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Mural lines Capitol walls

1/29/2014

By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT

mkenwright@dailynews.net

Kansas has forged a colorful history since it joined the union 153 years ago today, and a Hays artist created his career's lifetime achievement capturing the stories that define the Sunflower State.

Dennis Schiel spent four years traveling 73,000 miles in Kansas researching a mural commissioned by Hays Arts Council. The piece was installed Jan. 6 in the Office of the Governor Conference Room, five years to the day Schiel began the project. Schiel stood by his artwork today to share its story.

Schiel said he was honored his work will be on display. It always was his hope the mural would hang in the state Capitol in Topeka. The room, which hosts press conferences and is on the public tour, connects to the lieutenant governor's office.

"I'm happy. I finally accomplished something worthwhile," he said. "I've done some neat things before, but this was quite the project. It's bigger than I'd ever dream of a project I'd ever take on."

The 10-panel mural is a painted map of the state, and each region has its significant stories featured as images. Charles Lindbergh's brief stint in Bird City, Smokey the Bear's artist's origins in Herman, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Mayetta and Gen. George Custer in Hays are among the 300 subjects noted.

"The people that were involved in forming the state, there were a lot of interesting characters in the late 1880s," he said.

The HAC, which owns the piece because it set up the nonprofit to collect the contributions Schiel solicited, loaned the artwork to the state.

Brenda Meder, HAC executive director, said Schiel's mural joins Pete Felten's four sculptures in the Capitol.

"That's pretty impressive," Meder said. "When you consider the way Hays, Kan., is represented as art in the Capitol, I don't know if there's any other town in our state that could claim the level of artworks and artistic notoriety and celebration."

The style of the artworks reflects the cultures and lives of the many areas throughout Kansas.

"It's places. It's people," she said. "It's moments. It's portraits."

The mural will remain in the conference room indefinitely.