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Kansas art, like Kansas literature, was born amid the strife and chaos of Territorial days. The first large group of settlers were concerned primarily with politics and morality and had little time or aptitude for painting and sculpture. Yet a few were impelled to record, with motives similar to those of a traveler who photographs a scene he wishes to preserve, the novel conditions in which they found themselves. With little or no professional instruction, it is doubtful if they thought of themselves as artists in the accepted sense. They left, however, valuable drawings and paintings portraying important events of the Territorial struggle.

 

Among such "primitives" in the collection of the State Historical Society are the illustrations in the 12 volume diary of Samuel J. Reader, a Topeka pioneer. Having taken a homestead near North Topeka in 1855, Reader devoted himself, during the following 54 years, to a written and pictorial account of his life in the State a narrative illustrated with pen and ink drawings, and by oils and water colors. Reader was self-taught; and although his figures are crudely drawn and awkwardly proportioned, his perspective is sound and his handling of color is original and full of variety. In his treatment of detail he strives for literal accuracy.

Some of the most eventful days in Kansas history are described in Reader's diary. He was a soldier in the Free State Guards and fought in the battle of Hickory Point. During the Civil War he saw action at the Big Blue with the Second Regiment, Kansas Militia. Five of his illustrations, enlarged, hang in the museum of the State Historical Society. These include oil paintings of his meeting with John Brown, the Second Regiment in action at the Big Blue, and the battle of Hickory Point. Two incidents of Price's raid are portrayed in water color: a Confederate cavalry charge, and a group of Union prisoners with Confederate troops after the battle.

Other sketches of pioneer scenes preserved at the historical museum are the pen and ink drawings of John F. Ayr, J. E. Rice, and William Breyman. Ayr and Rice, who settled in Lawrence soon after its founding, made several sketches of the early town. Breyman's drawing of the prison at Lecompton, where he and a score of other Free Staters were confined, gives a graphic impression of the place.

The years immediately following the establishment of peace in Kansas were almost barren in the fine arts. Kansans of the period found the task of wringing an existence from the stubborn soil or developing their mercantile enterprises too exacting for leisure interests. The spirit of the times is symbolized in an amusing way by a canvas in the State Historical Society's collection representing a mammoth watermelon from which a farmer, having climbed upon it with a ladder, has chopped out a plug as large as a wheelbarrow.

Also belonging to this period is a collection of scroll-saw woodwork by the late J. T. Glenn, pioneer resident in Wamego. Glenn used native black walnut to fashion intricate bookcases, writing desks, and picture frames, and miniature churches which served as clock cases. Several items in this unique group, which is on exhibition in the historical society, incorporate fine filigreed effects, while others are somewhat overweighted with ornamental curlicues.

The aboriginal Indians of Kansas produced baskets, bead work, and pottery, and Indian craftsmen at the Potawatomi and Kickapoo reservations in northeast Kansas still practice these arts. Many outstanding examples of Indian artifacts and of arts and crafts have been collected in Kansas museums, notably at the State university and Fort Hays State Teachers' College.

Much of the success of the Kansas agricultural exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 was due to Henry Worrall, its designer. Worrall's oil painting of the exhibit hangs in the State historical museum.

There were a few attempts to stimulate the arts during the i88o's, notably the organization in 1883 of the State Art Association. The association aimed to establish a permanent art collection in Topeka, hold annual competitive exhibitions for Kansas artists, and maintain an art school. The first loan exhibit was opened in the Topeka Public Library on March 1 6, 1885, and the first session of the school began the following year. After a short time the school failed to attract students, membership in the association dwindled, and the organization lapsed into inactivity. The art collection, however, supplemented by recent additions, is still on exhibition in the library at Topeka. Among its paintings, a realistic work by Alfred Montgomery depicts a barrel, a scoop shovel, a partly-filled sack, and a dozen ears of corn on a granary floor. Montgomery, whose extreme literalness in rendering commonplace farm subjects aroused facetious comment among his contemporaries and earned him the title of "farmer-painter," introduced art instruction into Topeka high schools in 1887. His painting Down on the Farm, exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1890, was later sold for $10,000. At the same exposition another Kansan, John Douglas Patrick, was awarded a medal for his huge 9 by 12 foot canvas entitled Brutality.

John Noble and George M. Stone were the first native-born artists to win more than local recognition. Noble was born in Wichita, then a roaring frontier cow town. Many of his early paintings were nudes which adorned the back bars of local saloons. One of these, Cleopatra at the Bath was mutilated by Carry Nation in her famous raid on the Carey Hotel bar. Noble's mature work was done in Paris and New York. Most popular are his marine studies of the Brittany Coast and his paintings of the "magic city" New York. He was admitted to membership in the National Academy of Design, an honor since bestowed on two other Kansans: Henry Salem Hubbell, who studied in Paris under Whistler, Laurens, and Constant; and Van Dearing Perrine, self-taught "original" of landscape painting.

