Wichita murals helped launch artist's career

07/26/2010 8:41 AM

07/26/2010 8:41 AM

This is one in a series of vignettes celebrating history. The series’ name comes from the state motto, Ad astra per aspera: “To the stars through difficulties.”

Arthur Sinclair Covey’s first commissioned solo work was three paintings that hung for more than half of the 20th century as the focal point in Wichita’s Carnegie Library building.

Covey, then a little-known El Dorado artist, had been selected by Louise Caldwell Murdock, a Wichita businesswoman who was instrumental in providing the seed money to start the Wichita Art Museum. She had an eye for good art and was the interior designer of the library.

It took him a year to complete, and when finished in 1915, the Covey paintings showed off scenes of American Indians, pioneers, farmers and colorful skies.

The murals, titled “The Spirit of Kansas — Promise, Fruition and Afterglow” now hang behind the tellers’ windows at Southwest National Bank, 400 E. Douglas. They were moved in 1975 when the city of Wichita sold the murals to the bank and the Carnegie was no longer being used as a library.

The paintings were a steppingstone in Covey’s career that launched him to do other murals throughout the nation.

Covey’s artwork hung in places such as the Land Plane Building at New York’s La Guardia Airport, the Fine Arts Building at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York and in the foyer of the Kohler Company building in Wisconsin, where he depicted the workmen who made bathroom fixtures.

He was born June 13, 1877, in Leroy, Ill. Although his family lived in several Midwestern communities, the majority of Covey’s youth was spent in El Dorado.

When he was 15, Covey participated in the 1893 land run on the Cherokee Strip. He and some friends rode a freight train into the territory, now Oklahoma. His family staked a claim near Perry, Okla.

In the mid-1890s, Covey attended Southwestern College in Winfield where a teacher, Edith Andrus Dunlevy, encouraged him to continue drawing and painting.

He did, and in 1897 Covey began studying at the Art Institute of Chicago. He graduated three years later.

Covey worked for a few years as a staff artist and art editor for the Indianapolis Press and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He then studied at the Royal Academy in Munich and later at the London School of Art.

During his career, Covey received several awards, including the Architectural League’s Gold Medal of Honor. That award was received in 1925 for his murals at the Kohler Company.

From 1926 to 1929, Covey served as President of the National Mural Painters Society.

He died on Feb. 5, 1960, in Tarpon Springs, Fla. He was 82.

In 1996, the Wichita Center for the Arts featured a display of Covey’s works.

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