Wednesday, December 31, 2014

People's State of the Union

Join the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture for this new national event.

Once a year, the President delivers the State of the Union address, a speech meant to highlight important national issues from the past year and suggest priorities for the coming year. It’s a broadcast from one to many. But what if, once a year, we could all speak and listen to each other? What if We the People reflected in our own communities on the condition of our culture and the state of our union locally, nationally, globally? What if we could supplement the President’s stories with our own? The People’s State of the Union is an invitation to do just that. 

There will be two opportunities in Lawrence to participate in the People's State of the Union. If you are going to participate, plan on a three hour event (with snacks). Seating will be limited. Please RSVP to

The Lawrence Percolator
(in the alley behind) 913 Rhode Island
Saturday, January 24th

Lawrence Creates Makerspace
512 E. 9th St.
Sunday, January 25th

Friday, December 19, 2014

Amazon Army print now available

Fans of the Celebrate People's History project can buy offset 2-color prints, including my just released contribution "Amazon Army," from the Just Seeds website. Click on the image below to find out more.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New poetry project inspired by the "The World Comes to Whittier" mural

(Article below about the 2013 community-mural project I led in Sioux Falls, SD that has inspired a new poetry project)

Translations needed for poetry project at Meldrum Park
from the Argus Leader
December 15, 2014

by Jon Walker

The poem has 16 words and takes five seconds to read.
But "The Red Wheelbarrow," a lyric by William Carlos Williams, represents a challenge for Sioux Falls. Ben Miller, 51, is trying to enlist enough people to translate the poem and then read it in every language spoken in the city. The occasion would be a great coming-together of cultures in May 2016 at the foot of the mural at Meldrum Park on East Sixth Street.

Miller has 13 translations on board so far, among Sioux Falls languages that number at least 144. That leaves him less than one-tenth of the way to the goal, but he also has 17 months to work with. "We're inching forward every week," he said. The object of his attention is a poem that Williams, a Pulitzer-winning writer from New Jersey, penned as a farmyard jingle. It reads: "So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens."

That poem has kicked around in Miller's head since he discovered it as a teenager in a bookstore in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa. When he saw Dave Loewenstein's mural at Meldrum Park late last year, he thought the Williams poem the fitting choice – short, crisp, enigmatic – for a reading to draw a diverse community together at the mural. That the poem is a brain teaser doesn't hurt. "That's the beauty of poems. You puzzle over them," Miller said.

Miller is orchestrating the poetry project from Cambridge, Mass., where he lives with his wife, Anne Wiese. They're both writers with Midwestern roots, and Miller this school year is writing essays at Harvard in a fellowship sponsored by the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. The couple has visited Sioux Falls many times and will move here next June to a home west of downtown. He's now soliciting help for the poetry project by asking people to email him at The push now is for translators. By late next year the effort will shift to enlist volunteer readers.

The 13 languages covered so far are by a varieity of sources. A music professor at Harvard, Alex Rehding, provided the German. Two students at Harvard, Ashford King from Kentucky and Eliza Pan from Alberta, did the French. A biologist from Israel, Itai Yanai, provided the Hebrew. Also lined up so far are Irish, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Nyanja, Portuguese, Scottish, Finnish, Romanian and English. The Romanian came from a Sioux Falls couple, Adrian and Vica Anton, immigrants from East Europe. "First of all I love poetry, and we have an old history of poetry in our country. I love this kind of stuff," Vica Anton said. Her native tongue is not an international language, so its lesser known status makes it strategic to check off the list. Her husband did the honors Friday night, writing out "The Red Wheelbarrow" as "Roaba Rosie," and then the Romanian text, this time in 18 words: "Atat de mult depinde de o roabe cu roata rosie acoperita cu apa de ploaie langa gainile albe."

Cobbling together the full list of translations is a work in progress. For one thing, there are more than 140 languages spoken in the city. Another challenge will be finding readers to match up with every translation. Several agencies are assisting as co-sponsors -- the Sioux Falls and South Dakota arts councils, the school district, City Hall, Multicultural Center, Whittier Neighborhood Association , South Dakota Humanities Council and poet laureate David Alan Evans.