George M. Stone, who died in 1931, was best known as a portrait painter, although his Kansas landscapes, while somewhat academic, have a good deal of distinction. The State commissioned him to paint many prominent Kansans. Stone also executed several murals and did historical paintings dealing with Kansas' past. Frederic Remington, noted painter, illustrator, and sculptor of Wild West genre, spent some time on a ranch in Butler County. Here he is said to have obtained material for the works that made him famous. Arthur Sinclair Covey lived in El Dorado for a period ; his mural, The Spirit of the Prairies, painted for the Wichita City Library, brought him wide recognition.

By the 1890*5 Kansas had grown sufficiently wealthy to replace many of its frame structures with monumental stone buildings. Among the artisans who came to the State were stonecarvers, including Joe Robaldo Frazee, son of John Frazee, noted pioneer among American sculptors. Frazee was employed by Sargent and Company, stonecutters. The caps on the Corinthian columns of the State capitol were carved by Jim Haiderman, who also decorated the Veale Block, Seventh and Quincy Streets. Heads and coiled dragons carved by John Deliew and George Ward on the Shawnee County Courthouse (1896), also in Topeka, indicate a high degree of artistic sensitivity. The ability of these craftsmen to imbue their stonework with warmth and plasticity is further demonstrated in the classic male and female figures above the entrance to the Santa Fe Hospital in the same city.

Kansas woodcarvers plied their craft during the i88o's and 1890*5 at the Abilene plant of the Parker Amusement Company, one of the few manufacturers of circus and carnival equipment in the country. Artisans employed by the company carved prancing steeds for merry-go-rounds and decorated circus wagons with bold rococco flourishes. The collection of the company, now established at Leavenworth, includes a lion carved in 1880 and a horse carved in 1890, both of white pine. These animals are done with great verve, nostrils widespread, manes flying, legs tensed to leap. The sides of old-time circus wagons, now used to form the walls of sheds at the Parker plant, are encrusted with involved carvings of white pine. Experts have pronounced these designs exceedingly virile and free in execution. Noteworthy among Kansas' artisan-artists are the Lindsborg woodcarvers, whose portrait figurines are excellent in characterization.

It was in the 1890'$, too, that Birger Sandzen, Swedish artist and teacher, arrived in Kansas, where he has since painted and lectured at Bethany College, Lindsborg. It was largely through his efforts that Lindsborg has become an art center unique in the Middle West. As a painter, Sandzen is best known for his individual interpretations of the scenery of the Southwest. His technique derives from impressionism, and is marked by a broad simplicity and a vivid utilization of pure color. His visits to the Colorado Rockies and the New Mexico deserts have provided themes for many of his etchings, lithographs, block prints, and water colors. Sandzen is represented in leading American and European galleries, and his Lindsborg studio remains a gathering place for Midwestern artists.

In the present century, Kansas has been the home or birthplace of many talented artists. Outstanding among these are John Steuart Curry and Henry Varnum Poor. Curry was born in 1897 on a farm near Dunavant in Jefferson County. He studied at the Chicago Art Institute for two years, working his way as a bus boy. After several years as an illustrator, he went to Paris and returned in 1927 to devote himself to a dramatic representation of American experiences. With a sensibility steeped in the Midwest and its people he has painted Baptism in Kansas, Kansas Stockman, Hogs and Rattlesnakes, The Line Storm, Tornado, The Sun Dogs, Spring Shower, The Gospel Train, and Return of Private Davis. The last three are owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A brief tour with Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey Circus provided the artist with material for Plying Cadonas, acquired by the Whitney Museum, New York, and other notable drawings and paintings of circus life. In 1933 he painted two murals for the new Department of Justice Building, Washington, D. C.

Curry's rural baptisms, whirling tornadoes, and earthy barnyard scenes have an almost savage quality which was not generally admired by Kansans. There were a few, however, who felt that the artist's work deserved public encouragement. When Curry left the State in 1934 to become "artist in residence" at Wisconsin University, William Allen White ruefully declared: "It takes something more than factories, something more than crowded cities and towns, something more than per capita wealth to make a civilization, and Kansas would be able to hold her head a little higher if she could have taken John Curry under her wing." White's statement began a newspaper campaign that rapidly created local interest in Curry's art. In 1937 Curry received a $20,000 commission to paint murals in the Kansas Capitol. This work, according to Curry, will depict "the historical struggle of man with nature," and will require three years for completion.

