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Familiar scenes
Former professor takes on new journey painting K-State, MHK area scenes

After a career as an engineering consultant and professor, Steven Moser, 62, is embarking on a new journey as a painter.

Moser had nearly reached 40 years in architectural engineering, having graduated from K-State in 1980 and bouncing between a consulting engineer job in Dallas and teaching at the University of Colorado – Boulder in the decades since.

But Moser, a native Manhattanite and lifelong painter, found he was missing something in his life last year when he took up his professor job at K-State.

“I came back to teach again with the idea to move into art gradually over five to seven years, but I just couldn’t get back into teaching the second time around,” Moser said. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy to make a connection with a 20-year-old mind. I realized I was no longer really interested in that, but rather art. It’s about energy, and I hope I can teach again, and I hope it will be about art and culture and place.”

Now, Moser has fully dedicated himself to painting, having painted more than 200 pices in the past nine months. About half of his watercolor paintings focus on landscapes, and the other half are a combination of people and historic buildings.

“I get emotional about buildings, especially historic buildings,” Moser said. “I love to paint buildings and skylines, cityscapes and downtown horizons.”

With his experienced architectural engineer eye, Moser said he prefers to paint from an abstract, complex point of view, resulting in simple paintings that ask viewers to fill in the details.

“To me, you can personally connect to something if you can participate in it,” Moser said. “And the more photorealistic the painting, the less participation and engagement you ask the viewer to make.

“I have astigmatism, and with my engineering and lighting background, I have a photographer’s approach to what’s in focus,” Moser continued.

“The eye itself only focuses on one thing, so I like to have just one thing more or less in focus and everything else blurred out. Blurring out is more accurate to human perception and what people experience.”

His preferred style is plein air painting, a process in which he sits and paints on location for an hour, then goes back to his studio to clean up the paintings for another hour or two. His hope is that viewers not only see his paintings, but feel them.

“When you sit outside, it involves all five senses,” Moser said. “The smell, the light, the sound, the feel of the heat … that’s the wonderful thing about plein air or on-site painting. It’s a sense of place that includes the landscape, the culture, the history, the people, the values, the art, the songs and the artists. These pictures are worth 1,000 words, which is good, since I talk kind of slow.”

Moser’s goal is to complete one painting every day, and he’s often painting landscapes in the area around Manhattan or buildings downtown and on K-State’s campus. He hopes to eventually have a comprehensive show dedicated to paintings of K-State and its history in the next couple of years.

Next month, Moser is teaming up with photographer Tony Ridder to host an art show at Bluestem Bistro that pairs up Ridder’s photography with Moser’s paintings of the same landscapes. Moser said they’ll use that show as a staging ground for other, bigger shows in 2020.

Ruth Ridder, Tony’s wife and owner of Little Apple Art Supply, regularly frames and mats Moser’s pictures. Ruth said she introduced Moser to YUPO paper, which is a translucent, plastic sheet that gives watercolor paintings a different look and texture.

“The paint does what it wants to on YUPO, so you have to control it a bit more, but he’s been a huge fan of the YUPO,” Ruth said. “Especially with his watercolors. He says if he doesn’t like something he paints, he can just brush it off.”

Moser and Ruth donated a painting and framing services for an auction at Seven Dolors Church’s Arts on the Green, an event on Sunday to benefit immigrants at the southern border.

“I prefer to paint bridges, rather than walls right now,” Moser said. “El Paso is an important place to me. Every city has its troubles, but the biggest issue is when people don’t want to build bridges.”

Although he’s painted since he was in high school, Moser said his biggest challenge is finding the drive to continue improving as a painter.

“I’ve grown more in the past nine months as an artist than I had in the previous 20 years,” Moser said. “I’m on the steep part of the learning curve, and that steep part can go for five or six years, but then you have to figure out what the next curve is, because that’s where the best part of the ride is. You have to grow and continue to develop.”

Beyond Manhattan, Moser regularly travels across the country, painting at every opportunity he gets. He particularly likes to visit his four kids and two grandchildren, who now live in different states.

