Thursday, August 22, 2013

David Hicks Overmyer - Bourbon County District Courthous Mural

Lady Justice (Justice Enthroned) by David Hicks Overmyer (1889-1973) decorates a courtroom in Bourbon County, Fort Scott, Kansas.

Lady Justice or Justice Enthroned, by David Hicks Overmyer

Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1890, Overmeyer studied art at Reid-Stone Art School in Topeka, (now Washburn University), then studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and, finally, at the Art Students' League of New York.

He painted Lady Justice in 1929. In her right hand, Lady Justice holds Corpis Juris (the body of law), along with a sword to enforce the law; in her left arm, a scale to balance competing claims.  In the right background  is the Washington Capitol.

In 1934, the Works Progress Administration commissioned four murals in the Hale Library at Kansas State University. The murals — titled Agriculture, Mechanics, Arts and Home. In 1937, Overmyer painted for Topeka High School, his alma mater, The Pageant of England. In 1951 he received a commission from the Kansas Legislature to paint eight scenes on Kansas history for the capital rotunda: The Coming of the Spaniards, Battle of Arickaree, Battle of Mine Creek, Building a Sod House, Lewis and Clark in Kansas, Westward Ho, Arrival of the Railroad, and Chisholm Trail. The murals were completed in 1953.

Other works by Overmyer are on permanent display at the Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka Kansas.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

History of Wichita - 1888

In 1887, a bill was passed by the Kansas Legislature giving Kansas women the right to vote at school, bond, and municipal elections. Empowered, Wichita women would help to elect George W. Clement mayor of Wichita to replace then serving Joseph Allen. John A. Martin still served as governor of the state, advocating state-wide Prohibition.

In the US presidential election,  the incumbent Democrat Grover Cleveland wins the popular vote in November, but loses the Electoral College vote to Republican Benjamin Harrison, thereby losing the election.

Wichita is booming.

Some of the descriptions of the city included "Winning Wonder of the West," "Peerless Princess of the Plains,” “Windy Wonder," and the “Magic Mascotte (sic) of the Meridian."  This and other facts were noted by Dr. Edward Tihen (Tihen notes) in his review of the Wichita Eagle and other papers. Wichita Eagle 1888.

Wichita Street Railway, 1884, North Main Street
Image Wichita Public Library,

Wichita began in 1870 with a population of 270, now has an estimated population of 40,000. Eight years earlier, the population of Wichita was only 5,482.

A detailed map of Wichita dated 1887, compiled by the publishers L.H. Everets & Co. of Philadelphia reveals the extent of Wichita. David Rumsey Map Collection. On the map, College Hill begins at Hillside and Douglas Avenues. Today's College Hill was then described as Merriman Park, named after original landowner George Merriman. Read Jeff Roth's article on College Hill.

Citizens get around by horse and buggy. Public transportation is mule drawn railway cars. The several railway companies in the city were considering using something other than mules, one idea being electric railways which were being used in other cities. One such railway was the Strang Car Line, then in use between Kansas City and Olathe. The largest of the railway companies - the Wichita Street Railway company,  has 40 miles of lines and 46 cars, providing five minute service on major streets. The railway line on Douglas Avenue ends at Hillside.

January 12th, 1888 - a blizzard suddenly and without warning strikes Kansas, and all of the Midwest from Texas to Minnesota. The violent storm leaves 235 dead, mostly children on their way home from school. In March another blizzard would hit the east coast causing power outages and killing more than 400.

The winter blizzard was fresh in the minds of the several  railway companies, a push was under way to get cars heated by stoves, making them comfortable no matter how fierce the weather.

Wichita Interurban Railway

 Image Wichita Public Library, 

As Tihen notes in an article from the Eagle dated January 13, 1888, travel was not without mishap:
A few days ago a street car driver on the Emporia line lighted one of the lamps of the car and then dropped the still burning match into the straw bottom of the car. It ignited and caught the dress of a lady passenger, but fortunately was extinguished with a nearly bucket of water.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Border Gateways by Oscar Berninghaus

Fort Scott Federal Courthouse Mural by Oscar E. Berninghaus

Tucked away in courtroom now used for storage on the second floor of the Federal Courthouse in Fort Scott Kansas is a mural by Oscar E Berninghaus titled “Border Gateways.”

