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Artist for this year’s Woodford Reserve Derby bottle makes history

Keith will soon become one of the company's most famous employees, and he's loving every minute of it.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- He’s on the move. Keith Anderson is a fixture as a team leader in the Brown Forman corporate dining room called The Bourbon Street Café.

Keith is now an 11-year Brown Forman employee and told us he worked his way here, “I did all kinds of odds jobs forklift, sales at Coca-Cola.

Keith will soon become one of the company's most famous employees, and he's loving every minute of it.

Brown Forman for the first time in 15 years of choosing national artists to design it's Woodford Reserve derby bottles, picked an employee, and its first African American artist. He says, “I want it to be the best, when you see this bottle I want you to say, man this has got to be one of the best bottles Woodford has put out.”

Derby 144 will be all Keith’s. Anderson explains, “I was born and raised in the West End, and I think that's neat, yeah, West End kid poor, family of ten, yes.”

This Derby is big for the Louisville based Brown Forman. The First Saturday In May is called “The Kentucky Derby

Presented by Woodford Reserve replacing Yum Brands as the chief sponsor.

The 52-year-old paints in his basement at night, and actually sold his artwork, artwork he still sells today, to help pay tuition at Murray State and U of L.

But every year working at Brown Forman, he had his eye on one prize, the Woodford Reserve Derby Bottle. He says, “I saw an opportunity. That's why you never give up.”

So, setting up for an executive Derby part last year, Keith happened to be the only one there with Mark Bacon the global brand director for Woodford Reserve. he made his move and said, “You know one year my stuff is going to be on that bottle and my artwork is going to be in that tent and he looked at me like, you think so?”

Mark Bacon told me via phone from Zurich, “He looked at me and said one of these days, I’m gonna do that bottle one day.”

Bacon quietly moved forward with an idea, never telling Keith. As Anderson remembers, “I asked the question, they haven't found an artist yet? No!”

Last October, Bacon suddenly showed up at a regular meeting Keith attends with a small group of employees. He says he’ll never forget what was said at that meeting, “Keith Anderson, would you be willing to our Derby bottle? I didn’t know whether to cry, holler, it was just shock.”

Bacon says he’s become a huge fan of Keith's art, “What fit very nicely with Keith this year we want to celebrate the best of Kentucky.”

The bottle carries his signature, and a tag telling you about him. Bacon says he has another goal for Keith, “I really hope this kickstarts his career.”

Anderson says this was his vision for the art, “It’s just like you are standing on the track. I want all the excitement, all the horses, all the betting, all that week, you’re seeing it all right here.”

The colors, the reactions, the jockeys. He included 3 to 4 African American jockeys. And a grey horse, of course.

But when you look at the bottle, notice the dark horse on the side.

Keith remembers watching ABC Sports and Howard Cosell on WHAS 11 in 1979. Keith says, “Spectabular Bid was one of my first horses at a kid that won a Derby.”

The horse Keith painted is not Spectacular Bid, but patterned right after him.

In the end, I had to ask him, how many of these bottles will he buy? He said, “They'll give me some, but I come from a family of 10. I gotta take care of family first!”

Anderson had to give his original artwork to Brown-Forman, which is framing it and putting it on display. They are also paying him extra for his artwork. Keith told me his late parents are his inspiration. His Dad never missed a day of work. His mom, he says, kept him in line.

You’ll be seeing a lot of Keith around Derby time. He'll be out in the community, signing his bottles.

You can reach Keith by emailing him at Brown Forman, his address is: keith_anderson@b-f.com