Facebook has a “timeline” feature. My history textbook had “timelines” at the beginning of chapters.
Here is an illustration of a local timeline painted for our Neosho Library in 1939.
By 1939, the artist, Thomas Hart Benton, had become famous. His portrait had even been on the cover of TIME, the weekly newsmagazine. The USA economy had been in recession for ten years and Neosho was just digging its way out with the help of Federal Work Projects such as the building of the City Auditorium and Hall.
The west wing became the Library and children were welcome. There was a huge painting the length of the wall above the children’s bookshelves.
That mural was NOT painted by Neosho’s famous son, THB, but it was done by one of his students out of the Kansas City Art Institute, one Durward Marshall.
It is sort of a “timeline” of Neosho history in paint. I spoke with Fredine Haddock who, at age 97, has the most remarkable memory of Neosho. One has to have an interview with Fredine to fully appreciate the functioning of her memory.
I have relied on her for years. Yesterday she was able to list for me the Neosho persons Marshall used as models as he painted our history into the mural.
He used the top of the Haas Bank building on the NE corner of the square as his studio. It does not have the detail of the Courthouse mural but it does reflect our area up to 1939, ie., pre-WW II.
When the Auditorium (now the Civic) walls were taken out a few years ago, the Marshall mural was preserved, framed and hung at some expense in the present Neosho-Newton County Library at the corner of Jefferson and East Spring.
This had been the Jeffers Ford Motor Co. and the building makes a wonderful re-purposed library space especially with the new addition coming along so beautifully.
Why this new interest in the Marshall mural? It is because in 1981 I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Marshall and his wife when they visited Neosho to again visit his mural painted 40 years earlier. We forget that once a painter leaves a painting, it is gone from his or her life in its original form.
My father, who I think was mayor at the time, was contacted to see if he had a key to the Auditorium and former library. It was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon seeing the gentleman painter revisit his work.
I took it upon myself to invite him to come to Neosho for our Fall Festival and meet the people who enjoyed his work. I promised to write a short biography and story of his doing the mural. He agreed and I did my part.
But when the day of the festival came, he had an emergency in Kansas City; his longtime pet had taken ill and was dying and he could not leave her. We were of course disappointed but we understood.
Later I received from him an original watercolor which he had done probably in plein aire in 1970. He wrote on the bottom, “For Judy Buwalda August 2, 1981, Marshall. Kansas Wheat Harvest, 1970.”
I had it framed nicely and hung it in my living room and later gave it to Fran McMillan. She had it hung in her dining room.
Yesterday I was visiting and when I saw it I said, “Oh Fran, I have to have this back for the new Library.”
She gave it right to me and so I will see if there is anywhere for it next to the mural complimented by the biography I had written.
If you watch Antiques Road Show on PBS, you know provenance is important.
What is “provenance?” It is the history of the painting’s life after it leaves the artist’s easel.
(Judy Haas Smith lives in Neosho.)