Born in 1874 in St. Louis, Berninghaus was largely self-taught, but also attended night classes at the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. In 1899, he took a train west and, on a lark, stopped in Taos, New Mexico. During his 8 day stay, he met and befriended Bert Phillips, another artist who had taken up residency in Taos the year before. Berninghaus would return to St. Louis to resume his commercial work, but he continued to return to Taos in the summer to pursue his interest in fine art. In 1915, he became a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists, along with his friend Bert Phillips and four others.

Border Gateways, Oscar Berninghaus, 1937

In 1937, Berninghaus won the commission for the Fort Scott Kansas federal court mural. Incorrectly identified as Works Progress Administration art, the courtroom mural was commissioned as a project of the U.S. Treasury Department. The painting includes familiar themes of the westward passage of American settlers - Indians, wagontrains pulled by oxen, and a stagecoach.

The Enabling Act of 1854 that Berninghaus refers to accompanied the Kansas-Nebraska bill was approved by then President Benjamin Pierce, May 30, 1854. The idea of admitting two states at the same time - one a free state, Nebraska, and the other a slave state, Kansas - in order that the political balance should be maintained in the United States Senate. The bill provided for Popular Sovereignty, that is, a vote by the territory's inhabitants to determine the status of free or slave. This bill set the stage for "Bloody Kansas", the presidential election of 1860, and eventually the Civil War.

detail Border Gateways, wagon with oxen and stagecoach

Berninghaus' painting of the Kansas landscape depicts the flood of immigrants from all over the United States, both north and south, to determine the issue of free or slave state.

Fort Scott was one such "border gateway". In 1853, the US military abandoned Fort Scott. The public buildings were sold at auction. One building, a former officer's quarters, was opened as the Fort Scott or Free State Hotel. And located directly across the parade ground was the Western or Pro-Slavery Hotel, a former infantry barracks.

detail, Border Gateways, Indians and wagontrain

The Fort Scott Kansas Courthouse is decommissioned, meaning that it is no longer used for public business. One gains access by going to the still active post office and asking for permission to view the painting.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Mullinville, Kansas is home to American folk-artist, M.T. Liggett, a Kansas treasure - a man who loves living and saying what is on his mind.

M.T. Liggett and KWCH reporter Hannah Davis
M.T. often parodies local figures in his sculptures, especially the town council, making him an object of controversy among the powers that be and a subject for conversation at the coffee shop. His detractors might mumble under their breath that he should raise more corn and less Cain, but this would be unfair, M.T. is a gentle soul who quietly makes his point with his art.

This story is not about M.T.; he deserves a book. Instead, it is about his collection of ancient farm tractors amassed over the years. Once they plowed the fields, now, they stand like the monolithic stones at Stonehenge, silently waiting for some visitor from a thousand years hence to decipher their meaning.

the tractors of M.T. Liggett
The tractor in the foreground calls out to me. Had I the sense, I would have inspected the hood for the maker. Instead, I was overcome by the immensity of M.T.'s work, there are sculptures everywhere - in his barn, on his lawn, and most conspicuously, along the highway where the cars and semis pass by.

old tractor, no tires

Back to the tractor, whose most salient feature is its lack of tires. Tires are now a common feature of every mode of transportation. But it wasn't always so. It was Harvey S. Firestone, a fourth-generation farmer from Columbiana, Ohio, who founded the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in July 1900, in Akron, Ohio – a city later known as “Rubber City", that from necessity created the invention. The invention did not happen until 1932 when he produced the world’s first pneumatic tractor tire.
So, I am left staring at a pre-1932 tractor by an unknown maker. Maybe, someday I will go back to M.T. Liggett's and learn the rest of the story.