You drive up a nearly vertical narrow ribbon of black asphalt (“I hate this road in all weather”) to get to Bill Allard’s place in Afton. It snakes past stone retaining walls holding up tipsy perennial beds to the final vertiginous bend where the log house, built by previous owners in 1989, perches above woodland laurel groves.
In the library on the third floor, windows on the south and west frame bare treetops. “I’d love to have a skylight in here for more natural light,” Allard says. “With all these track lights it’s a little better. I just wish the windows were bigger. You know these damn log houses.”
An eminent photographer with National Geographic (and father to Batesville’s own Terri), Bill has shot subjects from blues musicians to minor league baseball, but beginning with his first book, the award-winning Vanishing Breed, his focus has been the American West. His eclectic library includes vintage sporting prints, spurs and chaps overseen by mounted deer heads and antlers. “That’s a deer I got in Virginia in Orange County some years ago, and the other one I got in Montana. I enjoy hunting. I fish a little bit but my wife is actually better at that than I am.”
They moved in nine years ago, and he’s now unpacked the last of the books and added the last bookcase. Although “this is what I consider the library,” the whole house erupts with books, from basement to music room to utility room, where rapidly multiplying cookbooks spill forth.
“It’s a great place because you can have solitude. If you’re writing you’ve gotta have that. And the music, I love having music.
“We’ve got a music room downstairs with a piano in it I’ve yet to learn to play. That’s where most of my art books are and a lot of first editions. We have a family room in the basement, a lot of books down there, too. Books all over the place.
“I collect books on painters more than anything else. It’s from painters that you learn how to handle space. You develop your sense of grace and your sense of balance. Matisse is my favorite.
“I had a kind of a love affair with the subject of the American West and the cowboy for 12 or 13 years. My first book was on it, Vanishing Breed. I published five books, each of which I feel pretty good about. None of them are perfect.
“I’m just beginning a sixth, based on an exhibit I had last June in Charlottesville at Les Yeux de Monde, ‘William Albert Allard: Five Decades,’ focusing more on my work outside the country.
“I love books. Remember also that a book can break your heart. A book is a one-time thing. When you do a book and it’s not the book you wanted, it’s all over. Nobody’s gonna come down the road and say, hey, we’ll do it again for you, we’ll fix it, we’ll make it right.”
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