Nan Baker, director Sioux Falls Arts Council, said the project may be a case where the process is more important than the result. "This is building social capital in the Whittier neighborhood, and people will take ownership," she said. "Those things don't just happen. We feel the arts are an avenue by which those types of gatherings can be put together."

The event may involve a simple succession of volunteers stepping forward to read. It could have the English read periodically or include other other poems that participants suggest. Depending on who is or isn't available that day to appear in public, it could include video. "If somebody wants to read it at the kitchen table, we could film them," Miller said. "We don't really know yet how it's going to best work out."

The Red Wheelbarrow
By poet William Carlos Williams, 1883-1963.
 "So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens."

May 2016 is target date for reading at Meldrum in each of 144 languages in Sioux Falls.
To help: Send a translation of the poem by email, along with a three-sentence biography including current residence, to Ben Miller at
To participate: Someone wishing to help in the event, may also notify Miller.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New USDAC video!

Check out the brilliant new video about the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture here. Lawrence, Kansas is featured!
click on the image to watch

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hands Up, Don't Shoot - Artists Respond

I'm honored to be part of this important and timely series of exhibitions in St. Louis. The openings are October 17th across the city and the exhibitions will run through December 20th. My piece, "Aim for Justice" will be shown at the St. Louis Public Library.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sioux Falls mural project featured on National Endowment for the Arts website

Check out this great feature about our mural project in Sioux Falls on the National Endowment for the Arts website.

Monday, August 25, 2014

"Aim for Justice"

"The work of artists and creative activists can help to create a cultural democracy that prizes diversity, practices equity, and brings a deep respect for human rights to every aspect of civil society. Therefore, the people-powered U.S. Department of Arts and Culture* calls on all artists and creative activists to join in the movement to demilitarize the police and bring justice to victims of publicly funded racism." - from the USDAC Call: Creativity for Equity and Justice

"Aim for Justice" spraypaint stencil by Dave Loewenstein

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Nerd Nite!

The jig is up. My cover is blown. I'm giving a presentation at Nerd Nite this Wednesday at Pachamamas. My topic " From the League Dumpster to Funky Town: Not so Hidden Economies of Good Will in Lawrence." Hope to see you there.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The completed Independence mural

Under Independence Stars
Located at the corner of Pennsylvania & Laurel
Independence, Kansas

Lead Artist  Dave Loewenstein
Assistant  Ashley Laird
Apprentice  Rachel Unruh
Special Co-Apprentices  Wanda Myers and Thea Albertson
Project Manager  Donna Rothgeb 

Painted with the help of more than seventy local volunteers

Supported by
Astra Arts Festival
National Endowment for the Arts
Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission

Thank you to everyone who participated and made this project possible.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Independence Mural Dedication

Please Join Us
Sunday, July 13th
 corner of Laurel & Pennsylvania
Independence, KS

Hear lead artist Dave Loewenstein speak about the project and enjoy light refreshments as we cut the ribbon for this beautiful new addition to our community. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Independence mural design and community painting

We arrived back in Independence on July 1st to prepare the wall and start painting. I'm still working on the finer details of the color study. Here it is in process.

The design celebrates the Independence community as it gathers to watch the 4th of July fireworks and contemplate the stars behind them. Framed by the brilliant and beautiful explosions of color, picnic goers and festival attendees share a moment of awe and wonder under the evening sky. The magical and playful scene up above is characterized by Independence inspired constellations including, the Kiddy Land shoe house, Riverside Park lion, symbol of Neewollah, riverboat (drawn by a local student a school), the Little House on the Prairie cabin, one of the fish from the mural painted previously on this wall and Miss Able in her rocket ship. In silhouette along the horizon are other icons of the community like Lady Justice, the Sinclair dinosaur, baseball stadium lights and fantastic Riverside Park slides.  Groups of figures on the right and left are symbolic representations of the diversity of Independence plus a few well-known characters. On the left waving is Alf Landon, Kansas Governor and Presidential candidate, and on the right a young William Inge seeking poetic  inspiration from the festivities.

