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Kansas on canvas

Art is everywhere in Kansas — you just have to know where to look for it.

Sometimes it is obvious, hanging in galleries or on display inside museums. But often, artwork lurks in less conspicuous places. Traveling through the cities and towns of Kansas, you’ll find beautiful artwork in a classic car workshop, historic theaters and even a modern shopping complex.

Although some of these places are out of the way, that doesn’t mean they are hard to find — proud locals are happy to point out the artistic flourishes that add distinctive touches to their towns. On your tour through Kansas, keep an eye out for some of these artistic spots.

Red Barn Studio
Lindsborg, a sleepy little Kansas community, has a big arts scene. This Swedish town of 3,300 is home to 50 to 60 artists, whose work can be found in numerous small galleries and studios.
One of the most interesting stops for art lovers in town is the Red Barn Studio, where artist Lester Raymer worked for more than 45 years.

“This was his studio space from 1945 until he died in 1991,” said site director Marsha Howe. “He actually signed the painting on our easel the day he died.”

During a tour, groups can see the artist’s studio workbench and tools, along with dozens of pieces of his work. Items on display range from paintings and pottery to tapestries and large pieces of furniture made with found items and recycled materials.

Among the most interesting works is a collection of toys Raymer created for his wife, Ramona.
“Over a 30-year period, he made 56 toys for Ramona,” Howe said. “Almost all of them had clown themes.”

In addition to the circus motif, many of Raymer’s pieces on display feature religious themes depicting scenes from biblical stories. Highlights include a large toy model of Noah’s ark complete with dozens of handmade animals and a cupboard made of recycled materials depicting the 12 apostles.

McPherson College Automotive Restoration

Step into the showroom at McPherson College, and you’ll instantly recognize the artistic value of classic automobiles on display.

At this college, more than 100 students are enrolled in the school’s Automotive Restoration Technology program, the only course of study in the country that offers a four-year degree in restoration of classic cars. For groups that visit the town, the local convention and visitors bureau can arrange a behind-the-scenes tour of the workshops.

“We explain a little bit about the history of the program,” said Chris Paulson, one of the school’s instructors. “We take them through the different parts of restoring old cars, from the workshops to the showroom.”

Students work on cars that were produced between 1908 and 1967, rebuilding the engines, detailing the interiors and restoring the chrome and paint on the outside. During a tour, groups see the paint shop, upholstery room and garage areas, where students and professors perform the woodwork, metalwork, and mechanical and electrical restorations necessary to return the beautiful cars to their original luster.

Several of the school’s biggest successes are displayed in a showroom at the front of the building, and visitors can see more vintage autos at the annual classic car show the school hosts in May.

Legends at Village West
Kansas City
On the Kansas side of Kansas City, the 70-acre Legends at Village West has become the area’s one-stop spot for shopping, dining and entertainment. And although it may seem like an unlikely place to find artwork, the complex is full of sculpture honoring notable figures from Kansas’ past.

“We were built with state bonds, so we wanted to give back to the state,” said Legends marketing director Amy Kraft. “It’s called the Legends, because around the complex we have 80 statues and tributes to people from around the state.”

Groups can take a Legends walking tour that highlights the different statues and tributes around the development. Along the way, they’ll see re-creations of some famous faces, such as the statue of Wyatt Earp, which is surrounded by native prairie grasses, or one of Dwight Eisenhower fishing in a fountain.

The Legends also features a large show fountain created by Wet Design, the company that created the famous fountain display outside the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.

Staging a comeback
In several Kansas towns, historic theaters that were once neglected have been revitalized and reopened as performance places for their communities. Visitors will find artwork not only on their stages but also in the architecture of the buildings themselves.

In Salina, the Stiefel Theater for the Performing Arts was built in the 1930s but sat empty for years in the late 20th century. Today, it has been restored and is home to the Salina Symphony and a classic film series that groups can attend on Thursday nights. The complex also features an arts center, with galleries and art workshop spaces.

“They have a little area in the back called the Artery where you can come in and make art whenever you want,” said Sylvia Rice, director of Visit Salina.

In nearby McPherson, the McPherson Opera House was originally built in 1888. In 1985, the community began an effort to restore the opera house; after several funding issues, the renovated building reopened earlier this year.

Inside, the opera house has been restored to its 1913 appearance. Highlights include historic stained-glass windows and a hand-painted mural above the stage dating back to 1912. The exterior of the building features a Coca-Cola sign that is a piece of Americana.

“That mural has been there since the teens,” said executive director John Holecek. “We got Coca Cola to come back and repaint it.”

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.