It was the fact that she had once visited with Gordon Parks in his New York City apartment that drew Wichitan Jo Zakas to an exhibit at the Ulrich Museum of Art on Sunday.
Zakas said she wanted to see glimpses of the man whose work spilled into so much of the nation's art world — poetry, photography, music and movies.
"He had a wonderful story to tell, and he told it," Zakas said. "What you take away with you is his can-do spirit. If he can do it, think what we can do today with so many more opportunities."
Sunday marked the first full day of the exhibit, "Crossroads: The Art of Gordon Parks." An opening reception Saturday night drew about 300 people.
The exhibit features 75 photographs and more than 60 letters, documents and manuscripts from the life of Gordon Parks.
A Kansas native, Parks rose from poverty and segregation in Fort Scott to become one of the nation's most distinguished artistic icons. He excelled in photography, movie directing, movie score writing, poetry and painting.
Shortly after he died in 2006 at the age of 93, Wichita State University received a large portion of the Parks collection in a bid against the Library of Congress and the New York Public Library.
In addition to items from the WSU collection, Ulrich director Patricia McDonnell said the exhibit features items from a traveling retrospective on Parks, as well as items from Parks collections at the Kansas African American Museum and the Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas.
"We knew given the importance of Gordon Parks — not just to the state of Kansas but now to Wichita State University — we wanted to make this a bigger deal," McDonnell said.
"Gordon Parks had what photographers call 'The Eye.' What will place him forever in history books as an important photographer/artist is the pathos he was able to capture and insert in the photographs he framed. He has that heart-wrenching human emotion."
From 1948 to 1961, Parks produced some of the nation's most memorable photographs while on assignment for Life magazine.
His photo essays touched on subjects ranging from Harlem gang members to the world of high fashion.
The exhibit features many of those works, as well as one of Parks' most iconic photographs: "American Gothic," a photograph of Ella Watson, a cleaning woman in the building where Parks worked.
There is a black-and-white photo of Duke Ellington's shoes. Another photo shows the bleakness and despair in the eyes of an African-American mother and her children on the steps of their house in the Deep South. Another reflects the starkness of an African-American classroom in 1956 in Birmingham, Ala.
The photos drew Wichitans Elvira and Dick Crocker to the exhibit Sunday afternoon.
"It's his subject matter for one thing," Elvira Crocker said. "He does stuff on a population that was essentially ignored in that time frame. It is a reflection of another part of society that was under-represented."