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Artist's Brushes and Palette

Winter's palette and brushes

Eight scenes painted by Lumen Martin Winter brought an end to an 80-year controversy surrounding the murals on the walls of the Kansas State Capitol.  These are Winter's brushes and palette.

The Capitol art controversy began in 1898 when the Populist Party commissioned Jerome Fedeli to paint frescoes in the rotunda. Fedeli's murals, which featured partially nude Grecian women, outraged Republican leaders. They began calling the women the "nude telephone girls" in reference to the figures' long arms, a trait desired in telephone operators. When the Republicans regained control of the legislature, they commissioned new allegorical scenes to be painted over Fedeli's work.

Capitol Murals

Forty years later, the controversy reignited when John Steuart Curry was painting his scenes on the second floor of the capitol. Kansans complained about everything from the length of the dress worn by the farmer's wife to the color of the Hereford bull in the farm scene. Many Kansans felt that by including images of John Brown and a tornado, Curry depicted only the most negative aspects of the Kansas story. Frustrated and disappointed, Curry left these murals incomplete and unsigned, and never began murals for the rotunda.

Winter painting capitol murals

The walls of the rotunda remained blank until 1976 when the legislature created a committee to find an artist to complete the decoration of the capitol. Lumen Martin Winter won the commission, beating out the artist who had served as John Steuart Curry's apprentice.

Winter was born in Illinois in 1902, and moved to Kansas with his family at age three. Growing up on a farm near Larned, he spent his childhood painting, drawing, and hiking the ruts left by wagons on the Santa Fe Trail. He left Kansas to attend college and art school, and eventually became a cartoonist and illustrator. When an employer suggested that his style was more suited to painting, he focused his career on murals.

While Winter followed closely the controversy over Curry's work, it was a friend who told him of the competition for the rotunda murals. Winter was determined to be the chosen artist. He saw the commission as his contribution to Kansas: "The Statehouse is like a permanent museum. The paintings there will be there for as long as there is a Kansas. And if you're a creative person you have to make a contribution. It's like you make a pact with God when you're a kid."

Lumen Martin Winter

Avoiding Controversy

Winter took preventative measures to avoid the controversy that Fedeli and Curry encountered. He researched Kansas history, and polled history students at Kansas State University to find important topics in the state's story. Winter painted the scenes in his studio in Santa Fe, New Mexico. No one in Kansas saw them until their installation.

The result of the artist's 18 months of research and painting was a series of eight scenes depicting history, agriculture, industry, and education. Winter used the palette and paintbrushes shown here while working on the murals. He used the 12 colors of oil paint on the palette and the brushes to touch up the paintings after their installation.

On April 30, 1978, Governor Robert Bennett unveiled the murals in a dispute-free dedication ceremony. Winter thus ended the 80-year struggle to decorate the capitol walls and avoided the controversy met by his fellow artists.

Winter's work in his home state did not end with the murals. He died suddenly in 1982 while sculpting a statue entitled The Great White Buffalo for the entrance of the Kansas Museum of History. His palette and paintbrushes are now in the museum's collections.

Entry: Artist's Brushes and Palette

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: July 2005

Date Modified: July 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.