The Volland Store: Urbane Expansion of the Field

The Volland Store (Lily Brooks)

A rancher mending fences in the Flint Hills is a dot against the sky, like the man depicted in a Chinese landscape painting is a diminutive part within the whole panorama of mountains and streams. The unspeakable scape of distance — as far as the eye can see and then farther still — challenges the utmost abilities of the mind. Kansas is a zone beyond the peopled horizon and beyond all time, where only the best part of the human spirit walks, touching both earth and sky at once.

–Denise Low, Touching the Sky

The Volland Store transforms an early 20th-century mercantile building in the kansas flint hills into a contemporary art space. While there is no place quite like it, there is nothing anachronistic or whimsical in its coming to be. The vision that inspires the place is, in fact, a clear view forward for arts engagement at a time of sea change within the so-called “art world.” The boundaries that long made the art world a precious domain for a qualified few have been dislocated by social change and technology. In the resulting tumult, The Volland Store provides globally relevant art with a deep sense of place.

For most people, the freedom and ingenuity provided by the arts have too long been institutionally separated from home, work, school, health care and other sectors of everyday life. Arts institutions are hearing an urgent call to meet people’s need for artistic life. They find that meeting this need is, at best, complex. Expanding access to broadly relevant art takes delicate cultural competence and long-term commitment.

Spectrums Within Under Our Skin (2018), an array of Crayola crayon-cast human figures by Oklahoma based Holly Wilson (Delaware Nation/Cherokee), reminded audiences in the Rural-Urban Invitational II, in 2019, of a child’s humanizing way of identifying people: Unique idiosyncrasies matter more than than standardized identities. Wilson returns to the Volland Store for a solo show in November 2021. (Courtesy of the Volland Store)

The Volland Store responds to the current redefinition of the art world. Its approach, though, is original: It does not try to fill a cultural “gap” in the rural Midwest nor does it ask a “non-arts” environment to rise to a self-named artistic occasion. Instead, this Place for Art and Community recognizes the cultural and formal power that already exists in its setting — Wabaunsee County, Kansas, The Flint Hills, the ancestral home of Native tribes, and a 100-year-old mercantile building near the railroad crossing of an American town with only a few remaining homes. This is a place where people have appreciated aesthetic discipline and the history of objects for millennia, but not, perhaps, according to codes and values of a wider arts establishment. At The Volland Store, contemporary art enjoys a respectful encounter with cultures and histories that the “art world” of late struggles to reach.

The spring of 2016 saw the arrival of Paper Giants, a continually evolving group show by three Brooklyn based artists. Through this project, Vicki Sher, Meg Lipke and Ky Anderson explore the creative balance of mutual artistic influence and distinct studio practices. Their works comprise drawing, painting, batik and collage. (Courtesy of the Volland Store)

The old Volland Store, the natural features and built structures around it, and nearby communities that overlap in human and ecological time, comprise more than a context: they are a keen interlocutor for new art, offering meaningful dimension and deep history to new work. Last summer, the exhibition Deep Roots and New Growth in Wabaunsee County displayed a trove of photographs taken by Otto Kratzer, founder of the Store. The montage revived a century-old sense of commerce in public life. Included in this installation was a large format 1990 photo titled, Midway, Iowa State Fair, by Kansas City based Mike Sinclair. An unspoken, formal sense linked the contemporary and the antique: Sinclair’s photographs of American public places seem to fill empty space with expectation. For the Deep Roots exhibition, this cast a new tone into the old spaces of Volland and its store. Kratzer’s and Sinclair’s images spoke to American consumer society with distinct but well-suited voices.

The Volland Store strengthens its rural context by leveraging the insight of contemporary artists and their work. There is a singular humility in displaying fine art this way, one that sets The Volland Store apart from other attempts to reclaim old buildings for artwork. Worldwide, people have “taken over” unused architecture to present cutting-edge artwork on an “abandoned” stage. Concept and irony speak louder than the place itself. The Volland Store, by contrast, takes on the slow-flowing aesthetic of the hills, fields and structures around it, highlighting the fact that art has continuously existed there for ages. Its bold, commercial architecture, the stone ruins of a nearby house, the shape of the Flint Hills — these elements speak from their histories while voices from the global network of artists are given their turn in dialogue.

