Leonard Pryor, “North End” (1950), oil on canvas, 46 1/4 × 34 1/4″ (The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art)
Launched in September 2021 as part of Missouri’s bicentennial celebration, Missouri Remembers: Artists in Missouri through 1951, is a free website created through a partnership between the Kansas City Art Institute’s Jannes Library, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Spencer Art Reference Library and the St. Louis Public Library.
Without a prior statewide biographical dictionary for Missouri artists, Missouri Remembers fills an important gap, serving as the first comprehensive resource for accessing artistic biographical information for Missouri artists from 1951 to the present day. It is an innovative and growing online tool documenting Missouri’s artistic heritage that is fascinating and fun to explore and was designed to engage a diverse audience of art enthusiasts. It’s easy to intuitively browse and meander, or to hone searches based on time period, artistic medium, city, institutions and demographics (gender, race/ethnicity).
Amelia Nelson, director, library and archives, at the Spencer Reference Library at the Nelson and her staff, including Amanda Harlan, digital and technical services librarian, manage the site and field inquiries from researchers, teachers and community members who might have more information to contribute for featured artists, and also recommend artists for inclusion. In a recent conversation at the Spencer Library with Nelson and Harlan, Nelson described how the project team prioritized the stories for historically marginalized artists including women, artists of color and self-taught artists. “One goal of the portal is to tell stories of marginalized artists and begin to reconstruct a history of these artists.”
In her presentation at the Missouri History Conference in 2022, organized in commemoration of the state’s bicentennial, Nelson stated: “The Missouri Remembers portal is a gateway to explore the visual arts in Missouri and connect people to the institutions that have more information on these artists.”
Missouri Remembers currently features 323 artist entries with biographical narratives and links to exhibitions, awards and relationships with other artists, teachers, students, dealers, etc.
Juxtaposed with robust entries for well-documented artists including Wilbur Niewald, Thomas Hart Benton, John Douglas Patrick, Walt Disney and others, the lack of documentation for many other artists starkly illustrates impacts of racial and gender marginalization, and also serves as a community call for more information.
Leonard Pryor, for example, was an artist, educator and community organizer who was among the first group of African American students to graduate from KCAI in 1951. Pryor studied with Niewald and worked in Benton’s Kansas City studio. A painting by Pryor from 1950, “Elsie Mountain,” is in the Nelson-Atkins collection. Doris Bradley (Doris B. Freeman), an African American artist who also graduated with Pryor from KCAI in 1951, is represented with meager information and no visual examples of her work.
The site bolsters awareness of women artists including Blanche Emily Williams Carstenson (the wife of artist Cecil Carstenson), Ruth Harris Bohan and Rose Cecil O’Neill. Carstenson has work in the Nelson-Atkins collection, Bohan’s work can be found at the Spencer Museum of Art and at St. Luke’s Hospital in KC, and O’Neill, a successful illustrator known for her creation of the Kewpie character, also has work in the Nelson-Atkins collection.
Visit Missouri Remembers at missouriartists.org