The Keeper of the Plains was erected in 1974. The Tripodal was installed in front of Century II two years earlier. I wasn’t yet a teenager, and overheard many an adult discussing the merits of each. A lot of Wichitans welcomed Blackbear Bosin’s beloved work; many did not. Some believed both to be ugly and irrelevant.
The Keeper’s journey from shiny to rusted, while Blackbear Bosin’s intent, was the reason a few people thought it should be destroyed, fearing it would fall down on its own. If social media had been available to cast votes, Wichita’s skyline might look very different today. (If you’re curious, ancestry.com archives the Wichita Eagle and Beacon, where you can read Letters to the Editor about these installations.)
I don’t care for the Tripodal, and I love the Keeper. But these are my opinions — subjective and almost meaningless. In the grand scheme of Wichita’s historically tenuous and only recently more substantial love affair with art, my opinions still only matter about half the time.
I’ll let you decide which half speaks now.
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To destroy art is grotesque. It is burning books and banning records. It is the Taliban laying waste to the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001, and Nelson Rockefeller’s destruction of the Man at the Crossroads in 1934. It is my mother slashing my paintings in 1976 as a punishment. I wouldn’t pick up a paintbrush again for 40 years.
To be clear, I’m not talking about mass-produced, assembly-line productions and reproductions. I’m talking about original artwork, especially that which represents the culture and its people.
When I left Wichita in 1985, non-commissioned murals were considered vandalism and graffiti. The concrete sides of the Canal Route, the drainage system beneath I-135, were often festooned with artwork that was destroyed as quickly as the city could man their sandblasters — to include a depiction of the American flag.
When I returned 30 years later, Wichita was supporting the very same techniques that 30 years prior landed artists in jail. Then a local mural was destroyed in this, 2017. A private business engaging in a community project had changed its mind. The community is as divided about this as the community was in the 1970s and 1980s when artwork was going up with and without anyone’s approval.
It remains to be seen how this current act of destruction will affect the artists, the art community, and the community at large. But there is a truth no community can escape: If you want to see public art, you have to support your artists. When art is destroyed, artists become discouraged. No artists means no art.
If art is no big deal to you, no skin off your nose. But you should know your history: Destroying art has never been a final action. Destroying art has always been the first step.
Diana Hartman recently returned to live in Wichita.