Rediscovered painting offers slice of city history

This painting, found in 2005, is the original architectural rendering of Liberty Memorial High School. The painting is pictured here after the first of three phases of restoration.

At the heart of Liberty Memorial Central Middle School hangs a piece of history.

Just before the school year began, Principal Jeff Harkin hung a painting of the original architect’s rendering of the school building. Picking a place wasn’t easy; those walls around the auditorium carry generations of memories.

The school was built in 1922 as Liberty Memorial High School, a memorial to the 19 service members from Lawrence who died in World War I. The painting was found during renovations in 2005 and was restored by a group of alumni this year.

It’s still water-damaged, but it gives a glimpse into Lawrence’s past, 30 years before the population outgrew Liberty Memorial and Lawrence High School was built. Three women and one dapper man stand in the corner of the painting, all four of them done up in hats. There are no other buildings visible behind or beside, just trees all around.

Cris Sherman, who now lives in Kansas City, Mo., was one of the Mustangs (the school’s mascot) who gave back to restore the painting. He has given to several improvement projects, starting with one close to his heart: software for the school. When he was a student in the early 1980s, teachers at the school got him interested in computers; the encouragement and inspiration that led him to where he is today, he says. Some of those teachers are still there.

After the software, he helped pay for landscaping, then to restore this painting.

“I’m happy to help Central get the love and care it deserves,” he said.

Principal Harkin is happy to add to the history displays, which include photos of each of the 19 men killed in action. He’s a former history teacher, and he feels the students understand the importance of their building as a memorial.

“We hope to fight and win in education,” he said. “It’s nothing like World War I, but we hope the students are inspired.”