To the Stars Through Art: A History of Art Collecting in Kansas Public Schools, 1900-1950

August 22, 2023 – May 11, 2024

Click here to view the virtual exhibition

A team of regional scholars led by Curator Elizabeth Seaton have spent the last five years researching the history of art collecting by Kansas K-12 schools. The topic has propelled them around the state in search of treasures in classrooms, district offices, and museums. Seaton and her collaborators will present their discoveries in this exhibition of 65 works acquired by more than a dozen school districts. The exhibition will be the first survey of art collecting by schools in Kansas and the first study of art acquired by the nation’s schools to give attention to boarding schools for Indigenous students.

A prominent theme in the exhibition is the heavy community involvement in the campaign to bring original artwork into Kansas schools. In 1911 the school superintendent in McPherson organized an exhibition to acquire art for the high school. This became an annual event attracting more than half of McPherson’s residents. Ticket sales allowed the district to establish a rich collection of work by regionally and nationally recognized artists, among them Birger Sandzén, Fern Coppedge, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Before 1950, districts in dozens of Kansas towns and cities joined McPherson in acquiring original art through traveling exhibitions, bequests from the Carnegie Corporation, New Deal art programs, and other avenues.

A goal of the “To the Stars Through Art” exhibition is to show the vital role American art played—and might play again—in Kansas schools and their communities. The exhibition’s title, inspired by the state motto, Ad astra per aspera, or “To the stars through difficulty,” alludes to the challenge of keeping the arts in the forefront of education. Another aim of the exhibition is to guide Kansas schools in caring for their collections and using them in teaching.

Major Sponsors: Friends of the Beach Museum of Art, The Alms Group
Sustaining Sponsor: Humanities Kansas, a nonprofit cultural organization that connects communities with history, traditions, and ideas to strengthen civic life.
Humanities Kansas logo

Media Sponsor: KANSAS! Magazine

Click here to view the exhibition flyer

Related free events

The Sue Jean Covacevich Educators Conference
Inspiring Students Through Art Collecting
Saturday, November 4, 2023, 8:30 a.m. 4 p.m., Beach Museum of Art
An event for educators (K-12, college, museums) and the general public.
Click here to watch the recorded program.

Best Practices for the Care of Art in Schools
Thursday, November 16, 2023, 5:30 p.m.
Livestream conversation with Nicole Grabow, director of preventive conservation at the Midwest Art Conservation Center, and Sarah Price, Beach Museum of Art Collections Manager. Free and open to the public. Click here to watch the recorded program.