In contrast with Curry, whose art derives from contemporary life, Henry Varnum Poor finds his inspiration in more traditional sources. Born in Chapman in 1888 Poor has been termed "the artisan in the artist." Though his studies in art did not achieve full scope until he was past thirty, he is a good craftsman and prolific producer in painting, sculpture, and pottery; and his designed urns, houses, furniture, and tile work. Poor is the leading American craftsman in ceramics. His pottery, done in the difficult Persian technique which requires rapid glazing and prompt firing, has been purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With his daughter Anne, Poor painted murals in the new Department of Justice Building. The Byzantine ceiling of the Union Dime Savings Bank in New York City is one of his notable tile decorations. His Fisher Boy hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and others of his paintings are in the foremost American galleries. A resident of New York State for many years, Poor frequently returns to Kansas. He is a close friend of Birger Sandzen.

Bertram Hartman, Albert T. Reid, Kenneth Adams, Ward Lockwood, and Aaron Douglass are artists of Kansas origin. Hartman began his career at Junction City, where he decorated the walls of a local hotel with scenes from Robin Hood. His paintings are in the collections of the Whitney Museum and the Brooklyn Museum, and he has done murals for the New York State Tubercular Hospital. Reid, chiefly known as a cartoonist and illustrator, was associated with the Reid-Stone School of Art, opened at Topeka in 1902. His later work includes murals at the Sabetha post office, depicting the development of mail transportation in Kansas from the days of the pony express to the present. Adams and Lockwood are prominent members of the Taos colony, New Mexico. Douglass, a Negro born in Topeka in 1898, is well known as an easel and mural painter. A student of Negro types, he has done murals for Bennett College, Fisk University, the Sherman Hotel in Chicago, and the Hall of Negro Life at the Texas Centennial Exposition.

Albert Bloch of Kansas University is a painter of considerable imagination and sensitivity. He is represented in the Chicago Art Institute, the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, and the Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, D. C. His colleagues at the university include Karl Mattern, water colorist, Raymond Eastwood, an authority on the technique of oil painting, and Bernard Frazier, who has done distinctive sculptures and dioramas. John Helm Jr., of the department of design at Kansas State College, Manhattan, does etchings and water colors of the Kansan scene.

Merrell Gage, Bruce Moore, and Reginald Wentworth are the foremost Kansan sculptors. Gage, a former pupil of Gutzon Borglum, reflects the influence of his teacher in his Lincoln and Pioneer Women's Memorial on the State capitol grounds. Also in Topeka are his Flight, in the foyer of Memorial Hall, and in Mulvane Art Museum his plaster bust of John Brown, The Flutist, and Mother and Child. Moore's Pelican Fountain, designed for the city of Pratt, won the Speyer Memorial Prize in 1935, a National Academy award. Reginald Wentworth's most recent work is the panel above the entrance to the new high school at Russel, which depicts an Indian raid of 1869.

Among local art institutions the Kansas Federation of Art, formed in 1932, has sponsored, together with other events, a noteworthy show of batiks, jewelry, metalwork, and textile designs by Kansas craftsmen. C. A. Seward (18841939), first director of the federation and its president in 1937, did etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs. He helped organize the Prairie Printmakers in 1930. He was also active in the Wichita art group, together with William Dickerson, painter, printmaker, and director of the Wichita Art Association's art school.

The Topeka Art Group, organized in 1924, is fostered by the department of art at Washburn College. Wallace Baldinger, head of the department, and his associate, James A. Gilbert, are painters of local distinction. Carl Bolmar, Topeka artist and critic, works in oils, water colors, and chalk plates. He is employed by the Topeka State Journal, the last large daily in Kansas to use chalk plate illustrations.

The formation of the Kansas unit of the Federal Art Project in 1936, revealed a hitherto unsuspected reservoir of talent. Three hundred pictures by project artists have been placed on permanent exhibition; oils, prints, and water colors have been loaned to fifty institutions; murals have been painted for the Topeka High School, the State College, Manhattan, and the University of Kansas, Lawrence. The Index of American Design, a division of the Kansas Art Project, has unearthed, classified, and sketched more than two hundred pieces of Americana.

In sum, Kansas art seems to have entered a period of indigenous growth. A realistic attitude is in evidence among the younger artists, many of whom are inclined to the belief that man's art should in a large measure be concerned with the conditions of his life. In this and in other respects Kansas art participates in the general trend of Midwestern art. Benton of Missouri, Wood of Iowa, and Curry of Kansas have outlined a regional program which is certain to be taken into account by other artists.