Thursday, December 9, 2010

MAAA Mural Project Video

Tonkawa - Newton Mural Project
by Amber Hansen and Nicholas Ward

This short video brings together footage and interviews from the Tonkawa, OK and Newton, KS mural projects during the summer of 2010. A longer format documentary about these and future projects is in the works.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Studio Open House

It's been a few years since I've done a proper show and tell, so I'm having a...
Studio Open House
Saturday & Sunday
December 4th & 5th
1 - 6 pm

Come see new stencils, graphic novelettes, mural studies and other unclassifiable artifacts. And, if you like, bring something to get stencilized (shirts, books, cars, computers, pets, etc).

My studio is located just a couple blocks east of downtown at -
411 East 9th Street
Lawrence, Kansas

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Celebrate People's History

Check out this great new book which I am honored to be included in. "Celebrate People's History" is edited by artist and activist Josh MacPhee and is published by the Feminist Press at the City University of New York.

"110 posters by over eighty artists pay tribute to revolution, racial justice, women’s rights, queer liberation, labor struggles, and creative activism and organizing. Celebrate People’s History!presents these essential moments—acts of resistance and great events in an often hidden history of human and civil rights struggles—as a visual tour through decades and across continents, from the perspective of some of the most interesting and socially engaged artists working today.” — Josh MacPhee

Here is the poster I made for the book. It's a spraypaint stencil titled "The Amazon Army." The text that's at the bottom of the poster is reproduced below.

On December 11, 1921, propelled by the need to feed their children and outraged at Kansas’s new anti-labor legislation, a crowd of more than 500 women gathered in Franklin, Kansas and resolved to march in solidarity with miners striking at union District 14 coal mines. The strike was called in response to the new Industrial Court Law signed by Kansas Governor Allen, which forced unions into arbitration and outlawed strikes. On December 12th, the women began their march on the mines, armed only with the American flag, which they carried to make clear that the values it symbolized were synonymous to those of their cause.

By December 15th, the march had swelled to more than 4,000 stretching over a mile long. With the mines at a stand still, word spread that the militia was en route, and the women, dubbed the “Amazon Army” by the New York Times, voluntarily chose to end their march in the hopes of preventing bloodshed. Victory for the marchers and their striking coal miners came the following year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the compulsory arbitration clause of the Industrial Court Law was unconstitutional. Workers still had the right to strike.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Community-Based Public Art class coming soon!

Offered for the first time at Washburn University

Instructor - Dave Loewenstein

Community-Based Public Art: Roots and Practice* January 2011

*listed as Murals and Public Art in Washburn course catalog

Beginning with a series of lectures, visiting speakers, and field trips, this unique new course will introduce art students to the roots and current practice of collaborative community-based public art: projects that bring local people together in partnership with professional artists, to engage in an open process that culminates in the creation of site specific artworks reflecting their interests and their workmanship. Following the classroom work, students will move to the studio where each will develop their own design for a community mural at a specific site in the Topeka area. This process will include site visits, meetings with stakeholders, and consideration of logistics in the execution of the work. The completed designs will be shown at the end of the semester in an exhibition open to the public.

“The highest, most logical, purest and most powerful type of painting is mural painting. It is also the most disinterested, as it cannot be converted into an object of personal gain nor can it be concealed for the benefit of a few privileged people. It is for the people. It is for everybody.”

- Jose Clemente Orozco, Mexican Muralist

Friday, September 24, 2010

Newton - "The Imagineers"

Thanks again to Matt, Erika, Nick, and all the folks in Newton and North Newton for their support in seeing "The Imagineers" come to life. Below are images of the completed mural. Enjoy.

photo by Jim Wimmer

Monday, September 20, 2010

Newton - mural celebration photos

It was a fabulous day. The weather, beautiful. The turnout, over 200. And the spirit, including a sweet dance performance accompanied by live music, just heartwarming. Many people spoke about the project including Barb Burns, Rachel Epp Buller, Erika Nelson, Joe Loganbill, and Bethel College President Perry White. You can read some of their comments in the Newton Kansan article published today.

