The works of 45 artists who have captured the life and beauty of the Flint Hills have converged in an exhibit that shows why they think this part of the world is a wonder to behold.
The exhibit, “Through Artists’ Eyes,” is at the Flint Hills Discovery Center through Jan. 5.
Several of the artists were in town this week for the exhibit and talked to The Mercury about how they see the Flint Hills and what they think makes it so special.
“[The landscape] doesn’t overpower you but works with you — encourages you to see what’s there,” said painter Barbara Waterman-Peters. “In one glance, such color, such texture, such a perfect moment. And it is so fleeting that it will be gone in two minutes or less.”
Waterman-Peters said when she began painting landscapes of the Flint Hills, she did not realize the complexity of what she was seeing.
“Look again, look at the 2 million colors in that one square foot,” Waterman-Peters said. “If you were born here, live here or work here, you have to address the landscape because it is such an integral part of us.”
As she paints, she said, she notices more detail, more depth of color and more play of light. As the sun, moon and clouds move across the sky, she captures the shadows and exposes the subtle intricacies of the land and foliage spread out before her.
As with many of the artists whose work is on display at the Discovery Center, Waterman-Peters paints from photographs she takes at different times of day and during different seasons. She said it is difficult to paint just by standing in the hills because things change so much from dawn to dusk. Her favorite time is spent going into the hills early in the morning and taking pictures to paint.
“It’s always a gift,” she said. “Being a visual artist, to see something of beauty — such primal strength — it sets the mood of the whole day.”
Susan Rose, another artist who is part of the exhibit, paints the interaction between the plants and wildlife. Also working from photographs she takes, Rose paints the many birds that take migratory stops in the Flint Hills or are permanent residents.
One of Rose’s paintings is of an Upland Sandpiper standing in the native grass and flowers in a pasture north of her house. Called the “shorebirds of the prairie,” these long-legged, needle-billed birds roam all over the Great Plains and as far north as Alaska.
“They are only here a few months, and then they’re gone,” Rose said.
The other painting she chose to display is a pair of meadowlarks. Although the birds are common enough to earn the title of state bird, the meadowlarks’ bright yellow breasts and freckled backs demonstrate how color creates an intricate patchwork in the Flint Hills.
While some artists are inspired by the natural elements, Clive Fullagar said he tries to capture the human element as well. His painting “Hale’s Gate” centers on a group of empty cattle pins sitting in the middle of a Flint Hills pasture.
Fullagar said when he thought the idea of putting cattle out to pasture to get fat off the lush vegetation of the hills only to be sent to slaughter was like a Greek tragedy.
That dark tone is reflected in his work with the browns, deep reds and long shadows that usually occur in the evening.
Fullagar, who immigrated to Manhattan from Africa, said not capturing the human element misses what living in the Flint Hills is like.
“This corner of Kansas has exquisite beauty,” he said. “You have to live here to truly appreciate it.”