Courthouse mural projects approved
Commission OKs $34,000 for artists’ works
Three new works of art will grace the walls of Leavenworth County's newly renovated courthouse.
Leavenworth County commissioners voted 2-1 Thursday, July 27, to approve the painting of murals by three area artists at a total cost of $34,000.
The murals will feature historic aspects of Kansas.
Two of the murals, which will be 9 feet by 13 feet, will hang on the walls above the stairway in the south side of the courthouse. They will be visible from the first and second floors. A smaller mural, which focuses on the history of Kansas agriculture, will hang in the commissioners' meeting room.
Ernst Ulmer and Michael Young, a former Lansing resident, will paint the larger murals. And Brad Seever, Easton, will paint the smaller mural, which will measure 6 feet by 9 feet. The murals will be framed paintings.
Leavenworth County counselor Keyta Kelly told commissioners Ulmer and Young were nationally known artists.
And they are representative, geographically, of the county.
"We have three gentlemen here that represent all three commission districts," Kelly said. "Mr. Ulmer from the south end of the county, Mr. Young was born and raised in Lansing and Mr. Seever is from Easton."
The murals will tie in with Kansas tourism activities.
Congress recently designated an area that includes northeast Kansas as a National Heritage Area through the National Park Service. Once an area receives this designation, it becomes eligible for up to $1 million a year from the National Park Service to help with promoting tourism.
The theme of the area's heritage project is Bleeding Kansas and the Enduring Struggle for Freedom.
So when the committee, made up of county employees and led by Kelly and Leavenworth businessman R.D. Johnson, proposed the mural idea, they asked artists to submit designs that went along with the heritage theme.
For instance, Ulmer's sketch depicts Abraham Lincoln on his 1858 visit to Leavenworth.
"I'm also featuring Jim Lane," Ulmer said. "He was the first senator of Kansas. ... He was a big friend of Abraham Lincoln, he raised armies and he was a general. I think he's been lost in history."
Ulmer, who said he'd always been interested in Kansas history, said his design also would feature the Sacramento canon that was fired on the Eldridge Hotel during Quantrill's Raid in Lawrence. He plans to include in his mural the Exodusters, former slaves who passed through Kansas on their northward route, and Constitution Hall in Lecompton.
Ulmer, who is 84, underwent a triple heart bypass in April.
He jokingly referred to the mural as his "swan song."
"This is right down my alley," Ulmer said. "I love the Kansas history. To put it on a courthouse wall, I know it will be there for a long time with my name on it, so that's quite an honor."
And he said, his mural, as well as the other two, are fitting for the county seat.
"The courthouse has been remodeled and it's beautiful," Ulmer said. "It looks better than ever, probably better than the day is was built. I think these three pieces are going to do it a favor."
Artist Michael Young's mural also portrays various facets of Kansas history.
He sketched the Native American's struggle to survive, showing them hunting and fishing. He included women's suffrage as well as the struggle of factory workers in raising their children. There's the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher raising money for firearms in front of a town hall meeting.
And there's the railroad.
"Every good mural should have a train in it," Young said. And beneath the steam engine's trestle is a sketch signifying the Underground Railroad.
His sketch includes a slave auction, the slaughter of buffalo on the plains, and more.
Young, who is 54, is the son of Gene Young, an artist in his own right and a columnist for The Current. Michael Young said his father influenced his career.
"My dad's always been a painter and sculptor," Young said. "When I was a little kid I used to go down to the basement where he was doing oil paintings, so I'd watch him, it looked like fun to me."
Though Young's sketch is in sepia tones, his actual mural will be full color.
Mural concepts impress resident
During the artists' presentation to the commissioners, one of the people in the audience was so intrigued that she offered to donate to the mural project.
Elizabeth Brown lives in rural Leavenworth County.
Brown said it was important to preserve the state's heritage, particularly for children who may not know much about Kansas.
And, she said the murals would be right for the courthouse.
"I think they'll be an asset," Brown said.
Kelly said she looked forward to unveiling the three murals at a December open house. And from then on, she's hoping visitors will continue to drop in.
"We want to draw people from the state of Kansas and from other states as well, to see the work," Kelly said. And because the courthouse is open 40 hours a week, the facility, which recently underwent renovation, will qualify for a No. 1 rating as a heritage tourism site. This means, Kelly said, the courthouse will be included as a destination site on tours.
At Thursday's meeting, county commissioner Don Navinsky voted to commission the murals, with Commissioner Dean Oroke seconding his motion.
Commissioner Clyde Graeber voted against the mural project.
Originally, the idea arose when Graeber suggested the county put something on the blank wall behind the commissioners table.
"It has grown much greater than I ever imagined it could - with the concept of murals in the hallway," Graeber said. "I cannot support that motion, I will not support it, I will not support it."
Despite Graeber's protest, the motion passed by a vote of 2-1.