Over the past two weeks, he’s has been on a tour of California, visiting a cousin who lives in San Jose and traveling along Highway 1. The trip has special meaning to him, as he’s visiting the area where his mother and late father grew up. He’s going to the parks and trails they visited 65 years ago on their honeymoon, and in his paintings, Moser has found a connection to their lives and his past.

“The wonderful thing about art is that you can paint what you want to see,” Moser said. “You don’t even have to see it, but you do have to imagine it, and that becomes reality. But you have to want to see it and imagine it.”

One day, these are the places where Moser will return to spread their ashes.

“I’m on a journey, and the paintings are my journal,” Moser said.

“They’re my interaction with those places and my story. I don’t want to just go to places and scratch the surface — I want to go to half a dozen places that I can visit regularly, and they become a part of who I am.”

Staff photo by Savannah Rattanavong  

Kelly Neel, general manager of Woof’s Play & Stay, feeds a treat to Luna, a 3-year-old corgi, before taking “back-to-school” pictures of her Monday morning.

Not fall yet: Heat advisory called as index to hit 111 degrees

Those people hoping for an early fall are getting a reminder that summer is far from over as the heat index could reach 111 degrees Tuesday, resulting in an excessive heat advisory.

The advisory expires at 9 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. All of northeast Kansas is affected, in addition to Dallas, Oklahoma City and Kansas City, Mo. The heat index, a “real-feel” temperature factoring humidity, reached 106 Monday with an actual high of 94.

A stagnant air mass combined with high humidity from weekend storms has resulted in a “heat dome” covering Manhattan and much of the central United States, said Mary Knapp, K-State climatologist.

Heat-related illnesses are possible, especially for the young and elderly and those without air conditioning, according to the NWS. It advises to limit outdoor activities during this period and check up on neighbors. While outside, drink plenty of water, wear light and loose-fitting clothing, and reduce strenuous activities.

“It’s not going to be super hot temperature-wise, but the high humidity and lack of air movement will drive up the index,” Knapp said.

A low-pressure front moves in Tuesday night with northwest winds ushering in cooler air. The high Wednesday is expected to be 88 with a low of 68 with a 60% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.

But that doesn’t necessarily signal the start of fall-like weather, Knapp said.

“We’re expected to be warmer than usual this fall,” Knapp said. “It’s not unheard of to hit 100 around here in September.”

The latest 100 on record for Manhattan was 106 on Sept. 28, 1956.

Manhattan has only reached 100 twice this year, on July 18 and 19, as it’s been a below-average summer. Knapp said Manhattan usually reaches 100 four or five times a summer. The average temperature this August has been 77.5 while the all-time average is 79, Knapp said.

Manhattan’s low this year was minus 2, reached on Jan. 30, Jan. 31, March 3 and March 4, considered the year’s coldest day as the high was only 7.

Weekend storms and rain helped contribute to the high humidity. Strong winds knocked down several power lines and uprooted large, healthy trees in Riley at 6:05 a.m. Friday and on Saturday another round of storms produced a possible unconfirmed tornado in northern Riley County near Riley, Knapp said.

The same Friday storm uprooted a weak tree in Clay Center and produced winds of 60 mph 2 miles north-northeast of Green and 75 mph in Randolph.

Four tornadoes were reported in Waubunsee and Geary counties Friday morning, mainly in open country near Volland with the latest reported at 2:27 a.m. 6 miles east of Alta Vista, visible during lightning flashes.

No property damage or injuries were reported.

City uncertain about Braum's next move

The future of Braum’s opening in west Manhattan is up in the air after the Manhattan Board of Zoning Appeals last week denied 0-5 a signage request from the restaurant. The city is waiting to see what Braum’s next move is.

Braum’s, an Oklahoma-based franchise featuring burgers, ice cream and a small grocery area, requested a total of 12 signs to display around the exterior walls of the proposed restaurant, at the corner of Anderson Avenue and Scenic Drive. The city restricts buildings in that district to only one sign on each wall of the building, said Barry Beagle, city senior planner.

“As a four-walled structure, basically they would be entitled to have one sign per wall face,” Beagle said.

