In the 1950s, there was a painting of Quantrill’s raid by Lawrence artist Paul Penny floating around town.
It hung inside Drake’s Bakery on Massachusetts Street and then for a while at Penny’s Old West Lawrence home. Or maybe it was the other way around — that was a long time ago, Penny said, and he can’t remember for sure. After that, the painting spent about 30 years above Penny’s brother-in-law’s mantel in Leawood.
Now, Penny’s rendition of Quantrill sacking Lawrence has migrated to the Missouri side of the state line, where it’s quite the conversation starter.
“People walking by can look in the window and see it,” said David Alburty, who has the painting at his office building at 135 E. Main St. in downtown Drexel. “Sometimes they think this is an art gallery and they come walking in.”
After Alburty’s father in Leawood decided on a mantel art change, Alburty jumped at the chance to display the painting — which is large, almost the width of an armspan. Alburty is CEO of a lab equipment manufacturing company called InnovaPrep, which takes up several nearby addresses, and he thought a spacious brick wall inside the 1890s building where he has his office would be just the place for the painting.
The painting was one of Penny’s earlier works, and it isn’t one of the artist’s all-time favorites. But Alburty loves it.
“I think it’s an awesome painting,” Alburty said. “It’s incredible to look at up close and see all the detail.”
There are multiple horses — including a central, raring horse bearing Quantrill himself, brandishing a pistol — as well as torches, guns, the Eldridge in flames and a woman with a baby looking as if she was scared out of her wits, Alburty said.
Drexel, in Cass County, was in the fray of border war activity. The county was one of several the Union Army ordered evacuated in response to Quantrill’s raid, a move designed to deprive guerrillas like Quantrill of support but which spawned deep resentment by forcing even innocent women, children and elderly people from their homes and farms.
Many Drexel area residents’ roots go way back, Alburty said, and seeing the Quantrill painting elicits family stories about the Civil War.
Penny’s mother, Addie Underwood Penny, was a Kansas University graduate and longtime art teacher who started teaching him painting and drawing when he was about 11. Penny wasn’t necessarily a Civil War buff but was inspired by a painting his mother had done of the raid.
“I just thought it was a historical event that I wanted to do,” he said. “My mother painted it, and she thought I ought to paint it, too.”
Penny’s more typical work includes landscapes of the Flint Hills, Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and Lawrence. Unlike the Quantrill’s raid painting, most of his locally inspired canvases depict scenes and historical events he’s seen himself — the 1951 flood, the 1993 flood, fireworks over the gazebo in South Park and KU’s Marvin Grove, to name a few.
Penny, now 88, continues to paint prolifically — and still in great detail.
“I have fun,” he said. “I lose myself doing it.”