Normal Akers’ large-scale canvas, Interference and a Tiny Spot of Hope, 2019, appeared in the Rural-Urban Invitational II in 2019. Akers’ landscape illustrates destructive interruption of Native lands. Akers, like many of his peers in the show, offered a rethinking of the “rural-urban” dichotomy. (Courtesy of Norman Akers)

Exhibitions, which flow into all genres of community programs on The Volland Store’s grounds, speak to a new dimension of meaning for both city and country life. America’s everyday habits — shopping, eating, travel — are softening the boundaries of the “city-suburb-countryside” tripartite; with this, the ways we renew ourselves through art crisscross and erase rural-urban divides. The Volland Store’s project reflects the fact that the definition of “urban” is shifting and expanding. “Place,” the living context of artworks, becomes a dynamic site of inquiry for artists and audiences. A drive to the countryside for concerts or art installations is hardly the rarity it might have been decades ago, and this geographical integration in the art world echoes the continuous interchange that artists, rural and urban, enjoy with their peers across the globe. Artists will always reflect their local geography and culture, but they increasingly represent the global arts network in which they actively belong. To open conversation among unique, local communities and the global arts world is the graceful gesture that The Volland Store has made since programming there began in 2015.

The list of artists who have shown at The Volland Store defies regional categories. From its first year, it has been a place as open as the Kansas sky, a place whose integrity comes not from a concept or identity, but from Place itself. The opening year saw local favorites like sculptor Susan White and textile artist Debra Smith, but also the Paper Giants exhibition, a collaboration of three Brooklyn based artists working in large scale paper abstractions, as well as Staging the West, a photographic critique of the romanticized American “West,” by Baton Rouge based Jeremiah Ariaz. A panel of local ranchers and Native people of the Potawatomi tribe discussed Ariaz’s photos, shot in Germany and Spain. Since 2015, Volland Store exhibitions have offered junctures of global, artistic vision in a compelling, Volland, Kansas conversation.

The Volland Store . . . takes on the slow-flowing aesthetic of the hills, fields and structures around it, highlighting the fact that art has continuously existed there for ages.

In 2018 and 2019, the gallery held Rural-Urban Invitational exhibitions to prompt dialogues at the shifting borders of cultural identities, artistic genres, and geography. The 2019 Invitational included new work by Native artists, including large scale portraits of Osage women by Pawhuska, Oklahoma based photographer Ryan RedCorn (Osage). Interference and a Tiny Spot of Hope, 2019, a large oil on canvas landscape by the beloved painter and Kansas University teacher, Norman Akers (Osage), appeared in the show as well a sculptural installation by Oklahoma based Holly Wilson (Delaware Nation/Cherokee), titled Spectrums Within Under Our Skin, 2019. In RedCorn’s portraits, Walena Fields, 2018, and Celena White, 2018, indigenous female subjects shine with self-confidence and inherited material culture. Akers’ disrupted landscape depicts the economic chaos imposed on Native heritage. Wilson’s evocatively sculpted figures, displayed in a spectrum of Crayola colors, ask viewers to consider the contrast between a child’s regard for human singularity and the dehumanizing stereotypes that adults learn to use. The conversation here is profound: In a 1913 mercantile building on the Great Plains, the crucial strength of Native perspective expands the field of contemporary American art.

Recent disruptions of daily life and widening gaps in our social systems have awakened our awareness of how artwork binds, teaches and heals us. We can feel more than ever that the symbolic and literal places of the art world must expand. The hour and three-quarters drive from Kansas City to Volland, Kansas, is peaceful and restorative. When guests arrive on its gravel road, The Volland Store receives us with the aplomb of genuine hospitality. Unassumingly, the place seems to impart reassurance: “Yes, the art world goes on turning and, yes, everybody is in it.”

Coming Soon to the Volland Store

Upcoming Engagements at The Volland Store

Holly Wilson: New Work
Sat., November 5 – Sun., December 6, 2021

Theatre at the Ruin
Fri. and Sat., June 17 and 18
Event details and ticket information at TheVollandStore.com in spring, 2022.

Holly Wilson (Rony Owens)

Holly Wilson: Upturned Flower That Travels

Holly Wilson’s bronze cast human figures evoke the long story of risk that the artist knows in her Native family history. They move with an unmistakable look of hope — wide-eyed and openhanded. At the same time, their forms look markedly exposed, surrounded by undefined space. On November 5, The Volland Store opens a solo show of new sculptural installations by Wilson, made of bronze cast natural materials and cut and cured cedar logs. Upturned Flower that Travels will include a new 10- by 4-foot installation inspired by the stewardship of prairie lands. The multimedia artist, a member of the Delaware Nation and Cherokee tribes, is based in Mustang, Oklahoma, where her practice focuses on the continuity of Native history and human faith, revealed in fragile moments in everyday life. Wilson has recently shown work at Santa Fe Indian Market (Santa Fe, N.M.) and The Momentary at Crystal Bridges (Bentonville, Ark.). Works from The Volland Store exhibit will travel on to a solo show at Bonner David Galleries in New York City.