Here are some of my comments from the program handed out at the celebration:

Approaching the mural, one sees a group of people around a table engaged in the process of building, playing, restoring, and imagining. These figures are symbolic of the Newton/ North Newton community. They are not based on particular individuals so much as they are composites of the many and varied peoples of the area. This group. This family. This community. They have chosen to address the important questions of their town's identity, history, and future, and they are actively working to better understand who they are and what they wish to become. So, this mural is not so much a literal transcribing of history or an enumeration of the individuals and architecture already known, as it is an evocation of an idea or a visual poem that attempts to capture the spirit of an energized and optimistic community choosing to become a better place for all of its citizens.

Dance performance by the Newton Dance Project choreographed by Sara Dick.

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make this such a great project. Now, all I've got to do is varnish that darn thing in the morning and we can call it good.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Newton Mural Celebration

Please Join Us
to Celebrate the Completion of

The Imagineers

Sunday, September 19th
4 pm

3rd & Main
(just south of the train depot)
Newton, Kansas

Monday, September 6, 2010

Newton - Painting

Transferring the design is really not as hard as it looks, well at least not since digital projectors have been around. To go from 30 x 80 inches to 30 x 80 feet, we took a photo of our line drawing, tinkered with it (well Matt and Erika tinkered with it) a bit in photoshop, and then projected it onto the wall to the delight of insects and makers of giant shadows.

It's the morning after the free wheeling transfer party when things appear a little shakier. Looking at what we had copied, the lines were way less precise than we thought the night before. In some places it was hard to tell a nose from a thumb or a suitcase handle from a bridge... But, that's normal. Like humming a few bars of a new song, without lyrics or instruments, it can be hard to imagine the completed painting when all that's there are the rough outlines of the design.

Blocking in big areas of color helps to clarify the basic elements of the design quickly. It also establishes the mural's value structure and color harmony from which the rest of the painting will be developed. And blocking in these big shapes is relatively easy so it's a great time to have what we call "community paint days." Newton, it seems, was more than ready to get their brushes to the wall, because on our first community paint day over eighty people showed up to get their licks in. And that was followed the next day by over a hundred. To date, over two hundred and fifty people have helped paint on Newton's new mural.

While passersby and volunteers work below, we painted from scissor lifts above. In these early stages of painting, I spend my time mixing and mixing and mixing paint. Mixing the right amount (so you don't have to re-mix and re-mix) of the right color at the right value takes practice, and it's easy to mis-mix and end up with a gallon of unusable muck.
So, like a bartender, I stand behind the paint table handing out concoctions such as burnt sienna cooled with a medium violet tint or chromium green dirtied with cadmium orange. And in a transformation that seems to happen overnight, the white of the wall gives way to color.

After the mural has been completely filled in with one layer of color, it's time to project the details of the design on top of the existing painting. More fun can be had with shadows, since now they have images to interact with as Matt demonstrates below.

From here on out, the areas to paint are smaller, the decisions about color and value tougher to make, and the chances of making things look really weird much much greater. " Why does that girl have an eye in her nose?", I heard once. But, this is also the stage when the painting starts to come into its own and I usually breathe a sigh of relief knowing it's probably going to look pretty cool.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Newton - Behind the Scenes

As the painting process gets into full swing and our days come and go with us perched like amateur circus performers atop wavering scissor lifts, we've taken to spending the precious few hours we have off with some of Newton's second tier cultural offerings, among them: The (seldom heard) Legend of Newton's Cusped Cutlery.

To begin, let's be very clear: The Nork* (actually spelled Knork) is not a spork.

The story goes (if you believe in stories) that some thirty or forty or fifty years ago two young friends growing up in Newton, who also happened to be novice inventors, stumbled onto the idea (while attempting to eat artisan pizza) of marrying the fork's capacity for impaling with the knife's obsession with cutting. After years or months or weeks of r & d, the friends each came up with an elegant design solution - a single utensil that appeared at first glance to be only a fork, but when turned revealed a tapered edge suitable for cutting. Their inventions were identical in every way except in name, where one called his the Fife, the other called his new tool the Nork.

History has buried the heartbreaking story of what followed, for these two young men had dismissed the age old adage that friends, if they want to remain so, should never go into business together. Looking through an old newspaper, we discovered the shocking story. The headline from way back then screams at the reader - "INVENTOR STABBED BY NORK! " What unpoetic justice. The newspaper in its arrogance or ineptitude had misnamed the weapon. The inventor was stabbed, but not by a Nork. It was instead the one and only existing prototype of the Fife, its inventor so distraught over losing the name game (and a potential fortune from wedding registries and school lunchrooms) that he lashed out against his childhood friend.

