Thursday, October 29, 2015

Kansas Capitol Mural

John Brown mural at Kansas Capitol
Although the Kansas Capitol was begun in 1866 before Isaac B. Werner arrived to stake his claim and the structure required 37 years to complete, interior details remained to be done even then.  (See "A Kansas Treasure," at 10/15/2015 in the blog archives.)

When my husband and I recently visited the capitol, one of the things I could recall from a much earlier visit was the  mural of John Brown.  This well-known image of the Kansas abolitionist shaped my perception of Brown as a wild-eyed radical, although many in the abolitionist movement regarded him as a hero.

John Steuart Curry, the artist who painted the mural, was born in Dunavant, Kansas in 1897.  He studied in Kansas City, Chicago, and Paris, and the event which brought him attention was when Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney purchased his painting, Baptism in Kansas, in 1928 for her new museum in NYC.

In 1931-32, through the influence of Kansas newspaperman William Allen White (See "What is the Matter?," 9/9/2013 in the blog archives to read more about White.) and Maynard Walker, a Kansas-born art dealer in NYC, an exhibition of Curry's work traveled to Kansas City, Topeka, and Manhattan.  The exhibition introduced Kansans to the work of their native son, and in 1937, with the support of White and artist Grant Wood, Curry was retained to paint the murals in the capitol.  He worked on that commission from 1937-1941 but found himself confronted with criticism.  Some Kansans did not agree with his depiction of John Brown as a hero.  Other criticism related to his depiction of the tornado and his failure to represent the state in a more idealized way.

Source Credit: Don Anderson papers, Smithsonian
His depictions should not have come as a surprise, for he made his reputation painting rural Kansas scenes showing drought, tornadoes, and harsh living conditions.  He was known as a member of the trio of  early 20th century American Regionalists, the other two being Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood.  

The criticism was disheartening to Curry, and in the years prior to his death in 1946 he never recovered from the personal sadness caused by that critical reception by his home state.  It was his intention to depict the courage of self-reliant people surviving through their own hard labor to overcome harsh conditions.  Many of his paintings show his disapproval of racial discrimination and hatred, which may explain why he chose to paint the mural of John Brown.

The Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art
After seeing the exhibition in 1931-32, Kansas State Agricultural College began raising funds to purchase a painting for their collection.  They achieved their goal and purchased Sun Dogs in 1935, becoming the first public institution in Kansas to acquire a work by Curry.  Because his mother had attended the college, Curry reduced the painting's price from $1,200 to $500, and he also donated a water color and four lithographs.  His generosity in reducing the price was very important to the college's ability to raise the funds during those hard depression years.

At the time of the 1996 opening of Kansas State University's Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Mrs. Ruth Ann Wefald and Mr. Don Lambert developed a friendship with Curry's widow, Kathleen Curry, and as the friendship grew, Mrs. Curry decided to donate a large and important collection of her husband's work to the museum.  It would surely have pleased him, after his disappointment over the criticism given his work in the capitol, to know that Kansas State University now proudly houses his collection.

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Kindness of a Stranger

Henrietta C. Werner Palmer
Isaac B. Werner's youngest sister, Henrietta Catherine, was a young girl in her mid-teens when Isaac left for the West.  His father had died, and although his twin brother chose to remain in the area, Isaac was eager to seek his fortune beyond the Pennsylvania community where he was raised.

His widowed mother, Margaret, and his two teenaged sisters moved from the family home in Wernersville to the larger town of Reading, not far away.  Emma married first, and when Henrietta married the Rev. Samuel Palmer, Margaret made her home with the Palmer family and traveled West with them to Abilene, Kansas.  You may read more about Margaret at "Finding Margaret," Aug. 20, 2015 in the blog archives.

Not long after Margaret's death the Palmer family moved to Lawrence, Kansas.  Rev. Palmer died there in 1921, followed in death by his wife Henrietta ten years later.

I was eager to locate the grave of Isaac's youngest sister, so when other events took us to Lawrence, I arranged to visit Oak Hill Cemetery to search for Henrietta's grave stone.

Grave marker of Henrietta C. Palmer
Oak Hill Cemetery was created to honor those killed in Quantrill's Raid in 1863, land having been purchased in 1865 to create a rural, garden style cemetery modeled after Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery.  It is a lovely old cemetery on rolling terrain with many shade trees, but the irregular, naturalized design makes locating graves a challenge.  My husband and I wandered the area in which we believed Henrietta and her husband to be buried without success, and we were giving the effort one last try when we noticed a man tending a grave.