Theatre at the Ruin, opening the weekend of June 17th 2022 (Dana Fritz)

Theatre at the Ruin

Just outside The Volland Store stand stone ruins of a house where the owner’s family resided until a 1929 fire. Babson College literature and drama professors Beth Wynstra and Mary Pinard are creating a play to launch the Ruin toward its new raison d’être — live theater. This year, the authors recorded storytellers from Wabaunsee County, and they are crafting a play based on these oral histories. The two will reside at The Volland Store’s residences in early summer of 2022 to rehearse with local actors and prepare for performances of Wabaunsee County stories. Theatre at the Ruin will take place June 17 and June 18, 2022.

Standing Outside the Store: NuPenny’s Last Stand by Randy Regier

At The Volland Store, June 26 – September 5, 2021

Photo by Mike Sinclair

Artist randy Regier has called NuPenny store into collective imagination at 12 sites in as many years. More toy than store, the building invites us to play with cultural memory — the imagery and emotion of our shared past. Last summer, the little store stood at the edge of an unfenced field in Kansas, young guest of The Volland Store. In a quiet corner of the Great Plains, the tiny toy shop and the massive mercantile played with memories of commerce.

The cultural theorist Walter Benjamin wandered streets of European cities 100 years ago, looking into picture windows and the eyes of prostitutes. He wrote about the passions of shoppers and our “empathy with the commodity.” Every time and place that NuPenny Store appears, Randy Regier changes its inventory, carefully shifting how we long for beautiful objects and wonderful machines. Peering into its picture window, we re-imagine futures that were longed for in the past. In the window of its Volland appearance, titled NuPenny’s Last Stand, a toy car in extravagant, mid-century style revolved on a chrome mount, its shimmering copper finish recalling the steady allure of our currency, our 228-year-old penny.

Although the store’s door was locked (a swallow nested on the top hinge) the turning toy car mesmerized us, its fictional shoppers. NuPenny’s buttons and chutes, symbols and coded messages drew out our playful curiosity, offering countless points of access into childhood. In his work on the boutiques of 19th-century Paris, Benjamin wrote, “Task of childhood: to bring the new world into symbolic space.”

On the field of The Volland Store, folklore of the commodity reverberated around NuPenny’s Last Stand. The toy store awakened how deeply we want, not to have new things, but for things to become new.

Seen Before at The Volland Store

Diverse woven textiles communicated beautifully at the 2018 Rural-Urban Invitational, when My Mother Tongue Is Your Foreign Language, 2013, by Shin-hee Chin met Miki Baird’s deconstructed, 2018. Kansas born Baird lives in Kansas City and South Korean born Chin lives in McPherson, Kansas, and teaches art at Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas. (image courtesy of the Volland Store)

At the 2018 Rural-Urban Invitational, works by Armin Müsham and Shreepad Joglekar refined our focus on the built environment. The meticulous atmosphere of Müsham’s geometric, pigment on paper Pedestal Stack, 2017, (32- by 33 inches, shown at left) offers a formal meditation on built space. Joglekar’s 2018 photo print, The Approximate Color Of Religion, Live Fire Village #5, Fort Riley, Kansas, (20- by 28 inches, shown at right) shows a strangely “real” building — part of an “enemy” village used for military training at a site an hour’s drive from Volland. Müsham is a Romanian born painter based in Maryville, Missouri, where he teaches at Northwest Missouri State University. Joglekar was born in Mumbai, India. He resides and teaches photography at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. (Images courtesy of Armin Müsham)

The Volland Store opened in 2015 with an exploration of sewn abstraction, old and new. Debra Smith’s poetic use of fabric is exhibited internationally and adored in the region. Elizabeth Wilson’s fabric collections have drawn attention since she opened a handmade clothing boutique, Asiatica, in Kansas City more than 30 years ago. Her collection of vintage quilts joined with new, large-scale compositions by Smith in the exhibition Women’s Work: Points of View. (image courtesy of the Volland Store)

Special thanks to the friends of Volland who have generously supported the opportunity to share our story: Cara and Henry Newell, Gloria and Dick Anderson, Suzie Aron, Brad Bradley, Tina and Bruce Breckenridge, Lynne and Peter Brown, El Dorado, Inc., Pam and Gary Gradinger, Beverly and Steve Johnston, Regina and Bill Kort, Peggy and Bill Lyons, Anita and Chip Osborn, Patty and Jerry Reece, Ann and Bob Regnier, Betsey and Rick Solberg, George Terbovich, Jane Voorhees, Nancy and Bruce Waugh, Helen and Frank Wewers

For a complete list of Volland Foundation donors, please visit thevollandstore.com. If you wish to support the mission of the Volland Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit, please visit thevollandstore.com/join/

The Volland Store
24098 Volland Road, Alma, Kan.

Leave a Reply