

For aspiring artists and creatives who are striving for success in their careers, could you share some wise words, or advice?

“Advocate for yourself.  Don’t give up. The big reason my artwork is on the Derby bottle is because I stopped Mark Bacon, the global brand director for Woodford Reserve, and told him that I thought my artwork could be on the bottle. He gave me a chance -- and the rest is history.”      

Now for a fun one - what's your favorite Woodford Reserve cocktail?

”I’m a big fan of the new Woodford Spire, a drink named in honor of Woodford Reserve and the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs. It’s the newest Kentucky Derby tradition. -- Woodford, lemonade and cranberry over crushed ice and garnished with a lemon twist.”