Poster exhibition urges people to ‘See Lawrence’ with new eyes

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The “See Lawrence: Parks and Green Spaces” exhibition and online sales have been extended through Dec. 31. —The Editors

Lawrence outdoor retreats and landmarks, including the gazebo in South Park and the locomotive in Watson Park, are among the sites featured in “See Lawrence: Parks and Green Spaces,” a collection of prints on display at the Lawrence Public Library through Aug. 31—and available for purchase to benefit participating artists and the library’s Friends and Foundation.

KU alumni and faculty and other local artists created the paintings in the visual style of the iconic See America posters commissioned by the Work Projects Administration in the 1930s and ’40s to promote travel to national parks on behalf of the National Park Service. The WPA’s Federal Art Project put artists and photographers to work during the Great Depression to make paintings, murals, sculptures, documentary photography and various graphic and scenic arts.

Lawrence’s rendition was inspired by the original’s classic style and by project creator Mary Remboldt Gage’s love of the outdoors. “I’ve always loved those posters,” says Gage, c’81, g’01, “and I just love getting outside and exploring.” In 2015, while pursuing a yearlong “quest” to hike in every Kansas state park during a time when she was also starting to make her own art, Gage hit on the idea of doing a similar promotional poster series for the state.

“Kansas’ beauty is subtle beauty that really grows on you,” she says. “Just putting all my interests together, I thought it would be cool to have that kind of illustration for our own state vistas in that national park style.”

She mentioned the idea to her editor at Lawrence Magazine where she is a longtime freelance writer, and the magazine encouraged her to try a scaled-down version for Lawrence parks. The magazine commissioned five works by local artists, and Gage raised money from private donors to commission six more paintings for the exhibition, which opened in June at the library, where Gage is a member of the Friends and Foundation board. Because the library was closed at the time under a statewide stay-at-home order necessitated by the coronavirus, prints were mounted in the windows facing out, so passersby could enjoy them—appropriately, given the exhibition’s theme—from the outside.

The posters portray relatively hidden locales (“Lawrence Nature Park” by Sara Taliaferro, g’98, and “Haskell Medicine Wheel” by Astrid Mier y Teran) as well as beloved Lawrence favorites (“Watson Park,” with its steam locomotive, by Leslie Kuluva, f’05, and the gazebo-fountain-flower trifecta of “South Park” by design department lecturer Kent Smith, a’12). Two river scenes with unique perspectives (a bird’s-eye view of “Riverfront Park” by Lisa Grossman, f’00, and Gage’s own bank-level take on the Kaw in “Burcham Park”) remind that Lawrence’s oft-overlooked riverfront can be enjoyed up close if one knows where to go.

Inspiring viewers to get close to the real subjects of the lovely vistas featured in “See Lawrence” is Gage’s “secret goal” for the project.

“I’ve always been very much interested in the environment and anything we can do to keep our planet healthy,” she says. “So for me this is just kind of a way to nudge people to go out and see the beauty, the nature, that is right around us. Maybe if they do, they’ll be interested in preserving it.”

In a time of global pandemic, when traveling, vacationing and museum-going can be fraught with anxiety, there’s comfort in discovering or reconnecting with the natural wonders we find closer to home. There’s beauty in these works by Lawrence artists, Gage says, and in the places that inspired them, the community parks—like her favorite, Burcham—that are just around the corner: “I love being by the water, and I have always loved those giant cottonwoods. It does kind of lift me up when I’m there. To me it says a lot about the different things about Kansas that I love: the big skies, the big cottonwoods against some water—and an eagle every now and then if you’re lucky.”

“See Lawrence: Parks and Green Spaces” continues through Aug. 31 at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St. Prints and postcards of the artworks can be purchased at https://lplks.org/friendsfoundation. Proceeds benefit the artists and the Lawrence Public Library Friends and Foundation.

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