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Artists’ views of the Flint Hills continue to delight and challenge

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Traveling exhibit makes its final stop at Kauffman Museum

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- After two years of traveling and stays in 12 galleries around the state, "Homage to the Flint Hills," an exhibit of 37 pieces of art (mostly paintings and photographs), will make its last stop at Bethel College’s Kauffman Museum March 14-May 31. The exhibit has been in south central Kansas since January (it comes to North Newton from El Dorado and began the year in Wichita). Yet it continues to surprise and challenge viewers, most recently with the addition of a painting by Phil Epp of Newton.

Epp taught art at Newton High School for almost 30 years, from 1974-2003. He is a 1972 graduate of Bethel College and is active in the state and regional art scene. In 2000, he collaborated with two ceramics artists to produce "Blue Sky Mural," a 20-by-33-foot piece that stands in Newton’s Centennial Park.

New in this final presentation of "Homage to the Flint Hills" is Epp’s untitled painting, a just-completed 48X36" acrylic on board work, that Kauffman Museum director Rachel Pannabecker says "dramatically expresses Epp’s view of the wind farm being built in the Flint Hills." The painting shows wild mustangs running underneath towering wind turbines and dark storm clouds.

Epp himself says, "The Flint Hills painting exhibit was organized several years ago with the intention of showing the beauty and diversity of the last stand of American tallgrass prairie. Many artists and organizers involved were concerned about the loss of this majestic landscape to the threat of large industrial wind complexes. This image was constructed to show both the disruptive nature of this industrialization and the massive scale of the imposing turbines."

"While Don Lambert selected artworks that show the natural beauty of the Flint Hills," Pannabecker adds, "Epp’s new work challenges audiences to consider the impact of human actions on the region."

Topeka freelance writer Lambert originally conceived and organized "Homage to the Flint Hills" as a smaller exhibit that hung in the state capitol building. There, Governor Kathleen Sebelius and members of the Kansas House and Senate responded to it enthusiastically. Lambert has written extensively about Kansas artists including the late Elizabeth Layton and John Steuart Curry.

"In my conversations with Kansas artists," Lambert says, "I learned that so many of them, from Kansas City to Wichita, as well as artists from the Flint Hills, were going there for inspiration. Artists have been doing this for a hundred years. No one can say how many such paintings and photographs have been produced. I do know it is in the tens of thousands."

An 88-page book that reproduces in color all the works in the exhibit and includes comments made about the Flint Hills over the last 200 years accompanies the exhibit and is for sale in the Kauffman Museum store. The book includes information about the artists and why they have chosen to depict the Flint Hills.

"Homage to the Flint Hills" has works by Robert Sudlow, Lawrence, often considered Kansas’ finest artist; Judith Mackey, Cottonwood Falls, whose painting of Cedar Crest (the governor’s residence) was reproduced on Kathleen Sebelius’ 2004 Christmas card; Jim Richardson, Lindsborg, whose photograph of the burning of the Flint Hills was on the cover of National Geographic; Stan Herd, Lawrence, best known for his large "crop art" works; Marilyn Grisham, who has produced more than 500 prairie-inspired weavings; and Larry Schwarm, Emporia, whose book of photographs of prairie burn-offs resulted from his winning a national photography competition.

In addition to Epp, more local artists featured in the show are Zak Barnes, Cottonwood Falls; Barbara Bullock, Gordon Bullock and Hugh Greer, all of Wichita; Dana Hassett, Burns; Todd Matson, Valley Center; and Deb Schroer, Strong City.

There will be an opening reception for "Homage to the Flint Hills" on Sunday, March 19. The format is come-and-go from 1:30-4:30. Don Lambert, area artists, and representatives of the Kansas Land Trust and Central National Bank (both exhibit sponsors) will give a brief program at 3:30.

"Homage to the Flint Hills" will remain at Kauffman Museum through May 31. The museum is located at Main and 27th Streets in North Newton on the Bethel College campus, and is open Tuesday-Friday, 9:30-4:30, and Saturday and Sunday, 1:30-4:30. Admission to the special exhibit, which also covers admission to the permanent exhibits "Of Land and People" and "Mirror of the Martyrs," is $3 for adults and $1.50 for children ages 6-16.

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