Early this spring, I visited one of the state’s newest state parks, Kaw River State Park in northwest Topeka. Growing up in Topeka, I was long familiar with this area along the banks of the Kaw (or Kansas) River, as well as the land around it that contained tree-lined trails and the governor’s residence. But I had never closely studied this landscape as an artist … and that was what I came to do on this day.
I had arrived at the state park to contemplate how I would transform this scene of natural beauty, with its myriad vistas and rich visual tones, into one iconic image with a limited palette of color. That was the task I had been given a few months prior when I was asked to serve as the lead artist for the Topeka portion of an art project that reimagines Kansas parks and green spaces in the style of the iconic 1930s Works Progress Administration National Parks posters.
I suspect you are familiar with these posters, or something inspired by them. Artists — many of them little-known at the time — created these images as part of a federally funded program during the height of the Great Depression. Working with limited printing capabilities, the artists relied on only a few colors, bold strokes and an ability to capture the essence of a location in one simple frame. Their creations spoke to the majesty of the natural world and to our pride as a nation that we could share and enjoy these public spaces. They are images that stirred something in the generations before us, and they still resonate to this day.