A friendship broken beyond repair, the Fife's inventor (after serving a reduced jail term - he claimed the stabbing an accident while playing an old parlor game) disappeared, while the Nork continues to grow its market share, pushing aside knives and forks at many Newton dinner tables. A compelling story for sure, but obviously not suitable for a community mural, and so it will most likely fade away into the shadowy realm of forklore and myth where it clearly belongs.

*names have been changed to protect innocent tableware

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"Mennonite Settler" newspaper article

Since the Mennonite Settler sculpture is included in our mural design, I thought it would be helpful to include this article, which, coincidentally, was published just a couple days after I had written about it in the entry titled 'Monumental Research.'

(from the NewtonKansan)
August 31, 2010

Then and Now: Newton’s statue in the park is stimulating art

By Keith Sprunger

The Mennonite Settler Statue in Athletic Park came to Newton in 1942 as a part of an early “Government Stimulus Program.” Last spring, when Congress was debating the current economic stimulus program, a Lawrence newspaper ran an article and photo about the New Deal stimulus programs of the 1930s and 1940s. It pointed to our Athletic Park statue as an example of government stimulus art from previous times. This gave Newton a bit of fame in art circles for a day or two. Newton has stimulating art.

Economic stimulus programs usually aim at big enterprises, such as auto plants and banks.
But, as Roosevelt’s New Deal saw it, art also needed to be stimulated. Artists also deserved to have work. The Work Projects Administration, or WPA, through the New Deal years employed millions of workers on various public projects. Art projects were included. In 1940, the Junior Chamber of Commerce was looking for a project to boost Newton. WPA funds were available. The Newtonians decided a Wheat Memorial statue in the park would be nice. It would honor the Newton area as a center of wheat production.

The memorial would honor wheat in three ways. It was to honor Bernhard Warkentin as the importer of wheat from Russia, the Santa Fe Railroad for transporting the wheat and the Mennonite farmers who grew the wheat. The WPA would pay the salary of the sculptor, but the cost of limestone and other materials would have to be paid for locally. No large gifts materialized, so the Junior Chamber members had to go out looking for money dollar by dollar and bushel by bushel of wheat. Two local beauty queens, Betty Dester and Hazel Phillips, called the Wheathearts of America, helped considerably with fund raising. They went around to farms by truck at harvest time asking for a few scoops or bushel of wheat from the fields to help with the project. The community rallied. The money came in.

The statue was not completed until 1942. The sculptor was Max Nixon, a native of Haverhill in Butler County and unemployed at the time. The WPA approved him. He produced a stylized, limestone Mennonite wheat farmer mounted on a reddish cement shaft, and these were placed on a circular mosaic. The entire monument stands 17 feet tall. Max Nixon, on his own initiative, modified the emphasis of the monument. He featured the hard-working wheat farmer, not the Santa Fe or Warkentin, the wealthy miller. I never met Max Nixon, who later taught at the University of Oregon, but I talked with him by telephone several times. I asked him about shifting the emphasis to the Mennonite farmer, rather than the other suggested themes. He said he grew up on a farm and knew the value and ardor of hard farm work. “I wanted to give the farmers the idea that I really appreciated them,” he said. “I wanted to honor the laboring people rather than corporate wealth.” Nixon died in 2000.

The statue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.In 2000, it underwent a major restoration, necessitated because of damage from weather and vandalism. When the statue was unveiled at the dedication on Sept. 10, 1942, there was a gasp from the crowd. The social realism style was not what was expected. Over time, it has gained acceptance and real affection. It’s a great piece of stimulus art. Our current mural project on Main Street is giving Newton another project of stimulus art. Thank you.

Keith Sprunger is a member of the Historic Preservation Commission.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Newton - Design

Crossroads, cross currents, immigration, language translation - German - Spanish - English, Mennonite history, Hispanic heritage, the railroad, the Harvey Restaurant, agriculture and especially Red Turkey Wheat, monuments, Bethel College, Newton / North Newton tensions, Sand Creek, Native American settlement, the Doppler effect, military service, pacifism, farmers market, youth disenfranchisement and youth voices, the spread of Wichita, the mural process especially our design team meetings, Combs Organ Specialists. These are some of the topics on our narrowed down list of subjects for the mural design. Enough for at least five murals, a PHD dissertation and a reality tv show, but not a clear narrative or visual idea that could contain them all.