Grave marker of Rev. Samuel Palmer
My husband approached him to inquire whether he was familiar with the cemetery, in hopes that the man's knowledge might help us locate Henrietta's grave.  He confirmed that we were probably looking in the right area but couldn't offer any specific help.  However, in the course of the conversation we discovered a connection.  His deceased wife, whose grave he was tending, was the daughter of our high school superintendent.  A pleasant chat ensued, much of it about the football careers of his former father-in-law and his brother-in-law, with whom my husband had played high school football.  When we prepared to leave without having located Henrietta's grave he offered to find it for us and send photographs.

Rev. Samuel Palmer
Within a few days, the kindness of this stranger, Earl Van Meter, provided not only photographs of the grave stones of Henrietta and her husband Rev. Samuel Palmer but also a map with the locations of the graves clearly marked.  When we visit Lawrence again in a few months we should be able to find their graves and pay our respects to Isaac's sister and her husband.

Isaac was very fond of his sisters, and during the early years of his journal he mentioned them often.  Later, he regretted that correspondence with the two of them had become rare, and although he understood that they were busy with their own families, he missed hearing from them.

In doing the research on Isaac and his family, I have connected with a descendant of Henrietta, or Ettie as Isaac called her.  This descendant was not aware that Isaac's homestead had gone to his siblings and their descendants when he died.  More than a century after Isaac's death my research has closed the circle to reconnect with his siblings--thanks in no small part to the kindness of strangers. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Kansas Treasure

Newel post at Kansas State Capitol

In 1866, twelve years before Isaac B. Werner arrived in Kansas to stake his claims, construction of the Kansas State Capitol building in Topeka began.  Imagine the magnificent building under construction at the same time new settlers were living in dugouts and sod houses!

The original construction took 37 years to complete at a cost of $3.2 million!  Not only were the settlers' homes primitive but also the city of Topeka was fairly undeveloped by today's standards, the sounds of stone masons chipping the stone blocks for the new capitol echoing across dirt streets.  
Tools used in the Capitol construction

The architect planned not only an impressive structure as seen from the outside but also a magnificently ornamented interior.  The architectural elements included copper, as shown on one of the beautiful copper newel posts installed on the stairs.  Marble, crystal, granite, and gold-leaf encrusted ornamentation were also generously employed to decorate the elaborate details.

Balusters and handrails
Even the balusters and handrails of the elegant stairs show the richness of the interior.

The gleam of polished marble & copper
Thirty-seven years after the Capitol building was begun in 1866, the completed structure gave reason for pride to the citizens of the state.  However, by the close of the 20th century time had dulled the beauty of the building, inside and out.  A renovation was undertaken.

I took the photographs shown on this page during a recent visit, and my husband and I were stunned by the incredible achievements of the restoration, as well as the foresight of the state's earliest citizens to plan and construct such an architectural wonder.

In keeping with my practice of sharing the history and current wonders of Kansas, watch for my blogs in coming weeks, in which I will write about more of the history and beauty of the Kansas State Capitol, and share more of the photographs that we took during our visit.

A visit to the Capitol should definitely be something on your bucket list, and I will include information in future blogs to facilitate plans for your own visit! 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Revisiting the Little Squeegy Bug

So many people enjoyed recalling the books that they loved in childhood when I posted the blogs about favorite childhood books, (See "Your Favorite Children's Books, Parts 2-4,"  April 2, 9, & 16, 2015 in the blog archives,) that I thought you might like revisiting  Little Squeegy Bug, Story of the Firefly.  You may recall that the children's book blogs began with one about Sgt. William I. Martin, Jr., the St. John teacher that became a famous children's book author after writing Little Squeegy.  (See "Your Favorite Children's Books," 3/26/2015 in the blog archives.) 

At the time I wrote the blog about Martin, our library was in storage.  I wondered whether our copy was autographed and was eager to get the book out of storage and take a look.  At last we have begun to retrieve our books, and look what I found!  I too have an autographed copy signed with best wishes from Sgt Bill Martin, Jr.  Printed neatly below by my great aunt, Anna Marie Beck, is the following:  "Mr. Martin was one of Aunt Doris' teachers in High School."  Written in faded ink on the first page inside the front cover is "To Clark and Linda [sic] From Auntie."  Anna Marie Beck was the Stafford County Superintendent of Schools for many years in the early 1900s, and she often chose books as gifts.

