(Courtesy photo/The Gordon Parks Museum)
"This started last summer," museum director Jill Warford said. "I had a young bicyclist come through -- a young German guy named Stefan (Hartmann). He said he was a big Gordon Parks fan. He said, 'I didn't even know that this (museum) was in Fort Scott."
Hartmann told Warford he had stayed in Nevada, Mo., the night before and rode into town and noticed signs promoting Parks. Hartmann then rode to the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce, where staff directed him to Fort Scott Community College and the Gordon Parks Museum.
She said Hartmann told her his job there was scanning in photos taken by Gordon Parks for a book the company was preparing to publish for the Gordon Parks Foundation in New York.
"I thought, man, it's a small world," Warford said.
She said she told Hartmann that when the book was done, the museum would love to get a copy.
Hartmann told her it would be pricey, probably selling for about $300 per set, she said.
"I told him, well, we want a free copy," Warford laughed.
"He emailed me when he got back to Germany and said he had told the publisher," Warford said.
"Low and behold, about two weeks ago here comes the set in the mail," Warford said on Wednesday. "The Gordon Parks Foundation sent it, but it was all started because of this young man named Stefan."
Warford said Steidl, the publisher, had been working on the book for quite some time.
"It's put out by the Gordon Parks Foundation, which is the organization that holds all the rights to his works," Warford said.
She said each volume is about 275 to 300 pages of pictures, most filling the entire page.
"It's not all of his pictures, but it's a huge amount of his pictures," Warford said. "There are a lot of these photos that have never been seen before."
She said the photos are categorized nicely, including a chapter on Fort Scott called "Fort Scott Revisited: 1949" and a chapter of movie stills from "The Learning Tree," which was filmed in Fort Scott in 1963.
The collection also features a chapter chronicling Parks' stay with monks at a Benedictine Abbey near Atchison in 1955 and includes photographs Parks took of Barbara Streisand, Spike Lee and Oprah Winfrey when she appeared in "The Color Purple."
According to Steidl, the five-volume collection features five decades of Parks' photography and is the most extensive publication to date documenting his legendary career.
"It's going to be a great resource," Warford said. "It's certainly going to give exposure to more of Gordon's work to the public."
Steidl describes Parks as the most important and influential African-American photographer of the 20th century, combining a unique documentary and artistic style with a profound commitment to social justice.
In his own words, Park said of his work: "These images and words are a gathering of individuals, events, places, conflicts and dilemmas that confronted me as I shifted from course to course in pursuit of survival. Some star-colored, others, painted with rage, fall like rain in my memory. They all simmer down to what I remember, forgot and what at last I know."
On Wednesday night, amazon.com had 18 sets left in stock, with more on the way. The collection was released in November.
"Gordon's work is still very vital or this huge set would not be published," Warford said.
A video of the Steidl's thoughts on publishing the book may be seen on YouTube by searching "Steidl Gordon Parks."
"Gordon Parks, with his camera, was a fighter on the right side," publisher Gerhard Steidl said in the video. "He was fighting for human rights and a better life for those people who were not on the sunny side of the world."