The history of Barton County, from unbroken grassland to modern wind turbines, is the latest subject for Great Bend artist Chet Cale.
A series of bas relief panels by the sculptor is going up at the Barton County Historical Society. Bev Komarek, executive director of the historical society, said the artwork – 8 feet wide and 6 feet high – will be the focal point of the museum’s new recognition wall. Names of significant donors will frame the artwork.
The visual history of Barton County starts on the right-hand side, like a map of Kansas where the time line starts in the east and moves west. First there are buffalo, then covered wagons, trains and airplanes. The story is assembled in several panels, and includes the mainstays of Kansas and Barton County history: Wind power, cattle, geese, the B-29 bomber and oil. “At the center is the farm family,” Cale said. “That’s why Barton County’s here.”
For this project, Cale said he used some of the same processes involved in creating his best known bronze sculpture, “The Gift,” a memorial to microchip inventor Jack Kilby, which can be found in front of the Barton County Courthouse. He drew sketches and then sculpted the scenes in clay in his studio.
“I had to have a wall-sized easel to do this,” he said. He then make a mold of the sculpture and cast the actual polymer panels. “The panels stand out as individual art pieces.”
Christy Tustin, executive director of the Golden Belt Community Foundation visited the museum last week to watch the work in progress. The recognition wall is being funded with a gift from an anonymous donor. It is part of the same gift that was used to buy interpretive signs for exhibits throughout the museum. The historical society began installing those signs last year.
“We’re very excited to see it this close to completion”, Tustin said.
Komarek said the name plaques framing the art will be in two sizes, with larger plaques denoting donors of $10,000 or more. It will include names of significant donors going back to the 1960s, when the museum was created. There will also be room for additional names in the future, she said.
“This isn’t the end of the story,” Cale said. “Hopefully, they find another wall for me.”