December 6, 2012

Light finally shines on aviation murals

For most of their near eight decades of existence, the Felix Jones murals have been unseen by the public.

For most of their near eight decades of existence, the Felix Jones murals have been unseen by the public.

They’ve been placed in storage or simply hard to access.

The director of the Kansas Aviation Museum is planning to change that with an open house Thursday to dedicate the murals and shed new light on the artist who painted them.

“The paintings were done by a young ideological artist who was well-known here,” said Lon Smith, executive director of the Kansas Aviation Museum. “I made it a personal pursuit to find out as much as I could about the guy.”

In 1933, the 25-year-old artist, Charles Felix Jones was inspired when he went to the then new post office – now the Federal Court Building – in downtown Wichita.

The massive walls were blank, void of any art.

He proposed painting two murals depicting the march of transportation.

He petitioned area civic groups asking for support – and got it through the Exchange Club. Of course, the nation at the time was going through the Great Depression and money was hard to come by. The Works Progress Administration and the National Recovery Administration provided funding for the Jones Murals.

But when Jones completed the paintings and presented them to the post office, they were rejected by locals who complained the WPA and the NRA were socialist and in conflict with the American free market system.

Crushed, Jones left Wichita and moved to Colorado.

The post office instead requested proposals for alternate murals and awarded contracts to Ward Lockwood of Taos, New Mexico, and Richard Harris of Iowa. Those murals are the ones still displayed in the Federal building.

But the Jones murals were instead sent to the Wichita air terminal building and placed on the third floor. In 1952, when the terminal was sold to the United States government in creation of the McConnell Air Force Base, the paintings were sent to the Wichita Art Museum where they were placed in storage until 1994 when they were returned to the Wichita Airport Authority but not placed on public display.

“Sometimes it is challenging in making things happen,” Smith said. ‘This was a local guy who tried to do something innovative and was rejected. In my opinion, he deserves after all these years to be recognized for what he did.”

Smith said the museum has created a room as a gallery on the main Atrium floor specifically for the murals.

In researching Jones life, Smith tracked down family members in Colorado who plan on attending Thursday’s open house event.

Jones died on April 16, 1974 while on vacation in Hawaii.

And so, what would her father have to say after finding recognition in Wichita after all these years?

“He would be so excited,” said Jones’ daughter, Judy Gardner of Denver, Colorado. “He wouldn’t believe it anymore than my sister or me. He’d be very humble but also very surprised.”

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