The day after Independence Day we began painting. Making our way around exploded bottle rockets and firecrackers, we started blocking in background colors for the evening sky and silhouettes along the horizon. More than 60 energetic volunteers came out to help.

Mural on day 3

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Facing EAST

On the evenings of June 27th and 28th, filmmaker Nicholas Ward premiered his short film "Facing EAST" projected onto the outside of my studio at 411 East 9th Street. The nine-minute film is composed of interviews with East Lawrence residents from a former mayor to a beloved street musician. You can watch it here

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Lawrence Imagining

On Sunday, June 29th Lawrence will be one of seventeen cities across the country that help launch the new U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) with an interactive event we're calling an "Imagining." It will take place from 2:00 to 5:00 pm at Stidham Union on the campus of Haskell Indian Nations University. The event is free and open to all, young and old, who are passionate about Lawrence.

Our Imagining will be a vibrant, arts-infused gathering in which we envision Lawrence's ideal future and identify creative tactics to get there. Part performance, part facilitated dialogue, part celebration, this first Imagining will bring together diverse groups of artists, organizers, and community members to imagine what our neighborhoods (and the world) might look like in the year 2034, when art’s transformative power has been fully integrated into all aspects of public life.

Conceptually, our Imagining will be inspired by fellow time-travelers like H.G. Wells, L. Frank Baum and Doctor Who, meaning we are in the design stage of building a time portal – really. Those who come to our Imagining will leave 2014 behind as they enter our handmade portal that transports them to the year 2034.

After finding their bearings in the future, groups of imaginers will work together to explore how Lawrence has been transformed after twenty years of being infused with the vision of the USDAC and probably a few ways in which that vision fell short and other interests prevailed. In order to report back to us, in the present, they’ll fashion time capsules that go in reverse, each of them placed inside a larger vessel (a giant seed or message in a bottle?) that will be transported back through the portal to the here and now.

You are encouraged to join us for this unique journey.

 Find out more about the USDAC and all of the Imaginings here  - 
And the Lawrence Journal-World article here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Astra Arts Festival mural project in Independence, Kansas

At the beginning of July, I'll be in Independence, Kansas working on a new mural for the first Astra Arts Festival.

Supported in large part by an Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, this new festival will compliment the community's other two well known annual gatherings, Neewollah (think Halloween backwards) and the William Inge Theater Festival. Included along with our mural project (and another mural by the graffiti artist Gear) there will be a full ten days of events that span music, theater, literature and the visual arts. 

The mural wall at the corner of Pennsylvania & Laurel

A big thanks goes out to Karla Prickett who contacted me about the project. Karla, who has been doing amazing things with the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission for years, also helped coordinate a mural I did there in 2010 called "Waiting in the Wings."

The Astra Mural Project began in earnest this March when my partner Ashley and I visited Independence to host introductory community meetings and brainstorming sessions. They were held at the Public Library, an original Carnegie Library that has been expanded and adapted to serve contemporary needs. It's a wonderful place, recognized by Library Journal and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2012 as the best small Town Library in America.

Riverside Park Fun-Ful slide

Fun-Ful playground equipment catalog

Joined by our project manager Donna Rothgeb, mural apprentice Rachel Unruh and a host of local residents, we discussed and drew, wrote and presented, eventually coming up with enough material for at least ten murals. Among the many attributes of Independence mentioned were the countless features of Riverside Park,  Little House on the Prairie, Independence Community College, former Governor Alf Landon and Independence's long tradition of community festivals. After a couple more visits to narrow down our theme and gather some fantastic drawings from students at Jefferson Elementary School, we began putting the design together back in Lawrence.

