. . . As in decades, not just years. We have family in Wichita! I grew up nearby! It was time to stop by and spend time with family and friends.
If you read previous posts, you know that I spent my entire childhood in Mulvane, a small community about 15 minutes from Wichita. About ten years after I left for college in the early 1970s, my parents sold the homestead and headed for Alabama, so future visits to the area were few and far between. (You can read my earlier post about our day trip to Mulvane by clicking here.)
We made a plan – reconnect with people AND do a little sightseeing during our eight days in Wichita. Who knew there were so many things to explore? Too many, in fact, for one article. I’ll cover three in this post.
And four more in Wichita Part II.
Keeper of the Plains & All-Indian Museum
This Wichita landmark makes a statement.
Keeper of the Plains was commissioned in the 1970s to honor the area’s Native American heritage and to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial. The 44-foot tall sculpture sits on a 30 foot high rock promontory at the point where the Little Arkansas River (pronounced “Ar-KAN-sas” by the locals) flows into the Arkansas River. The designer, Kiowa-Comanche Black Bear Bosin, was an award-winning artist who had moved from Oklahoma to Wichita in 1940. He’s pictured in the photo below at the dedication ceremony in 1974.
Hundreds of years ago, the Wichita Indians lived here, and the location of the Keeper is still considered sacred ground by descendants. Displays at the adjacent plaza explain some of the background and symbolism associated with Plains Indians.
Every night at sunset, the sculpture is illuminated by a Ring of Fire around the base, representing the four elements of the Medicine Wheel. We didn’t see it, unfortunately – cancelled due to windy conditions on the night we planned to visit. On the list for next time.
A visit to the Keeper wouldn’t be complete without also checking out the nearby Mid-America All-Indian Museum. Its general mission is “educating people about and preserving the culture of the American Indian for future generations.”
A broad and lofty goal indeed, which makes perfect sense after learning that Wichita’s Indian population is comprised of a diversity of tribes, dating back to the 1940s when individuals and families from across the U.S. (Native Americans and others) answered the urgent call for workers at Wichita’s booming airplane factories during World War II.
The photo below shows General Dwight D. Eisenhower with two Native Americans, Francis Stumblingbear and Gordon Bushyhead, both Boeing employees, during the general’s visit to Wichita’s Boeing plant in the late 1940s to inspect the new “Scout” military plane. The photo was displayed at the museum without editorial comment.
With most of the transplanted Native Americans living far away from extended family in unfamiliar surroundings, they spent time with each other.
“They just became real, real close friends. . . . That is where that inter-tribe mentality that the brotherhood of just being Indian . . . was a big thing that kept them all close knit like a big family.” (Louie Stumblingbear, Kiowa)
The motivation for creating an Indian Center was to have a dedicated space for larger gatherings.
“As the Indian Center developed and more Indians from different areas all came together, we started learning the different ways. It was really an education for everybody to come together and exchange stories about their own tribal beliefs and religions and customs.” (Beverly ‘Deanie’ Eaton, Pawnee/Shawnee)
Today, the Indian Center remains a gathering place for Native American activities and has ample space for pow wows and other special events, many of which are open to the public.
The museum features both temporary exhibits as well as a permanent display of Black Bear Bosin’s art, which we all really enjoyed. Here’s a look at a few favorites.
“Prairie Fire” (shown below) was Bosin’s most acclaimed work, having won a prestigious art award in 1953 and later featured as the centerfold in the May, 1955 issue of National Geographic. The piece also travelled to Washington, D.C., where it was displayed at both the White House and the Smithsonian Institute during the 1960s.
Here are a couple of others I really liked.
Over the years, Black Bear created a huge number of unpublished cartoons, mostly for his own amusement, which were contained in sketchbooks and loose drawings. These two made me smile.
The three pieces shown below were all produced in 1980, the year that Black Bear died.
And Black Bear’s final painting, Reflections of Rainy Mountain.
I think it was my overall favorite.