Manhattan’s Community Development department did not support Braum’s request, Beagle said.

“Any time somebody is seeking a variance request, they have to prove and demonstrate that there is a unique condition associated with the property that — unless relief is granted in the form of a variance — it would suffer some unnecessary hardship,” Beagle said.

Beagle said the board felt the restaurant would still have “plenty of exposure” and “necessary visibility” with its pylon sign without Braum’s having to “deviate” from the city’s sign requirements. The pylon sign is proposed to be at the corner of Kimball and Anderson avenues.

Braum’s also requested a conditional-use permit (CUP) to allow the creation of restaurant with a drive-thru.

The drive-thru is an “added component,” that also has to be compatible with the residential area, Beagle said. The board unanimously recommended the CUP for the drive-thru on a 5-0 vote.

“They did not have any issues associated with that,” Beagle said.

The developer aimed to have a replat consideration for the area, but decided to pull the item from the Manhattan City Commission’s meeting agenda on Tuesday because of the Braum’s company’s uncertainty about the project, Beagle said. Beagle said he was informed about the decision to pull the item off the agenda by Bret Trembly with Alfred Benesch and Co.

Beagle said Benesch represents the property owner, Scenic Crossings, LLC.

Beagle said, “the ball is in (Braum’s) court at this point in time,” and the city is “more than happy” to have Braum’s open in Manhattan.

“It’s just a matter of complying with the city’s standards,” he said.

Braum’s officials didn’t respond to calls for comment Monday and Tuesday.

Wells discusses planned meeting with Gov. Kelly

Chairman Ron Wells announced to the Riley County Commission on Monday that he is meeting with Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday.

Wells clarified to The Mercury on Tuesday that he must be screened by the governor’s staff before visiting with her. He expects to mostly meet with the governor’s staff, but also plans to speak with her as well.

“I just have a good feeling she will be very receptive,” Wells said during the county commission meeting Monday.

He said he’s been trying to set up a meeting with her for several weeks now, and he hopes to relay local information to the governor, particularly the property tax rate and how high rates affect local taxpayers.

Wells said he doesn’t think state legislators inform the governor well enough about issues facing counties and cities. He said he wants to give her some perspective from people who work “in the trenches” and what local officials do for the state.

“I feel our legislators have lost touch, for the most part, with counties,” he said on Tuesday.

Wells said he also plans to invite the governor and her staff to the Riley County Multi-County Summit, planned for Aug. 29.

“I realize she is very, very busy and has to plan things well ahead, but if the opportunity would present itself, I think it would be a great learning experience to actually see how counties operate, and what’s actually going on here down in the trenches, so to speak,” he said.

The commission on Monday also put radio towers and ambulances among the top items on its list of priorities for the Capital Improvement Program.

The commission decided to allot more money to its countywide radio system upgrade and to replace an EMS ambulance.

The radio project is an additional $286,198, which will go toward buying newer-model radios, and the ambulance replacement is $180,000. The commission also approved other projects on the CIP list, such as improving equipment for the Riley County Public Works.

Tami Robison, county budget and finance officer, said she will present final numbers to the commission about all the approved projects soon.

EMS/Ambulance Director David Adams said the county did not replace any ambulances between 2010 and 2016.

“We’re just trying to get caught up,” Adams said.

Adams also said the department received 363 calls in the month of July, which is down by about 25 compared to 2018 and 2017. The department had 14 calls from northern Riley County, which is average, he said.

The department also received the 2019 Career Services of the Year award by the Kansas EMS Association, Adams said.

Dennis Butler, director of the Riley County Police Department, asked the commission to approve a grant to pay for four radios, two for police cruisers and two portable ones. The commission approved the Edward Bryne Memorial Justice Assistance grant toward the initiative.

Also during the meeting, Lee Wolf, Konza Prairie Community Health Clinic CEO, informed the commission about the clinic’s services, adding that the health center established behavioral health services this year. The clinic is a not-for-profit, partially federally funded entity in Manhattan and Junction City.

Wells said he appreciated the work the clinic does, especially since his son, who is disabled, visits it for services.