Rachel Unruh at work on the color study

Rachel visited Lawrence in mid-June as I was putting the finishing touches on the final design and the color study was just beginning. On June 19th we met back in Independence with the design team for final approval. They gave the design an enthusiastic the thumbs up,  so we're on our way!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Kansas Prairie Chicken

Home(less) on the Range, spraypaint stencil, 2014

In an effort to rid Kansas of all who get in their ideological way, Governor Brownback and Secretary of State Kobach have recently set their sights on the Lesser Prairie-Chicken, going so far as to file suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which has listed the bird as "Threatened" due to its diminishing habitat.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

My mom, grandma and Betty Friedan

Note: This was first published in on January 20, 2006

Last Sunday my mom phoned me, and with a flustered and excited tone to her voice said, "You're not going to believe it, there's a picture of your grandmother in the New York Times today!" My grandmother past away in 1980. She was not a public person, and as far as we know, photographs of her appeared only once in a newspaper or magazine during her lifetime. So, unless she had led a secret life unknown to the family, we had a pretty good idea what the source of the photo in the Times must have been - Occupation: Housewife 

"Occupation: Housewife" was an eight-page photo essay that followed the daily routine - from breakfast in the morning, cleaning the house, doing laundry, entertaining guests, to putting the kids to bed at night - of an American housewife (my grandmother) and her family. The article, which appeared between a spread for Tyrone Power and Betty Grable's new movie "A Yank in the R.A.F." and photos (that terrified my mom, then age four) of a child victim of Nazi bombing, was published in LIFE magazine on September 22, 1941.

When I asked my mom about how LIFE chose her family, she recalled;  "LIFE wanted a 'typical' American family for the article. Kankakee, Illinois, where we lived was in the Midwest, and at the time was growing fast. The reporter and photographer went to the owner of the Ford auto agency in town, Romy Hammes, to see if he knew of such a family. Romy felt his family was too wealthy for what they were looking for, so he suggested us since we lived only a couple of blocks away from him on Cobb Boulevard." Sure enough, the photo was taken directly from the LIFE article, with one very obvious photo-shopped alteration. In the original photo, my grandmother is shown "picking-up" in the living room. Around her are carefully staged props: a carpet sweeper, dust mop, trash bin, and some papers strewn across the floor. She is bending over the couch. Above her, in an oval frame, is a painting of a stern looking man with an Abe Lincoln beard. This was my great, great, great, great grandfather John Ward Amberg. The Times photo is identical except that, in place of the portrait of Grandpa John, there is a photo of Betty Friedan, author of "The Feminine Mystique."

The article by Patricia Cohen that accompanied this 'photo illustration' was titled "Today, Some Feminists Hate the Word 'Choice'." My grandmother would probably agree, because in both cases, in LIFE and in the Times, her image was used to illustrate stories that were not of her choosing. After some consideration, my mom decided to write a letter to the editor, that would explain her relationship to the photo and how it had originated in LIFE. Below is her letter, which appeared in the New York Times on Wednesday, January 18th

To the Editor: 
I agree that issuing marching orders to women today is "not helpful." To try to label women is an act of futility, making them one-dimensional when in fact most women's lives are complicated and change with time and circumstance. But I was most taken with the photograph accompanying your article, because the woman portrayed cleaning her house was my mother, Jane LeValley Amberg. As noted, the photo was taken by William C. Shrout for LIFE magazine and was originally published September 22, 1941, in a feature article titled "Occupation: Housewife." My mother was unhappy with the published article, because she was portrayed as a "typical" American housewife who cared only for home and family. Not mentioned was the fact that, with no college degree, she was also a voracious reader and a committed liberal Democrat who cared deeply about national and international issues. Our first TV was bought so that she could watch the Army-McCarthy hearings. Sixty-five years after the Life article, women still struggle with the rigid, one-dimensional labels of "stay-at-home moms" and "women who work." 
Pamela Loewenstein Lawrence, Kansas 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

U.S. Department of Arts and Culture

It's a great honor to have been selected as one of the founding Cultural Agents for the new U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. Later this summer, Lawrence, KS will help launch the USDAC with a major event - stay tuned. Here is our declaration -


access to culture is a fundamental human right;

culture is created by all and thus should represent all;

cultural diversity is a social good and the wellspring of free expression;

a deep investment in creativity is critical to cultivating empathy and social imagination;

art and artists are powerful forces for accomplishing social change and strengthening social fabric;



Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Rocket Grants Rocketeer

This past winter I had the pleasure of being invited to create new images for the Rocket Grants program. (The program, now in its fifth round, provides direct funding to artists in the Kansas City region for innovative, public-oriented projects in non-traditional spaces. I received a grant in 2012 for my project Give Take Give.) In 2012 and 2013, artists created fantastic drawings that incorporated all of that round's winning projects into one image.

