Thursday, February 10, 2011

Favorite Sculptures and Statues

PROLOGUE: I am dismayed by Governor Brownback's signing into oblivion the Kansas Arts Commission. This decision makes Kansas the first state to eliminate a state arts commission, and further enhances many an outsiders' mistaken notion that "those hicks out there" live in a cultural wasteland. As stated by many others in recent days, this move will deprive the state of millions of dollars in federal and regional arts grants. There are many who say this move will shut down concerts, art exhibitions, plays and more in rural communities. This goes beyond sad; it is a travesty. Imagine trying to sell your community to a potential new business if the quality of life is degraded by this cut. It is said that many will lose jobs at a time when the economy can't afford it. If those jobs are just bureaucrats at the KAC, I am only marginally concerned. There is a part of me that does not want government meddling in the arts, anyway - but if it somehow means working artists have to go elsewhere to practice their art, that is another matter - one that sucks away creative minds and vibrancy from our communities.

There is another, perhaps not-so-obvious, reason that I am steamed. It's the Guv's statement that the arts do not matter. That is not what he says with his mouth. It is what he says with one stroke of the pen. I  think somebody should do a statue of Governor Brownback at some time in the future. If done according to my plan, it will be a pedestal of concrete - with NOTHING ON IT.


With that said - I will tumble off of my wobbly soap box and, with a similar wobbliness, segue into this, my 38th Kansas Travels blog.

Big Surprise! - it involves the arts. In future months, I hope to intersperse journey reports with posts relating to the arts in Kansas. I am not an expert in most fields of the arts, but can write with authority on some (classical music, I humbly believe), or with some knowledge (painting), but totally clueless (poetry, for instance) on others. No doubt my personal tastes will be exposed, but after all, it is my list. Anybody is free to write their own blog, it is not as hard as one might think. Just remember, as I do, the words of Hubert Humphrey: "The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously."

This series begins with a listing of my favorite sculptures in Kansas. A reminder - you may click on images to see larger sizes.

They Came to Stay: This work speaks to me like no other in the state. I find it to be powerfully evocative. Located on the grounds of the Sherman County Courthouse in Goodland, this mixed metal sculpture pays tribute to the grit and spirit of the hardy pioneer families that settled the high plains, enduring harsh conditions to work the land. Majestically executed by Goodland native Greg Todd, this work was dedicated in 1987. Get off of I-70 some time and check it out.

Phog: Remember - I said these would be MY favorites. I'm a Jayhawk - have been since 1952 when my family assembled around the massive Philco radio in the parlor of our Wellington home to listen to the Phog Allen-coached KU Jayhawks playing for the national championship. While in junior high I attended my first basketball game in Allen Fieldhouse to watch Wilt Chamberlain score 36 points and pull down 36 rebounds. Years later while a student at KU, I would play in the pep band watching a different group of Jayhawk stars - JoJo, Robo (Dave Robisch), etc. In regard to the statue itself, it is a fitting tribute to a man who learned basketball from the inventor of the game, became one of its first great coaches, and coached many players who would later become Hall of Fame coaches.

Ike:  I Like Ike was a phrase we heard a lot in 1952. As the presidential election neared, we kids linked arms on the school ground and chanted that phrase, strange as that might seem to today's youngsters. But Dwight D. Eisenhower caught the attention and imagination of many a Kansan - young and old. Many of our fathers had fought under his command during World War II. He was a hero. Today, his proud and dignified likeness commands respect as it overlooks his hometown of Abilene. This eleven-foot bronze, sculpted by American artist, Robert Dean, was cast in Florence, Italy. The Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum were together voted as one of the original 8 Wonders of Kansas

John Brown: One man's terrorist is often another man's hero. So it was, and is, with John Brown. Near the entrance of the John Brown Park in Osawatomie is this statue of the militant abolitionist in a sober and intense pose, quite the opposite to his fiery and violent portrait in our state capitol building. This statue was cast by the Borbedine Foundry of Paris which also cast the Statue of Liberty. I might add there are a surprising number of historic sites of interest in Osawatomie, many related to those years of turmoil prior to the Civil War.

Children of the Trails: Sculpted by Chinese-American artist Kwan Wu, a Kansas City area resident, this poignant art work was "...created in loving memory of every child lost along the trails as families faced the unknown, blazing our nation's westward growth." (from the plaque accompanying sculpture). On the grounds of the Johnson County Courthouse, Olathe, Kansas.