The picture at right shows the main characters from Martin's book helping the little firefly get some wings--Creepy Caterpillar, who introduced Little Squeegy to some of his friends; Haunchy the Spider, who spun silver threads for the wings; and Yardy the Inchworm and Sissy the Cutworm, who measured and cut the silver thread for Haunchy to weave into wings.  The final gift from Squeegy's friends was a lantern that Haunchy took from the Milky Way and fastened to Squeegy's tail, making him the "Lamplighter of the Skies. 
Albert Einstein said, "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales; if you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."  Eleanor Roosevelt wrote:  "I think a child is particularly fortunate if he grows up in a family where his imagination can be fed, where there are a variety of intellectual interests, where someone loves music, or does amateur painting, or is engrossed in literature, reading aloud perhaps, or just exchanging comments about what is being read."  Mrs. Roosevelt had read the Little Squeegy Bug book and recommended it, and I was one of those children fortunate enough to have read it.

Judging from the responses to the blogs about children's books, many of you who follow this blog began reading early in childhood.  Much of this blog relates to reading, books, and libraries, including Isaac B. Werner's amazing book collection.  I am among those who appreciate the advantages access to the internet brings, but I remain convinced that there is still nothing like a book.  The overflowing book shelves in my home make that obvious. 

The experience of a young child cuddling up next to a parent or other special person to hear them read from a book cannot be equaled by pressing a read-aloud button on a toy.  Einstein was right!  Reading to your children is not only pleasurable time together and stimulation for their imaginations, it also reinforces the idea that adults respect books and reading.

As I re-shelve beloved childhood books retrieved from storage, I smile at the memories.  I open the covers to recall receiving a prize for reading the most books in my class certain years or see the signature of Sunday School teachers who gave the class little books and think of friends who gave me books for my birthdays or remember sitting up in bed reading my brother's copy of Gentleman Don.  I doubt that picking up an antique e-reader years from now will give today's children the same feelings.  Enjoy the benefits of the internet and the electronic readers, but please don't stop buying books for children and never stop reading to them.  Mrs. Roosevelt was right about the importance of the examples we set for the next generation, and with a recent survey statistic that 25% of American adults did not read a single book during the past year, it should not be a surprise that children are not developing the habit of reading.
I hope you have enjoyed sharing a bit more of the Little Squeegy Bug, and maybe being reminded of some of your favorite books and their characters.  I hope at least some of you take a moment to leave a comment.  The comments shared in response to the "Favorite Children's Books" blogs were wonderful!  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Early Kansas Expedition

Zebulon Montgomery Pike
Most Kansans know about the Lewis and Clark Expedition begun in 1804, the year after the Louisiana Purchase.  The Expedition started up the Missouri River in the spring, and after five weeks they paused to make camp in the area which became Kansas City, KS.  They continued their expedition up the Missouri River, traveling the river boundary which became the northeast corner of Kansas.

Less well known is the Pike's Expedition, which began in 1806 under the leadership of a young army lieutenant named Zebulon Montgomery Pike.  His purpose was to ascend the Missouri River and upon reaching the area which became Kansas, to visit Indian tribes.  His intended path was to continue into New Mexico, turn south to encounter the Red River, and then travel on the Mississippi to St. Louis, from which his journey had begun.  

He fulfilled his mission of visiting Indian villages, beginning with the Osage tribe, from whom he bought supplies.  Next he visited a Pawnee village that had previously been visited by Spanish troops.  The story is told that Spaniards had gifted the villagers with blankets, saddles, bridles, and other gifts, including Spanish flags which flew over the village.  Pike demanded that those flags be removed, but the demand was not immediately fulfilled.  Eventually the old chief laid the Spanish flag at Pike's feet and the American flag was raised over the Chief's tent.

Pike's Expedition headed into Colorado, 'discovering' the great bald peak that now bears Pike's name.  They went south into Spanish territory and were taken prisoner for a time, until being escorted to the American frontier and released.  The Pike's Expedition took a year before returning to St. Louis as ordered, and although their expedition may be less well known, they returned with much valuable information about the territory that became the state of Kansas.

Isaac B. Werner came to Kansas in 1878, seven decades after these early adventurers.  Their expeditions acquired the information that informed and mythologized the area which later attracted settlers.