Wondrous works honored: Parks' Legacy named one of 8 Wonders of Kansas Art

Friday, October 24, 2008

It was announced Thursday morning that Gordon Parks' legacy was voted one of the 8 Wonders of Kansas Art. Parks was a finalist due to the racial barriers he overcame while achieving greatness in art with his photography, film-making, writing and composing.

"I was thrilled with the award, I was thrilled to see Gordon get that recognition and for Fort Scott to get that recognition too," said Jill Warford, executive director of the Gordon Parks Center. "Not only are we recognizing our native son, but other people are too and that we're showing great respect for Gordon's legacy."

Included in the Gordon Parks legacy is the Gordon Parks Center for Culture and Diversity at Fort Scott Community College as well as the Sarah and Andrew Exhibit at Mercy Health Center.

"It makes people really want to come and see what we've got ... and we've got a lot," said Warford. President of the Mercy Health Center Foundation and personal friend of Parks, Ken Lunt added, "no one else has it, we've got it."

Gordon Parks Center for Culture and Diversity, located at Fort Scott Community College, was established in 2004 and focuses on the life and achievements of Gordon Parks. The center contains personal items and works of art including clippings, magazine articles, videotapes and a photo collection donated by artist Patricia DuBose Duncan. It also includes 30 photographs donated by Mr. Parks himself. Parks also donated memorabilia from his estate including awards, honors, degrees and his writing desk where he wrote "A Choice of Weapons".

The Gordon Parks Collection at Mercy Health Center in Sarah and Andrew Parks Exhibit includes 52 photographs signed by Parks and 14 poems totaling approximately $400,000. This is the largest collection of Gordon Parks works outside of the Library of Congress.

"Its most unusual, in fact no other hospital has an art exhibit," said Lunt.

Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was born in Fort Scott then left without ever wanting to come back. Parks went on to direct other films such as Shaft and The Learning Tree. Parks also wrote five autobiographies, original musical compositions, film scores, and a ballet. Parks was also known as a photojournalist working for Life Magazine and Vogue.

"Gordon Parks was so well known in the art world," said Lunt. Warford added, "He was a major force in the art world, its neat he is recognized state wide for that."

Parks was one of 24 finalist which were voted upon by the public. There were 9,149 total votes with votes came from towns all across Kansas as well as 46 states and nine foreign countries.

"That is pretty cool that people all over the world voted," said Warford.

The Fort Scott Post Office was also a finalist as Post Office Section Art, including art from Post Offices across the state. The 1937 painting by Oscar E. Berninghaus titled Border Gateways is housed in the Fort Scott Post Office but is not on public display. The Post Office Section Art did not make the top eight.

The eight winners are (in alphabetical order) Birger Sandzen, Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery, Lindsborg; Blue Sky Sculpture, Newton; Buffalo Bill Bronze Sculpture, Oakley; Garden of Eden/Lucas, Grassroots Art Mecca, Lucas; Gordon Parks, Fort Scott; John Steuart Curry Murals, state capitol, Topeka; Keeper of the Plains, Wichita; St. Mary's Catholic church, St. Benedict.

The 8 Wonders of Kansas Art contest was set up by the Kansas Sampler Foundation in efforts to educate the public about what is in Kansas as well as to encourage traveling around the state.

"As shown by the top 8 list, our state has incredible diversity in the Art department -- from the historic Curry murals to some of the quirkiest are in the world. The art of Kansas is well worth exploring," said Marci Penner director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation.

Warford added, "It makes me want to go see some of the others."

Warford sees this as an opportunity to grow the Gordon Parks legacy and to help keep the arts in the area schools. She believes that with the addition of The Danny and Willa Ellis Family Fine Arts Center including an interactive Gordon Parks museum will encourage schools to bring students and educate them about the different types of art.

"It will prove that if you put a paint brush in somebody's hand, they won't put a gun in their hand," "The arts really do change people, it gives them a creative outlet."

There is no doubt that the work put into preserving the legacy of Gordon Parks has paid off for Fort Scott.

"It makes me feel like Fort Scott is really doing the right thing and that our efforts are being appreciated by others," said Warford. "Fort Scott has really got a Gordon Parks experience."

"I'm glad to see him finally get recognition, I'm glad Fort Scott has something now to offer," said Lunt.