Charlie Mylie, 2012

Drew Roth, 2013

Unlike past years, my task was to create one or two images that represented the spirit of the program as a whole as opposed to illustrating all of the individual projects. Initially I was drawn to the idea of giant space rocket engines and the engineers who design and maintain them - so magnificently complex and cool looking. Later I recalled my own memories of rockets and how I propelled them to fly on missions far far away as a kid (one of my first memories is being awakened by my dad in the middle of the night to watch the first moon landing).

And of course there was the jet pack, my dream and desire ever since I saw the James Bond movie "Thunderball." This was probably the most direct symbol for the lift-off the grants program can provide artists, and it turned out to be the one that the Rocket Grants folks wanted me to develop. I worked it up from a quick sketch to this spraypaint stencil. In the final image, a Rocket Grantee takes off over the skyline of Kansas City captivated by a v-shaped arrow of migrating geese heading south.

The Rocketeer premiered in February and since then has appeared in a growing number of unexpected places...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Deal to re-create popular mural at Ninth and New Hampshire streets in the works

by Chad Lawhorn
from the Lawrence Journal-World

April 8, 2014

A deal is in the works to recreate a popular downtown mural at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, although in a significantly smaller form.

Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting were told the Spencer Museum of Art and a Lawrence-based development group had reached a tentative deal that would allow local artist Dave Loewenstein to either recreate or refashion the popular Pollinators mural on the wall of a new multistory building slated for the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

But leaders with Kansas University's Spencer museum conceded the new artwork would be about half the size of the current mural, which is on the wall of a building that will be torn down to make room for the new seven-story apartment/office building.

Susan Earle, curator for the Spencer, said design details for the new mural hadn't been finalized. She said Loewenstein's new work probably wouldn't be a copy of the Pollinators, which honors several Black artists who have roots in Kansas. But she said the new work certainly would be true to the spirit of the original work, which was created in 2007 as part of an exhibit on famed artist Aaron Douglas.

KU leaders also said they will be seeking an unspecified amount of city funding for the new mural. The development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — has agreed to pay $20,000 toward the mural project. Spencer officials are estimating the project will cost about $50,000. Commissioners took no action on the mural but asked both parties to bring back a signed agreement on the issue.

Below is my letter to the editor about this proposal,  published in the Saturday, April 12th Lawrence Journal-World -

To the editor,

Our visual environment, what stories and voices we see represented around us, speaks loudly for who we are and what we value. In Lawrence we aspire (I believe) to openness, diversity and the celebration of a rich and meaningful heritage.

Insuring that the “Pollinators” mural and the story it embodies continue to have a significant presence in our downtown says that we as a community recognize the importance of the great African-American artists depicted, and how their legacy helps to define who we are as Kansans.

I am grateful to the Spencer Museum of Art and the more than 500 individuals I have heard from for their support and thoughtful suggestions. As a work of art made by and for the community, this mural is a shared cultural trust. Not unlike the way we protect and conserve important historical places and architecture, the “Pollinators” and the resonant stories within it are worthy of our care. The Spencer’s proposal, although it is a compromise of scale, expresses that care and keeps the mural where it belongs.

I also appreciate the willingness of the developer and architect to financially and logistically support the mural’s continued life in the heart of downtown. The Spencer Museum’s proposal, when agreed to and carried out, will show that private developers, the university, the city and neighborhood residents can work together in significant ways that support the larger community.

