Archive for Sunday, January 26, 1992


January 26, 1992


Some things take time to get over. But Betty Syverson may not yet be over the way Kansas treated her father's cousin, John Steuart Curry.

Curry painted the murals in the Kansas Statehouse, and when he finished them 50 years ago Kansans took offense to his images. That didn't sit well with his extended family.

"We were angry,'' said Syverson during a Saturday visit to Lawrence. "We felt he'd had gotten the business.''

Syverson, along with Curry's younger brother, Eugene, visited Kansas University's Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art to view its holdings of Curry paintings and prints. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the completion of the murals, the Native Sons and Daughters of Kansas awarded Curry a posthumous Kansas Artist Citation, and the Kansas Senate passed a proclamation Friday thanking Curry for his work, said Don Lambert, a Topeka arts writer.

JOHN STEUART Curry was born in 1897 in Jefferson County, near Dunavant. The city of Oskaloosa relocated the home where he was born to Old Jefferson Town, where there is a gallery in his honor. He is buried in Winchester.

Mrs. Syverson, who lives in Topeka with her husband, said she was in high school when Curry was working on the murals. She said she would drop in on Curry when she walked from Topeka High School past the Capitol to downtown.

Eugene Curry was born in 1900, and he traveled from Westchester County, N.Y., for the weekend festivities. He also remembers the controversy that surrounded the murals, which includes the famous "Bloody Kansas'' panel with a huge, enraged John Brown stretching his arms across a scene of violence.

EUGENE SAID people objected to the portrayal of Brown as well as the portrayal of livestock and contemporary agricultural methods.

"I think people were looking for sweetness and light,'' he said.

Aside from the murals, Eugene Curry remembers growing up with John on the Jefferson County farm. He said they would play complicated war games and would box with padded gloves during lunch breaks from working in the fields. His mother was the biggest influence on John's artistic life.

"My father and mother were married in Atlantic City, and then they went on a honeymoon to London and Europe and traveled all around,'' Eugene said. "She remembered what she saw, and she told John all about the art she had seen. She also arranged for his first art lessons.''

Eugene said he spent his life working in programs for the aging. He talks with pride about John's efforts to encourage artists in rural areas in Wisconsin, where John was an artist in residence. He also said John influenced his own pursuit of art.

"He (John) told us everyone could do it,'' he said. "After he died, my wife bought a box of paint, and at 48 I began to paint. And I attended painting classes every week, and I enjoy creating. In my work with older people, I found a lot of people could do it.''

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