John Steuart Curry–Local Artist

baptism in KansasWhen I lived in Nortonville, I frequently used to pass–or sometimes stop and read–a small historical highway sign pointing to John Steuart Curry’s birthplace.   He was with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, one of the three famous Regionalist painters of the twentieth Century.

He became famous paintings scenes of his native state and its people: an outdoor baptism, a tornado, or old John Brown with a Bible in one hand and a “Beecher Bible” (a Sharps rifle) in the other.  In the mid 1930s Curry offered a modest proposal to Kansas State University.  He would serve as an artist in residence in return for a reasonably salary.

His local university could not find the funds, or see the need, so Curry expatriated to Wisconsin in 1936 and became the first artist in residence at the agricultural college of the university in Madison.

His famous murals of life in Kansas were funded by contributions from newspapers, but some politicians delayed the project because they thought Curry presented negative images of our state:  People might get they idea from seeing his tornadoes that we have bad weather here!  Or worse, from seeing the murals of John Brown, that we have a violent past.

Of course, like all prophets, he was finally appreciated in his home state in the years following his untimely death.  The politicians even found the funds to erect a highway marker in his honor on old HWY 59 in Jefferson County.

[Links to online exhibits of Curry’s art here.]

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