And finally, you couldn’t miss Black Bear’s large, beautiful mural entitled, From Whence All Life. Commissioned by Farm Credit Bank in 1972, every square inch is symbolic of the beliefs of Plains and Southwest Indians. A lengthy description written by Black Bear explained it all.
So very glad we visited this excellent place in Wichita – highly recommend!
Shifting gears, we paid a visit to Botanica – 18 acres of landscaped gardens, sculptures, water features and other exhibits. Unfortunately, we were too late to see the 50,000 daffodils, 120,000 tulips and other early bloomers, and too early for the 20,000 annuals. In other words, we didn’t see many flowering plants but enjoyed strolling through the grounds to see what else we could find.
The carousel shown in the photo below won my heart for Wichita’s best retro attraction. The Khicha Family Carousel spent 59 years at Wichita’s Joyland amusement park, which closed in 2004. After being donated to Botanica in 2014, the carousel was fully restored – including the 36 original horses – and made its grand reappearance in 2019.
I spent many hours at Joyland with friends while growing up. Not so much on the carousel, of course, because that was for little kids. As tweens and teens, we were more attracted to the rollercoaster and other death-defying rides that left us dizzy and disoriented (and sometimes worse). Great memories!
The most engaging exhibit at Botanica was a traveling installation called “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Shore,” a collection of 14 giant sculptures constructed of marine debris from the Pacific Northwest. Washed Ashore is a not-for-profit organization focused on combating plastic pollution in the oceans through art and education. In ten years, they have created 85 works of art using 35 TONS of plastic waste found on the beach.
The sculptures are indeed very large, and the trash they contain is mind-boggling. Hopefully, they make an impact on people’s awareness and behavior. I’ve included photos of eight in the gallery below, along with their informational display boards. You should be able to click anywhere in the gallery to bring up a slide show of enlarged photos.
Before leaving Botanica, we meandered through the Chinese Garden of Friendship, a small, aesthetically pleasing spot just inside the entrance. We noticed the interesting architectural elements but didn’t do enough research ahead of time to fully appreciate the work that went into creating this lovely feature.
The space was thoughtfully programmed – the plants, water elements, structures and art – down to the tiniest details. Botanica’s website tells the story, but that came after the fact for us. So before you visit, set aside ten minutes to get the scoop. You’ll be glad you did.
We missed peak season to see blooming plants and were too early for the butterfly and bee exhibits, but we had a lovely visit anyway. Botanica is a gem!
The Allen House
Henry Allen was a newspaper guy who, along with his wife Elsie and young daughter Henrietta, moved to Wichita in 1908 after purchasing the Wichita Beacon, where he worked as both editor and publisher. He was also a politician and served as the 21st governor of Kansas from 1919-1923.
The family’s prairie-style home is noteworthy because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Completed in 1918, most of the original features have been preserved, including custom furniture – both built-in and moveable – and Elsie Allen’s expansive art collection.
Access to the house was via guided tour only – the standard tour was 90 minutes, and the grand tour three hours. Ninety minutes just didn’t seem long enough (plus no photos allowed), so we opted for the three-hour version. It was a good decision, as we had more time in all of the rooms, and our knowledgeable and enthusiastic docent went into more detail about the Allen family, as well as the architectural details of the home.
I have a few photos to share, but they don’t begin to convey the full scope or beauty that we experienced. Too much to absorb in one visit.
If you’re a Frank Lloyd Wright aficionado, you’ll fall in love with this special house. A couple from the Netherlands was in our small tour group, and they had flown to Wichita just to see this place.
Although the Allen House was Frank Lloyd Wright’s only residential project in Wichita, it wasn’t the only building he designed, so we set out to find the other one.
A much later creation than the Allen House, the Corbin Education Center located at Wichita State University was dedicated in 1964. We could only view it from the exterior.
While driving around the campus, we stumbled upon another surprise.
How cool is that? Add it to the growing list of things to see in Wichita.
I’ll end this post with one more tidbit for your enjoyment. Just in case you have ever wondered:
More Wichita attractions to come!