Memorial to Volga German Settlers: Hardy people of faith and determination were needed to successfully  settle the high plains of western Kansas, including the land around Victoria, Kansas. The people who filled those requirements were Germans immigrating from the Volga region of Russia. This memorial, across the street from the magnificent St. Fidelis Church ("The Cathedral of the Plains"), pays homage to those who endured harsh conditions to make a home for themselves on the Kansas frontier. This is another attraction just a few minutes away from I-70. 

Summer at the Pond: Smaller in scale than the commemorative sculptures previously mentioned, this whimsical little jewel appeals to my sentimental side.Proof that bigger is not always better, it is my favorite of the numerous pieces of artwork in Overland Park's magnificent arboretum. Its tasteful placement within the Erickson Water Gardens adds to the charming effect. Summer at the Pond was created by Overland Park's own Robin Richerson who has a number of other works showing publicly in the area. Link to arboretum's website:

Tall Oak Monument: Named for the tree from which it was hewn, this 27 foot Indian chief sculpture is quite striking in its location in front of the imposing Doniphan County Courthouse in Troy. Hungarian artist Peter  Wolf Toth had a goal to sculpt an Indian monument in each US state. After meeting a resident of Troy at another site, he accepted the invitation to perform his craft in this small northeastern Kansas community. In this work, Toth did not depict a specific chief, nor a specific tribe. The feathers, neck broach, and head band are a composite rendering of those worn by the regional Kickapoo, Pottawatomie, Iowa, and Sac and Fox nations.

Octave Chanute Memorial: - previously seen in my Kansas Journeys (March 2010) - a mobile sculpture replicating the Wright brothers flying machine, commemorating the important relationship between the town's namesake and the birth of flight. French-born Octave Chanute was never a resident of this town, but the railroad he built here made the town possible. Chanute was also an early "expert" in aviation, and his book on glider design attracted the attention of the Wright brothers, and he became their mentor.

Bluegrass: Nancy and I have driven by this set of sculptures on numerous occasions, especially during our annual outings to Winfield's Walnut Valley Festival, held the third week of each September.  I have not learned the title of the sculptures or the name of the creator, but that doesn't keep me from enjoying them. This set of four sculpted pylons pay homage to Winfield's long-time reputation as a great music city, and to the bluegrass and acoustic musicians who each year participate in the festival. Located in Island Park at the north end of Main Street.

Garden of Eden: Far more than a sculpture, perhaps more accurately labeled a sculptured environment, Samuel P Dinsmoor's concrete structures have been fascinating (or confounding) visitors to Lucas, Kansas, for almost 100 years. Dinsmoor, a retired teacher and farmer, a Civil War Veteran, Freemason, free-thinker, and Populist politician, began constructing his limestone "cabin" and these ideology-espousing concrete sculptures at the age of 64. One of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art

M.T. Liggett's Metal Sculptures: If you have ever driven through little Mullinville (that's out in Kiowa County) on Highway 400, you've seen M.T.'s sculptures. They are impossible to miss. And if you've ever stopped to gaze at these "things," and M.T. came by to check you out, you will remember that event. He's impossible to forget. The whirligigs, gizmos, and miscellaneous insults lining the fence row give you a pretty good idea what Liggett is like. He's not interested in impressing the blue noses of the art world establishment and he could care less about political correctness. He is what he is, a fact that has often been documented in the media, including public television's Rare Visions and Roadside Revelations, magazine and newspaper stories, and on the web including one of my favorite sites: .


Some will question my choices, but as mentioned earlier, they are my favorites based on my tastes and my visits. Many would probably list Wichita's monumental Keeper of the Plains high on their list, but I simply haven't been there, as I rarely go to (but often through) Wichita. The Buffalo Bill Sculpture in Oakley? I've been there several times, and agree that it is beautifully executed, and yes, it certainly is huge. But I feel uncomfortable with the glorification of those so-called western heroes who systematically slaughtered the American Bison. 

A prominent Kansas sculptor whose work is regretably not represented - Pete Felton of Hays. I have seen a couple of his works briefly, and have been impressed by photos of his work, but have never had the opportunity to photograph them myself. I hope to visit Hays (and perhaps his studio) sometime in the near future. 

A few others I like and would not want to totally exclude: The Buffalo Soldier at Fort Leavenworth; The Pony Express Rider at Marysville; The Pioneer Woman statues at Council Grove and on the state house grounds at Topeka; Charles Goslin's statue of Chief Charles Bluejacket in Shawnee's Herman Laird Park; and Hubble's Rubble, a fanciful yard full of roadside art at Howard. And finally, how could I not mention Ernie Poe's American Bison made of wire (shown below) at the Fort Wallace Museum in Wallace? It's meeting great folks like Ernie, and even M.T. Liggett, that make my Kansas Journeys so enjoyable.

© 2011 Frank Thompson