Prairie View Festival Visitors

Chapter 18

All the News from Walnut Shade, KS
September 22, 2011

Like Memorial Day, the 4th of July and Labor Day, the weekend of the Prairie View Festival functions as an unofficial reunion for current and former residents of Walnut Shade.  Here’s a list of some of the families and friends with visitors this last weekend:

Lorene Robertson’s niece and nephew were in town from Little Rock, Arkansas.

Glenn and Lucille Miller hosted Lucille’s sister and brother-in-law from Boise, Idaho.

Mayor Combs’ college roommate and his wife visited from Indianapolis.

Rodney and Phyllis Dane welcomed their son James and his wife Vicky, traveling from Garden City on their way to Chicago for job interviews.  James has been a reporter for the Garden City Telegram and Vicky is a chiropractor and holistic health professional.  James and Vicky’s son, Hal, was in town, presenting a paper on the history of wagon repair along the Oregon Trail.

Nora Evans spent the weekend with her uncle Ray and aunt Andrea.  Nora goes to school in Manhattan, but her mother and father live in Colorado Springs.  Jesse, Ray’s brother, owns a company that maintains the dry cleaning equipment for the Air Force Academy.

Rachel Heath was in town visiting her parents, Bill and Pam.  She spent the week here before flying out to Paris to begin her fall term at the Ecole d’Architecture Paris Belleville.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham were happy to have their daughter Rosemarie, her husband Ted and their grandson Chase visiting for the weekend.

Rev. Katherine and Les Derby were hosts for Rev. Carl Wilkins and his wife Penelope.  Rev. Wilkins is the minister at the Countryside Congregational United Church of Christ in Wichita.  He has just completed a sabbatical at Union Theological Seminary in New York and will be resuming his duties at Countryside on October 2nd.

Harry Singleton reports that over 500 people (most from Walnut Shade, truth be told) took a tour of the Convent and learned about the work that is being done to turn it into an inn and upscale restaurant.  The restaurant will be called the White Marigold and Harry says that he will be making an announcement about the chef in the next couple of weeks.  He also plans to have the largest selection of wines and cordials between Omaha and Kansas City.

Speaking of wine, George Finley says that he hopes to have the first tasting of his Finley Ridge Cabernet Franc around Columbus Day.  Last year’s tasting of his First Friday Traminette was a great success.  We are all happy to see George’s success with his vineyard, particularly when most of us thought he had gone completely batty fifteen years ago when he announced that he was going to start a winery.  George, we’ll all be there for the tasting, but…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

This year’s Prairie View Festival coincided with the 50th anniversary of the dedication of “Sisyphus of the Prairie” in Harris Park.  The sculpture, by Peter “Fritz” Felten, depicts an early farmer pushing a plow up a “Kansas mountain” (meaning, around here, any incline of more than 15 degrees).  He has a slight smile on his face and you can sense that he has done this many times before, like the Sisyphus of mythology.  Unlike that harrowed soul, our farmer seems to almost be enjoying his work, not regarding it as punishment, though by all accounts (and an application of even a grain of common sense), it was as close to punishment as one was likely to get.  Those early settlers faced daily hardships that we can only begin to imagine.  Felten captured the agony and reward that that enterprise brought; our Sisyphus is at once as thin as the proverbial rail and improbably muscular.  While he strains to move the plow even an inch, he delights in the accomplishment of that task.

The sculptor was in town for the re-dedication.  In his remarks, he said that he doesn’t travel far from his gallery in Hays these days, but wanted to see if his work was holding up any better than he is.  The irony was lost on many people in the crowd; originally carved in local limestone, “Sisyphus” is the only Felten sculpture cast in bronze, so it is holding up pretty well, indeed.  And so, it must be said, is he; sculptors tend to look older than their years because of the hard work involved, but Felten could pass for fifty any day of the week.  While not initially in favor of the conversion of his sculpture from stone to metal, he relented when Inez Harris offered to cover the  full cost of the casting.  Inez believed that a bronze sculpture by Felten could become a major tourist attraction for Walnut Shade and since it was early in his career, he was eventually persuaded by the argument (and Inez is not known for losing an argument).  Over the years, the sculpture has appeared on the cover of regional and national arts magazines, agriculture publications and as the background for innumerable family photographs.  I imagine grandfathers standing in front of “Sisyphus” and saying to their gathered clan, “This is what it was like when I was farming around here.”  In truth, any grandfather who said that would have had to have been at least a hundred and seventy-five years old, since the plow depicted hasn’t been used since the 1850s.  But it makes a good story and never fails to impress the on-lookers.

