Whether classic paintings or contemporary sculptures, Kansas has art to suit any aficionado’s taste.
Like many other towns and cities, those throughout Kansas have numerous art galleries that display and sell products as wide-ranging as traditional European crafts and contemporary American Indian artworks. But the state’s art treasures go beyond local galleries to encompass a series of museums established by area colleges and universities.
Groups with a taste for the arts will find an encyclopedic collection of historic and modern art at a museum on the campus of Lawrence’s University of Kansas, works from throughout the Great Plains at Kansas State University in Manhattan and a great contemporary art museum at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park.
And for an international spin on artwork, the Strawberry Hill Museum in Kansas City presents traditional arts and crafts from around the world.
Spencer Museum of Art
At the University of Kansas, the Spencer Museum of Art gives students and visitors a look at an impressive encyclopedic collection of artwork.
“We’re a comprehensive art museum; we have ancient Egyptian works, as well as really contemporary works,” said Bill Woodard, the museum’s public relations liaison. “It [the museum] goes all the way from fragments of stone to a panel of hair that was done by a Chinese artist. The collections range across place and time.”
The museum was founded with an educational mandate, and its galleries are designed to teach students at the university about different styles of art and the historical circumstances from which they arose.
One of the strongest exhibits is a collection of works on paper that includes photos, prints and drawings. Groups can arrange to have a special tour of this gallery, during which staff members bring out special rare items that are not normally on display.
Other galleries are set up to explore themes or to create conversations among visitors.
“In our 20th- and 21st-century galleries, we’ve begin to hang the artwork in a very experiential way,” Woodard said. “You’re faced with this cacophony of works hung up and down the wall. We’re aggressively transforming from being a museum where you look at things to having a conversational feel.”
The museum’s international artist-in-residence program features a gallery of the work of an artist from another part of the world.
Beach Museum of Art
Kansas State University started collecting Kansas art in the 1920s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that friends and alumni of the college began raising money for the construction of a museum to display it all.
“Before this, the collection had been stored all over campus, hanging in various locations, and one man kept track of it,” said Martha Scott, the museum’s business and marketing manager. “When the museum was opened, the staff starting bringing in everything that was scattered all over campus — in closets, on the walls or wherever it might have been.”
Today, the Beach Museum highlights the work of artists from Kansas and nearby states, well-known figures such as John Stewart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton among them.
Modern furniture artist Wendell Castle has two pieces on display at the museum, one called “Midsummer” and the companion called “Chair on Painted Rug.”
An imaginative piece titled “Kansas Meatball” uses painted aluminum tubes to create a modern three-dimensional impression.
The museum also has some historic two-dimensional work from the 19th century.
“We have pieces that span back to the late 1800s,” Scott said. “Kansas art was diverse at that time as well. There was a lot of focus on printmaking, so we have a lot of prints in our collection.”