As Lawrence moves forward embracing arts and culture as integral to community life, let’s keep this project in mind. It demonstrates beautifully how art can be woven into the fabric of our bustling downtown, helping to fully express what it means to be a Lawrencian and a Kansan.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

New story about the "Pollinators" on Kansas City TV

Click on the picture below to watch the KCTV (channel 5) story about the "Pollinators" that aired on Tuesday, March 18th.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Save the "Pollinators" mural

from the Lawrence Journal-World
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

City hears plea to save downtown mural
by Chad Lawhorn

Before developers can start construction on a seven-story, downtown apartment building, city commissioners want them to deal with a more ground-level problem — how to save a prominent mural on a building slated to be demolished by the project. Commissioners directed a development group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor to have discussions with interested members of the arts community about how a 2007 mural by noted Lawrence artist Dave Loewenstein can be saved near the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

(Go to the Save the Pollinators mural facebook page for updates.)

“It really is an important piece of art for the entire state of Kansas,” Susan Earle, curator at Kansas University’s Spencer Museum of Art said of the piece, which is entitled Pollinators, and features seven black artists who have ties to Kansas. The art museum commissioned the mural in 2007. Earle said the museum has had preliminary discussions with the development group about saving the approximately 20 by 80 foot mural.

The mural is on the northern wall of the former Black Hills Energy building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. The building could be torn down later this year to make way for a 114-unit apartment building. Commissioners at their weekly meeting stopped short of saying they would require the mural to be saved before giving the project its final approval. But they said the issue was a serious one.

“A discussion about the mural can’t be put off,” Mayor Mike Dever said. “I want to see what it would take to move the wall or reproduce it, as a worst-case scenario.” Several mural supporters said they wanted to see if the wall could be left in its current location and incorporated into the design of the building.

The mural currently is adjacent to the site of the Lawrence Farmers Market. Loewenstein said the work was designed to be near the activity of the farmer’s market. The mural uses a theme of pollination to show how painter Aaron Douglas, photographer Gordon Parks, poet Langston Hughes and other black artists had their roots in Kansas but spread to other parts of the globe.

Bill Fleming, an attorney for the development group, said the new building is being designed to include space for a mural and public art, but he said he did not know all of the options available for saving the existing mural. Commissioners asked for an update on the issue at their April 8 meeting, when they will have a public hearing about an incentive request for the apartment project.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

"NIMBYS" at BNIM in Kansas City

Come see new stuff and some old favorites at BNIM, 106 W. 14th St., Kansas City, MO (in the historic Power & Light Building). The show continues through March 28th.

This will be my second show at BNIM (who could resist those giant windows?). The first in 2009 included a series of images about cell phone etiquette like this -

This time the focus is on NIMBYS (not in my backyard types) and the creatures human and otherwise (like this critter below) out to challenge them.

NIMBYS at 14th & Baltimore

Developers at the Wakarusa Wetlands, Monkeywrencher, Pest Revenge

Duel, Copperhead

Cleaning up Topeka (diptych)

Making Way for the New Arts District (diptych)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Interview with Nicholas Ward

Check out this exclusive Pif Magazine interview with friend and inspiration Nicholas Ward.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Big Art in Lawrence: One step back, two steps forward

As the tides of retail economics and whims of local diners ebb and flow, often overlooked are the site-specific artworks that are lost when businesses change hands or reboot. Fortunately, as some vanish others appear.

Last year, I wrote about the loss of two of my old murals at Quintons. This year marks the disappearance of another well-known downtown artwork as Tellers morphed into Merchants and Stan Herd’s unique series of murals behind the bar were removed to make room for a shroud of crimson (read about the designer’s inspiration for the change here). But as we lost Stan’s, we gained two great new pieces - one a painted mural at the renovated Poehler Building by KT Walsh, and the other a mosaic mural at Free State Brewery by Lora Jost.

Stan Herd - Tellers
For those who frequented Tellers over the years, Stan Herd's murals were familiar and a bit of a mystery with their translucent overlapping shapes camouflaging images underneath. They were also an early influence on me as I began doing murals. In fact, I first met Stan while he was painting in Tellers back in 1992. I remember walking in the open door to find him high up on a ladder. We chatted for a minute when, as I recall, he had to take a call from Donald Trump? (He was planning a new landscape piece for New York City at the time, the story of which was later turned into the film, Earthwork).