Besides the dedication, Walnut Shade was abuzz with activities over the weekend.  Perhaps because of the perfect weather, the Festival attracted close to seven thousand visitors, a new record (I’ve never completely understood how the attendance figure is arrived at, but Tom Clemons says that the Main Street/PRIDE committee makes its estimate using a complicated algorithm that combines the Pythagorean theorem, Newton’s “Second Law of Motion,” and a deck of Tarot cards with Temperance and The Fool missing; Michelle Clemons, on the other hand, says they just count the number of cars in the parking lots over the weekend and multiply by three, presuming that an average of three people arrive in the automobiles parked there; I’m leaning toward the Pythagorean/Newtonian/Tarotian explanation as being more accurate; I know how poorly some people in this town multiply).  

The Pow Wow hosted by the Prairie Band Potawatomi was a great addition to the event and we are all hoping that it can be scheduled again next year; our visitors appreciated the significant cultural opportunity it provided and new friends were made all around.  As always, the homes tour brought to town many people who are interested in period architecture (and an equal number who just like to snoop around other people’s houses).  KU professor of social work Richard Holcomb led a panel on the effects of the Great Depression on Kansas farm families and Missouri Western State University associate professor of history Lucinda Woolery discussed the German prisoner of war camp at Camp Concordia and the contributions made by the POWs who stayed in the state after World War I.  Phyllis and Rodney Dane’s grandson, Hal, who is a doctoral candidate at KU, presented a summary of his dissertation on the types of wagons used by the settlers who traveled the Oregon and Mormon trails.  Hal’s great-great-great grandfather was one of the first permanent residents of what became Walnut Shade and made his fortune repairing those wagons.  Hal hopes to defend his dissertation in October and graduate in December.

The Festival has always been something of a mini-Chautauqua, with the wide variety of music, the discussions of literature and history, and the plays that are presented.  The Festival is the unofficial beginning of the theatrical season in Walnut Shade.  The Opera House is busy from the end of September to just before Thanksgiving with productions by the Aeolian Acting Company, a group of semi-professional and amateur thespians who roll into town on Friday nights to prepare for two performances on Saturday and a Sunday matinee.  The actors come from Lawrence, Atchison, St. Joseph, Manhattan and Kansas City where they are either in school, teaching at a college or university, or have day jobs at places like MGP, Wire Rope or Hallmark.  Over the years, several people in town have become regular hosts for the actors since most can’t afford to stay at Holly House or the Wayside Inn in Fremont on the meager stipend they receive for the three performances they give each weekend.  In return, the hosts get season tickets to the productions.  This year, the troupe will do two plays and a musical:  As You Like It; The Doctor’s Dilemma by Shaw; and, Of Thee I Sing by the Gershwins.  An ambitious season, without doubt.

Jerry has been enjoying the cooler weather, cooler being a relative term.  The high yesterday was only 84 degrees, compared to the persistent upper 90s we were experiencing the last couple of week of August and first week in September.  He and I have been getting out every morning, me to paint and he to chase squirrels and chipmunks in the fields just outside of town.  We usually go to the wooded areas along Walnut Creek which provide daily-changing views to capture on canvas and daily-changing critters for Jerry to attempt to catch.  His old bones won’t let him stalk the vermin as determinedly as he once did, but he puts up a good front for about fifteen minutes and then comes over to where I’ve set up my easel and takes a nap.  That lasts about the time that it takes me to sketch out a scene and then some sound that only sleeping dogs can hear rouses him from his dreams and he’s off, sniffing and chasing and barking as if he were the lead hound in a 1920s English fox hunt.  At times like that, I sometimes I imagine I’ll see a red-coated Duke or Earl (or even the Duke of Earl) come jumping over the fence line: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible,” as Oscar Wilde said.

Here are a couple more landscapes I’ll be showing at the Miller County Art Fair.  Hope you like them.


Careful looking is the only way to understand
A view of Vermillion Creek near Spring River Crossing

Lake View
This is the northeastern tip of Perry Lake, with storm clouds gathering on the horizon

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
This entry was posted in Abstract art, Art, Natural world, Observations, Painting, Small Town Life. Bookmark the permalink.

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