Union Station unveils two murals, a new commission and a restored historical work

Kansas City artist Chico Sierra’s “Welcome” mural was installed in the B-Level pedestrian entrance in mid-October. (from the artist)

Chico Sierra: “Welcome” in the B-level pedestrian entrance

From a hug to a handshake, a kiss on both cheeks to a bow, welcomes vary by culture and location. However, the intention remains the same — to pull someone in with warmth and openness. As a transportation and a cultural hub, Union Station welcomes millions of visitors annually. It is a staple of Kansas City, with attractions, restaurants, breathtaking ceilings and intricate architecture. Additionally, new and refreshed artworks in the lower rotunda were unveiled this October to reflect their inclusivity priority, “All Are Welcome.”

Kansas City artist Chico Sierra’s “Welcome” mural now spans the vast walls of the heavily trafficked lower entrance. In it, he shines a light on Kansas City’s rich cultural tapestry by homing in on specific figures from different communities. According to Union Station’s Michael Tritt, “. . . the mural is a depiction of the tremendous diversity of Kansas City, including major landmarks, personalities and attitudes. This colorful mural will welcome (in many languages) guests with a 360-degree canvas as well as a ceiling element.”

The mural is filled with anchor pieces representing Kansas City. The city’s identity is deeply tied to jazz, a rich and historically Black genre, so Sierra began by painting jazz legend Charlie Parker and contemporary jazz musician Hermon Mehari.

He also features images that are easily recognizable, like Kansas City sports teams, a group of children in wonder at Science City and a rendition of the Scout statue. Others, like leaders from Kansas City’s immigrant populations and the LGBTQ+ community, may not be as easy to pinpoint. For Sierra, it was important to highlight key figures from a variety of backgrounds so that people could see themselves reflected in the mural. “I want to show people from the community who are known to their community,” he explains.

Portraying community members has another layer of importance as well. With division and polarization running high, the humanity in each person is sometimes easier to accept than a symbol. For instance, Sierra could have painted the LGBTQ+ pride flag, but he instead chose to portray individuals representing this community, like Womontown resident and artist, Sue Moreno, and Lea Hopkins, who formed Kansas City’s first pride parade. When we see the humanity in people, it is easier to draw connections and empathy, as Sierra deftly illustrates through his painting.

“Welcome” is dedicated to Union Station’s immediate past board chairman, Ramón Murguía, who has a long history of advocacy for the Latino community. According to Sierra, Murguía “has used his position to influence change and create a space where everyone feels welcome regardless of why they are visiting Union Station. As I was painting the mural I saw folks in formal wedding attire, folks coming through to drop off mail and families there to visit Science City.”

Union Station is bustling with crowds from all walks of life, and “Welcome” is here to greet them and make them feel that they belong.

Emily Spradling

Hildreth Meière’s restored Westport Landing murals have been installed in the grand staircase. (photo by Roy Inman)

Hildreth Meière: Westport landing murals in the grand staircase

In 1937, the New York-based artist Hildreth Meière completed the mural for Fred Harvey’s newly renovated restaurant in Union Station. Historic Kansas City had been selected as the theme; the artist created three large paintings: “Arrival at Westport Landing,” “Outfitting at Westport Landing” and “Commerce of the Prairies.” The upscale dining room and its adjacent cocktail lounge, known as the Westport Room, became a popular destination, and not just for those traveling by train.

Meière studied art in New York, on the West Coast and in Italy, where she fell in love with mural painting during a year-long stay. She was quite a successful artist, primarily known for mural painting at a time when the field was dominated by men. She also created works in stained glass, mosaic, enamel, marble and other media. Meière worked on approximately 100 commissions nationwide during her career; some of her best-known projects include St. Bartholomew’s Church and Temple Emanu-El in New York, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis and the exterior rondels at Radio City Music Hall. However, she considered her greatest achievement to be the designs she did for the state capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Westport Landing, which was located about three miles south of present-day downtown Kansas City, was first settled in 1831 and served as the jumping-off point for traders, trappers and emigrants heading west on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails. In each of Meière’s paintings, women play an important part as the steamboat “Missouri” arrives, the covered wagons depart and goods are acquired for the long trip West.

Meière had attended the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New York with Katherine Harvey, the granddaughter of Fred Harvey, graduating in 1911. In a 1937 letter to Byron Harvey, president of Fred Harvey and the founder’s grandson, she admitted that this commission made her particularly nervous, writing, “I never went into a job where a personal friendship was so much involved before, and I can honestly say that I never was more anxious to have things turn out right.” She was quite happy when the paintings were enthusiastically embraced by Fred Harvey and the public.

In 1958, the Westport Room was deemed in need of an update and redecorated to resemble a riverboat. Faux multi-paned windows were installed over the paintings to create an illusion of looking through a window onto Westport Landing.

Ten years later, the Westport Room closed, and the paintings were donated to the Jackson County Historical Society. Given their large scale, there was no appropriate space in which to display them. They remained in storage at the Truman Library until they were acquired by Riss Trucking Company in 1980. At that time, they were restored by the Kansas City artist Daniel MacMorris and were exhibited as a single panoramic mural. Around the time of the station’s renovation in 1999, they were donated back to Union Station. They were hung in a space which served as a ticket office, subsequently a soda fountain and finally, as of 2004, the post office.

Peggy van Witt, of Van Witt Fine Art Conservation in Overland Park, was in charge of removing the mural from the dimly lit post office, restoring it and re-installing it in the Grand Staircase of Union Station.

Meière felt strongly that a “good mural should be something that cannot be taken away without hurting the design of the building.” Her granddaughter, Hilly Dunn, who is vice-president of the nonprofit International Hildreth Meière Association, feels that the Westport Room murals have proved to be the exception to this rule.

“Although they have been moved four times from their original location,” she said, “they remain iconic representations of Kansas City history.”

With this recent re-hanging, one can now appreciate these paintings of Kansas City history and the artist who created them.”

Nan Chisholm

KC Studio

KC Studio covers the performing, visual, cinematic and literary arts, and the artists, organizations and patrons that make Kansas City a vibrant center for arts and culture.

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