Lawrence artist looks to shed light on lesser-known pieces of Kansas history

Bill Simons examines a set of posters as Dave Loewenstein discusses his 'Kansas People's History Project' in the background, Thursday evening at the Watkins Museum of History.

Dave Loewenstein recalls being taught how Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492. Much of the country received the same history lesson, he says.

But now the history books tell a different story, he added.

History, as it was written, is not without prejudices, judgements or omissions, Loewenstein said, and his Kansas People’s History Project aims to shed a bit of light on misinterpreted, underrepresented or completely ignored portions of the area’s history.

“We mean to surface, raise and amplify those stories,” Loewenstein said. “Not necessarily to replace those that we know, but to look at them side by side so we can think about them, judge them and understand them in context.”

As a part of the year-long project, Loewenstein met with several dozen participants Thursday evening in the Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St., to workshop ideas and help decide what stories to tell.

The ongoing project is a collaborative effort that includes the Douglas County Historical Society and five other arts and educational institutions across the state, Loewenstein said.

This is the first statewide people’s history project in the country, Loewenstein said. And the final product will hopefully change the face of Kansas history, in turn changing American history.

“There’s a lot going on in terms of how we identify as Kansas and how others see us,” Loewenstein said. “Kansas is more than how we are being portrayed in this moment.”

Among the under-represented pieces of history discussed Thursday were Rick “Tiger” Dowdell, a black civil rights activist shot and killed in the 1970s; the history of poetry in Kansas; earthquakes linked to saltwater injections from fracking; prominent female politicians; Native American history in the area; and the disappearance of the buffalo, to name a few.

After workshopping lesser-known stories, Loewenstein said groups participating in the project will begin researching and collaborating with each other and drafting artwork.

The result of the project will be a series of posters, each telling its own respective story through the text and artwork created by the project’s groups, Loewenstein said. Those posters and each scrap of contributing artwork, no matter how small, will then be placed in a traveling exhibition this May.

Bill Simons examines a set of posters as Dave Loewenstein discusses his 'Kansas People's History Project' in the background, Thursday evening at the Watkins Museum of History.

After learning a bit about the project Bill Simons said he was a few of the topics struck a chord with him, particularly the brief discussion of Tiger Dowdell, who lived with him and his wife for a time.

“That was a hard one for me to talk about. I lived it,” he said.

In particular, Simons said he was interested in those who are mentally ill in Kansas.

Years ago, Simons spent time in Lawrence Memorial Hospital and the Ballard Center, among other institutions, receiving treatment for his mental illness.

Now, the services offered by those facilities have changed, drastically impacting those with mental illnesses, and Simons said he would like to explore those changes for the project. Whether the issues are resolved may be a different story altogether, he said.

“All of these are long battles, and they won’t be resolved in my lifetime,” Simons said.

The history doesn’t end with the posters, though, Loewenstein said. If the project gains traction, there’s really no limit to how these stories can be told in the years to come.

“Poetry, dance, short film, you name it,” he said. “We’re going to add and add.”

More information on the project can be found online at