Now that the Tellers murals are gone and solving their matrix of pictograms is not an option, I asked Stan to describe how they had come into being and what they were all about. Here is what he recalled to me in his email response -

“I was approached by the family that owned/ managed Tellers before they first opened. The bank was being renovated and the bar had not been completed yet when I fielded the commission. My first design was a compilation of figures including friends, famous and infamous, in Lawrence's history juxtaposed with ephemera, and whimsical figures. The ownership pretty much gave me free license to do anything that I wanted which was pretty cool.

I had been involved in an experimental exercise to explore color with a half dozen small canvases which grew from some free form drawings of shapes, figures and symbols overlaid without pre thinking what it might look like. It was fun. I was trying to 'loosen up' and not be so tight in my drawing. The subsequent paintings were to explore color and the idea of multiple dark, medium gray, and muted colors juxtaposed against a few high chroma colors. It wasn't very scientific, just more a 'feel' thing. When I went in to visualize the five-panel mural I took the six panels in and placed them against the wall. That is when it occurred to me that I could just transfer the designs on the wall and 'float' them as if they were being dropped from space or caught up in a Kansas tornado, rather than the figurative Lawrence historical mural. 

Stan Herd's Tellers murals

As I began to transfer the drawings, I decided to add a central panel which was painted on a larger canvas than the six small canvas's. This painting had a lot more thought and included three important seminal iconic images that define my artistic journey- The figure of Cerros Unitas- an ancient Chilean land design, my sunflower still life design (link here) created outside of Lawrence, and an inverted Buick logo- to embrace my 'commercial' work.

I went out and bought 400 dollars worth of oil paints- then realized that i had to paint the panels while the guys were actually building out the interior including the bar. Everyday the building was filled with sawdust for four hours after the crews left- So I went out and bought 300 dollars worth of acrylic paints to create the work. It took me about 200 hours to complete, mostly at night after the day workers were off. Early on I decided that I would stretch canvas on each panel so that the work would stand alone from the building itself, just in case something happened down the road to jeopardize the work.

The new management of Merchants called me to tell me that they were going to replace the works. As an artist, I don't have a lot of strong feelings about my past work....thinking that the effort to create the work is more important than the completed piece- that the object itself is just a byproduct of that time and artistic expression. That’s probably why I will never make it financially- Ha. Anyway- I still have all of the original drawings and paintings. Merchants has the mural panels rolled up in the office and that is probably where they will stay.”

So fans of Stan Herd, his iconic Lawrence murals await a new home, preferably one with twenty-foot ceilings…

KT Walsh - Poehler Building
Around the same time that Stan’s murals were being rolled up, KT Walsh was putting the finishing touches on a colorful tableau that traces the cultural history of the Poehler Building and its environs at the east end of 8th Street.

As a longtime resident of East Lawrence and passionate protector of the neighborhood’s spirit and character, KT was the perfect artist to tell this story. She already had loads of research. All she needed was a wall. Enter developer Tony Krisnich and his interest in incorporating the work of local artists into the redevelopment of the Poehler. Tony commissioned KT to create a site-specific piece for the tall and narrow entryway on the north side of the building, a spot open and visible to passersby as well as tenants.

Research material for the Poehler mural
Joining KT on the project were her partner Brad Gibson and assistant Amber Hansen. The three of them worked together to fashion a design that would recall the people and stories connected to this small slice of Lawrence. Included are portraits of Theodore and Sophie Poehler, Exodusters, Mexican railroad workers and references to La Yarda, German immigrants, Native Americans, farmers and a giant reproduction of one of the iconic Poehler can labels with its polar bear emblem. The mural also includes a night sky with personalized constellations and a beloved tree tragically cut down for a sewer project while the artists were painting.

Mural color study
I asked KT why she felt making a mural was an effective way of telling this story. She said, “ It’s important to visually educate people about this special part of Lawrence and to have that storytelling happen right in the place where it occurred. Not everyone goes to museums and much of this, unfortunately, is not covered in history classes. By making the mural, we are saying that these histories, issues and people are worth remembering.”

