July 10, 2016

Wheat Center

WHEAT CENTER mural in Hoisington, Kansas

In 1984, I saw an exhibition of Grant Wood paintings in San Francisco. For me, it was breathtaking. Wood's subject matter and unique composition were completely new to me. As an Alaskan/Texan, I saw the self-reliant, industrious American Midwest for the very first time. (I didn't know yet, but at that very moment, I had fallen in love with the Midwest.) 

In recent years, my wife and I began to express our love for the Midwest (and Kansas, in particular) through weekend jaunts across region. Photos and local diners are our rewards for our journeys. They can be yours, too, if you'll get out there!

Among the many treats that Kansas holds for us is what is generally known as "Post Office Section Art", large murals installed in post offices and other public buildings. These murals celebrate the local culture and were intended to inspire and uplift folks slogging through the Depression. 

As soon as I discovered that the murals existed and I began to explore them online, the Hoisington mural stood out. Titled "Wheat Center", the mural shows a community working together to finish the wheat harvest. There is both urgency and celebration to be seen in this mural. All the wheat is cut, threshing is going smoothly, the end is in sight. The regional economy is safe... this year. Faith and hard work are rewarded.

The mural was painted by Dorothea Tomlinson in 1938. The beauty, the genius of  Tomlinson's mural is in it's composition as well as it's subject. The hot-air-balloon's-eye-view captures the broad scope of a region's industry. Where have I seen that technique before? Ah, in San Francisco at the Grant Wood exhibition! Tomlinson's style is clearly similar to Wood's... and it should be. In 1932, Tomlinson studied under Wood at the art school he founded - Stone City Art Colony. Dorothea Tomlinson is the beautiful link that connects my adoration of Grant Wood and my love of agricultural industry of Kansas (and the Midwest at large).

If it possible to make the experience even more special, I took this picture of the mural on July 9,
2016. At the very moment I took the mural picture, the skies all over western Kansas were tinted the color of wheat chaff. The wheat harvest was in full swing, just as depicted in the mural, only mechanized.

Postscript: I took the mural photo at about 6:00pm. The late summer sun splashed off the sidewalk and flooded onto the left side of the photo. It is far from ideal. The sad thing about all these great murals across Kansas and the Midwest is that there are not many "professional" images available (not online, anyway). I am happy to send you a 2meg file of this image if you request one. If you know of a collection of large format images, or even a coffee table book, please email me.

Thank you for sharing this treasure with me.

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