As I was contemplating a column for this month, I came across a Facebook posting that inspired this article. It was a recent photo in an old friend’s living room with a painting I gave him years ago on the wall.
The piece was by a Sedalia, Missouri, artist, David Henry Wilson (1919-1989). David was an impoverished and relatively unknown artist when I met him in 1968 and bought several of his unique paintings. When I began working on the ragtime festival, David was inspired by the prospect and subsequently painted “Ragtime.” It was purchased by the Sedalia Art Commission to hang in the new City Municipal Building and was the first of several major works of art inspired by the city’s ragtime heritage to be displayed in Sedalia. David became better known through the years but died in near obscurity in 1989. His home at 1403 E. 3rd Street is now gone and the lot overgrown.
The Sedalia Community Arts Council bought Wilson’s “Ragtime” for $150 in 1974 and according to City Clerk Arlene Silvey, it has been hanging in the Sedalia Municipal Building ever since. It is hanging in her office now.
However, Wilson’s work wasn’t the first ragtime related art commissioned in Sedalia. In 1973, I had been experimenting with logo designs for the first festival and though I had a concept, my artistic skills were sadly lacking. Thus, the Festival group commissioned local artist Myrna Ragar to develop a logo based on the concept and it has become one of the most recognizable pieces of ragtime art around. The logo has appeared on most Festival publications in several incarnations ever since 1974 when it was first used. However, Jerry Pickney’s artistry on the Scott Joplin stamp probably holds the record as the most familiar example of ragtime art and the stamp’s first day of issue ceremony in 1983 was in Sedalia.
So, while the music played on, other ragtime related art began to appear in Sedalia. In 1973, a Municipal Art Commission received $10,000 to select a mural artist to depict Sedalia history for the new Municipal Building. The artist chosen was Eric Bransby from Kansas City, a former student of Thomas Hart Benton. The murals were dedicated in 1977 and the Scott Joplin panel is beside the Council Chambers entrance door with the other panels in various places around the building.
In 1994 another ragtime art commission led to the famous Joplin mural painted on the side of a building at 2nd Street and Ohio. The mural titled “Scott Joplin” is by artist Stanley James Hurd. It presides over a parking lot today and is easily visible to drivers going south on Ohio Street. It has been restored recently to brighten the contrast on the giant painting.
In 2002 a fundraiser collected $50,000 to pay for 40 murals depicting famous people and events in the county. They are hung in the 3rd floor court room of the Pettis County Courthouse and the murals were the inspiration of a wonderful old friend, retired Judge Donald Barnes.
Artist Barbara Campbell’s series of murals include an entire panel dedicated to Scott Joplin and the area’s ragtime heritage. At the top is the George R. Smith College and, going down, the Queen City Concert Band and Main Street, The Maple Leaf Club is depicted next, and below are Joplin’s Medley quartet, the “Maple Leaf Rag” with Joplin and John Stark, and the 1904 Emancipation Day program in the park.
Don and Carol Barnes served on the Festival board for many years and Carol was on the founding board that began the festival tradition in 1974. During Festival weekends, Judge Barnes can often be found in the courtroom providing his colorful narratives on the subjects of the murals.
Another major piece of ragtime art is appropriately to be found on the old tracks next to the beautifully restored KATY Depot near downtown Sedalia. It is a novelty sculpture titled “The Syncopated Rhythm Piano” by John Guffin and was dedicated in 2004. The piece reminds visitors of the frivolity of classic ragtime music as well as of the novelty side of syncopation.
Ragtime motivated art continues to make appearances in Sedalia. Two years ago, an art show sponsored by the Sedalia Visual Art Association featured a work by Jack Dieckman. It is of an exuberant Scott Joplin with background dancers in a period dance hall. Again, elation the music arouses is artistically portrayed.
The next time you are in Sedalia, check out the gallery of ragtime art pieces and if you are there during the annual festival, the unique pieces will be accompanied by the music that inspired and animates the art.