“It’s also pure joy to paint a mural right in my own neighborhood. It’s wonderful while you’re working to have people (workers, tenants and passersby) stop and share their stories about the building and the place with you. In a way the mural becomes a way of instigating storytelling and cultivating memory.”

While current excitement about the newly designated cultural district (also known as the East Lawrence Neighborhood) has focused on a kind of re-branding that emphasizes real estate speculation and opportunities to leverage cultural assets for economic development, artists like KT are reminding the new prospectors that this neighborhood is not to be played like a game of Monopoly but is a thriving community with a proud heritage and strong sense of its own identity.

KT speaking at the mural dedication

Lora Jost - Free State Brewery
Over the years, Free State Brewery has embellished its building with a series of locally made artworks including John Havener’s metal adornments around the restaurant’s interior columns, a clay tile frieze above the windows on the porch and now a scintillating bricolage mosaic mural by Lora Jost on the wall at the landing of the inside stairwell.

In an email, I asked Lora about the impetus for the project, the techniques she used and the imagery depicted in the finished piece titled “Nearly Spring.” She responded with a detailed description that reveals the behind the scenes workings of coordinating and implementing her project - 

“The project was initiated by Chuck Magerl, proprietor of the Free State Brewery. The imagery and ideas for the mural grew out of our meandering conversations that focused on the area landscape, birds, the environment, and the return of the south wind -- Spring.

The mosaic is comprised of thousands of irregular pieces cut from ceramic dishes from secondhand stores. I broke the plates with a hammer and then used a tile nipper to cut and shape the pieces. Additional materials in the mosaic include small found objects, donated tiles, rocks, shells, hardware from the brewery, a shard of a beer bottle that includes the Free State’s Prairie Falcon logo, and special dishes and found materials contributed by friends and brewery-workers. 

Laying tile in the studio
The mosaic was created on four different panels that were later installed as one piece. The panels were built and installed by Todd Pederson and Jim Lewis of Independent Woodcraft here in Lawrence. The mural was in the works for about a year with intensive tiling and grouting occurring between July and December of 2013. Installation was on New Year’s Day 2014. 

Lora at work during the installation of "Nearly Spring"
The design includes references to three area landscapes in the early spring. A river runs through the center of the mural, farm fields form a patchwork landscape each with its own color and design, and cattails in the foreground represent the wetlands. Birds in the mosaic that might be found in these rural settings include crows, red-winged blackbirds, and a scissor-tailed flycatcher.

The tracks left on the land from last year’s harvest and this year’s new growth (last year’s corn, this year’s wheat) as well as fields of a small wildflower called henbit are described with variations in color, line, and pattern and provide a sense of movement or motion in the overall scene. Lines and color variation in the sky represent a clear blue sky to the left and rain towards the right.

Crows in flight are cut through with red spirals to form focal points in the scene. The spirals are intended to show movement and to take the viewer away from the scene’s figurative realism and into a place more dreamlike or imaginary.”

"Nearly Spring"

Lora has been making mosaics for years, but this is her first large public piece in that medium. Thanks to the Brewery for commissioning her and giving the wider public a chance to enjoy this remarkable work. Go see it for yourself and while you’re there try the “Mosaic Pale Ale,” while it lasts. You can see more photos of the mosaic and read about the process here.

These three murals (two since the removal of Stan’s) are gifts to Lawrence. Instead of being sold to the highest bidder and hidden away in private, they are at home in public, available for us all to enjoy. And although they are integrated into the architecture of existing buildings, they are not mere decorations, but serious (and seriously beautiful) artworks imbued with rich depictions of our shared history, ecology and character. Over the years, they will become part of the fabric of our visual environment, places of memory and visions of our aspirations.

Thanks to Stan, KT and Lora for sharing their stories with me for this piece.

One final note - Soon I’ll be posting an update about the Pollinators mural at farmers market. The wall that the mural is on is slated for demolition to make way for a new upscale apartment building being developed by Doug Compton. The Spencer Museum, which commissioned the mural in 2007, has expressed to the developers its wish that the mural be preserved.