To help capture, in our design, this wide range of seemingly unrelated material , we began searching for common metaphors that would at once be visually compelling and imbued with useful meanings. So, there we were around the table scratching our heads and scribbling on pages. And there we were looking sort of like a group of quilters stitching individual designs into a whole, or model railroad enthusiasts imagining in miniature their ideal town, or even kids playing a board game about the machinations of city life complete with tiny symbolic figurines and buildings. And finally, there we were upstairs at the Carriage Factory Gallery discussing, disagreeing, dreaming, listening, and compromising because we wanted to to make the best mural possible. Aha.

Our design would be centered around a table with people engaged in the process of imagining, remembering, and creating their community. We included references to quilters, model railroads, and board games, while the space behind the seated figures was occupied by their overlapping hopes, half-baked notions, and embellished memories.

All of this rendered with symbols specific to Newton, North Newton, and our design process. The color study, made as a collage with cut paper, emphasized the difference between the more literal realm of the figures working around the table with that of the dream space behind them. Add an architectural border with textile designs and voila we had a pretty rockin' mural design. Whew.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Newton - Monumental Research

For the course of the mural project, Erika, Matt and I are staying at a b&b tucked away on a little gravel road in North Newton. Part of an old farmstead, the house is attached to a grain silo that is now used as a super cool living space by the home's owner and our host Vada Snider. It's a beautiful spot surrounded with lush, well tended gardens, decorated on the inside with many of Vada's charming black and white photographs, and is a welcome retreat from our days spent on scissor lifts in the middle of the Dollar General parking lot.

Erika and Matt battle in the wall priming competition

Now that we're hot on the trail of a mural design, we've been following leads from passersby, professors, and Drubers Donuts patrons to name a few. The suggestions (I'll talk about local cuisine in an upcoming post) have led us to the Harvey County Historical Museum, Bethel College, the Kauffman Museum, the public library, the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Goessel, and the hike / bike trail along Sand Creek where I swear I saw (after Erika pointed it out) the world's largest frog.

Matt and Dave at the Harvey County Historical Museum

We even made a special trip to see, and learn from, the remarkable fresco by Jean Charlot (one of the 20th century's most distinguished muralists and a peer of Diego Rivera) in the Abbey Church at Benedictine College in Atchison.

Erika admiring Jean Charlot's fresco

And we have been searching for signs of how Newton characterizes itself. There is always the Chamber of Commerce and tourist information office to get the town motto and accompanying glossy brochures. This old Newton postcard shows the Interurban crossing the Main Street bridge over Sand Creek.

Since we are in the process of creating a giant public artwork, we also explored how Newton celebrates and remembers as seen in the public monuments it has chosen to build. But using monuments to gauge a community's character has a fundamental problem - their cost limits who can afford to build them. And therefore it's no surprise that those of lesser means are often underrepresented or not represented at all in public art, memorials, named civic institutions and the like. With this understanding we went hunting for Newton’s mega symbolic signifiers.

Cumulus but non-threatening clouds amidst a blue sky are everywhere in Newton. Created or inspired by the artist Phil Epp, all of Newton's public signage is decorated with his characteristic skyscapes. So are the newest town water tower and a couple of impressive tile mosaic murals.

Water tower cloudscape inspired by Phil Epp

Adjacent to the public library there are the requisite cannon and steam engine locomotive. Downtown there are a few murals, the most striking, painted soon after 9-11, is of a saluting soldier in fatigues in front of a building size American flag. Another beautiful mural by Ray and Patrice Olais, that once adorned a local softball field, remembers Hispanic immigrant railroad workers and the softball league they started when told they could not play in the city (white) league.

And then there is the curious statue in Athletic Park. I had a feeling it was something special when we first came upon it. A fifteen foot tall figure carved out of stone stands solemnly atop a salmon colored concrete base.

Surrounding the base, in ceramic mosaic, is a series of four panels that illustrate Kansas Mennonite's emigration from Russia. "The Mennonite Settler" as it is known was created by the artist Max Nixon in 1942 to celebrate Mennonite farmers who brought the famed Turkey Red Wheat to Kansas in the 1870's.

The project was funded in part by the WPA with help from Newton's Junior Chamber and, get this, farmers near and far who sold wheat at market and then donated the proceeds to the creation of the sculpture. A monument to wheat built, in part, by wheat grown in nearby fields. Wow, I can already see how this story alone would make a great mural. Maybe someday...