Of all the two-dimensional art forms, perhaps none is as epic or accessible as the mural
Mural artists and experts Lora Jost and Dave Lowenstein, authors of Kansas Murals: A Traveler’s Guide, documented over 600 Kansas murals in their journeys across the state, and since the book’s publication in 2006, the number of murals in Kansas has grown.
“Even when we were working on the book fifteen years ago, we were aware there are a lot more murals being made, especially if you compare the mid-2000s to the 1950s,” explains Lowenstein. He credits this increase partially because of improvements in paint; acrylics are brighter and more durable than the old oils.
“But the other thing that really influenced the increase, I think, is that across the United States, especially in bigger cities, we saw this blossoming of community murals—murals made by groups of folks, sometimes led by an artist—to represent their own histories and aspirations and images, and then those murals found their way into the middle of the country,” he says.
There’s a whole world of outdoor murals just waiting to be viewed all over the state, and the approach to seeing them varies with the individual. Some people research a mural’s artist or backstory before going to see it, but Kansas mural artist Lora Jost says it’s just as legitimate to not do any homework ahead of time.
“I enjoy driving in an unfamiliar city and being surprised by an unexpected mural, and frankly this has happened to me plenty of times in my own community, too. Seeing a mural without knowing much about it ahead of time allows the viewer to appreciate it and take it in, in a very personal way."
ELEVEN EPIC MURALS TO EXPLORE IN KANSAS
Anotações (Notes) | Manhattan
In 2019, the Manhattan public art group Incite MHK invited internationally known Brazilian art duo Bicicleta Sem Freio (Bicycle Without Brake) to create a downtown mural. The result was Anotações (Notes), which depicts a young woman studying and celebrates the college students who make Manhattan their temporary home. The colors are electric, reflecting Bicicleta Sem Freio’s love for psychedelic rock posters of the 1960s.
Brown v. Board of Education | Topeka
Kansas City artist Michael Toombs coordinated this massive mural project with literally hundreds of participants. “You can see when you look at it, it’s a collage of many, many ideas and hands, and represents a different approach to the creation of a mural than [those] done by individual artists,” explains Lowenstein.
Both the mural’s visual spirit and the process of its creation are ideal for a mural located across from the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, the former schoolhouse which commemorates the end of legal segregation in the U.S. public education system.
Route 66 | Galena
The community of Galena has memorialized their history with an epic-sized vintage travel postcard mural right on Main Street, depicting the town’s presence on the iconic Route 66 highway, as well as its historical sites.
Wild West | Oakley
This mural by Hays-based artist Dennis Schiel depicts some of the most epic images of Kansas western heritage such as Wild Bill Hickok, a bison, and of course, sunflowers and wheat. It is located outside of the Heartland Foods store in Oakley.
El Sueño Original (The Original Dream) | Wichita
El Sueño Original (The Original Dream), painted on grain silos in north Wichita as part of the Horizontes Project that drew in Columbian street artist GLeo, is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest mural created by a single artist, and celebrates the immigration of Black and Hispanic residents into the area.
“Understand this mural wasn’t the only undertaking [of Horizontes],” says Lowenstein. “They did twenty murals, and it was part of a grant-funded project to engage residents in the north end of Wichita to have conversations about where they live and the changes that have happened over time.”
Ad Astra per Aspera | Hutchinson
This freehand mural by artist Brady Scott is on the building of Archer & Co. in downtown Hutchinson. The painting, created with spray paint and exterior acrylic, pays homage to the Great American Plains and the branded symbol on the bison honors the Native Americans who were brutally forced from their homeland. According to Scott, the brand is a Pawnee symbol for hope, resilience and spirituality. bscottart.com
Solidarity | Wichita
This original mural developed and created by artist Kamela Eaton stands out on the 13th Street Train Bridge. The mural, depicting two women holding hands, is meant to show support between the brown and black communities of the North End and Northeast Wichita. Growing up in Northeast Wichita, Eaton was often met with feelings of shame and sadness as she passed the industrial area that she felt defined her community. After hearing of Armando Minjarez and the Horizontes Project, she took action to create a meaningful work of art with hopes that young passersby will instead see beauty, strength and resilience within their community.
The Veterans Mural | Clay Center
Gracing the Edward Jones building at 701 Fourth Street, this new mural is a tribute to those who have served in the United States military. The illustration depicts the flag being raised by the U.S. Marines atop Mount Suribachi in 1945 at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. The image, created by artists Whitney Kerr, Chase Hunter and Elliot McAnany, includes a real flag and pole.
Globe Refiners Mural | McPherson
Downtown McPherson is the site of numerous murals painted by artist Naomi Ullum and funded by the McPherson Convention and Visitors Bureau. The mural Global Refiners depicts the first-ever USA Olympic basketball team. The squad, which included six members from McPherson, won the first gold medal in their sport at the 1936 games in Berlin.
Osage Indian Village Mural | Oswego
Sponsored by the Oswego Historical Society, this Kansas mural takes up the west wall of the former Oswego Independent-Observer building at 720 East Fourth Street. Created by lead artist Joan Allen, who was assisted by Larry Allen and Jerg Frogley, the painting illustrates an Osage Indian village around 1841. This mural is based on The Village of White Hair, a painting by E. Marie Horner that can be found at the Oswego Historical Museum.
Butterfly Mural Project | Ottawa
Located at 415 South Main Street, this colorful mural painted by Dave Lowenstein with the help of Sue Dunlap and Callie Mongold honors lifelong Ottawa resident William B. Howe. William B. Howe, illustrator and editor of Butterflies of North America, which has been acclaimed as one of the greatest volumes published about butterflies in America. Lowenstein’s mural was based on Howe’s 2005 painting of the Chippewa Hills known as Giant Swallowtails: Nightingale Point. daveloewenstein.com