Downtown mural unveiled today

Jeremy Rockwell puts the finishing touches on a mural to honor black artists from Kansas.

A mural inspired by the legacy of Kansas-born artist Aaron Douglas will be dedicated today in downtown Lawrence.

Painters, led by Lawrence muralist Dave Loewenstein, were putting finishing touches on the project Monday afternoon.

“You get the big blocks in and you keep refining and refining,” says Jeremy Rockwell, who was working on making Gordon Parks’ hand “look more like a hand and less like a claw.”

The 20-feet-tall by 65-feet-wide mural features images of several black artists who were either born in Kansas or lived in the state, including Parks, Aaron Douglas, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Coleman Hawkins, Hattie McDaniel and Oscar Micheaux.

Other imagery in the mural was inspired by its location, overlooking the Lawrence Farmers Market in the 800 block of New Hampshire Street. Monarch butterflies, hummingbirds, honeybees and wild flowers populate the colorful homage.

“The mural is also about, in a very literal way, pollination because it’s essential to all these growers,” Loewenstein says. “But also pollination as a sort of metaphor for taking one’s talents from the place that they’re born or raised and bringing them elsewhere.”

All of the artists made their names in places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. So the mural includes two skylines – one that melds Lawrence with Topeka and another that represents “the big city.”

The Spencer Museum of Art commissioned the mural in conjunction with the exhibition “Aaron Douglas: African American Modernist.” Refreshments will be served and folk musician Lemuel Sheppard will perform during the dedication at 3 p.m. today.