Founders' legacy inspires students

Margaret Allen
Hays Daily News
Talking about the Moss-Thorns Art Gallery at Fort Hays State University on Thursday morning were Tyler Dallis, left, an FHSU grad student in ceramics and student assistant from Exeter, Mo., with Colin Schmidtberger, center, gallery director, and Molli Banks, right, student worker and an FHSU junior majoring in art history from Great Bend.

The show wasn't scheduled to happen, but after a cancellation opened up the calendar, the question became what to call it.

Moss-Thorns Art Gallery director Colin Schmidtberger and graphic design student Morgan Choitz came up with "Cartulary." Broadly, it's the idea of holding things from the past, Schmidtberger explained on Thursday at the gallery on the Fort Hays State University campus.

"Cartulary," which opened Jan. 25, is a show of original works by two revered former department heads of the Fort Hays State University Art Department, Joel Moss and John Thorns.

"Moss-Thorns Gallery is the actual name of our gallery, that is the foundation," said Schmidtberger, also an interior design instructor. "Cartulary was a unique name to entice people to come in to our exhibition, but it also sticks with Moss-Thorns works, as those are our founders."

Visitors haven't been what they might be, as there wasn't a show opening and there won't be a show closing. But the guest book reflects public visitors who tour the exhibit, as well as students.

That's as it should be, Schmidtberger indicated, as John C. Thorns made the push for a gallery on campus, to showcase student artwork, as well as bring in artwork from others.

"One of his great influencers was Joel Moss," Schmidtberger said, "so when they were thinking of a name, he really wanted the Moss name to be a part of it as well."

Department's roots

"Cartulary" runs through Feb. 19.

"It's allowing students to understand how the art department started, how we've grown," Schmidtberger said, "just get inspiration." 

A lot has happened since the department's foundations were laid by Moss, chair from 1946 to 1973, and Thorns, chair from 1973 to 1990. The $14.2 million art and design building, which now houses the department, opened in 2019, followed shortly after by the adjacent gallery in the historic FHSU Power Plant building.

"Especially with this show, I've actually seen quite a few students come through and I've talked with them, and they're actually very inspired by the works that they've seen from John and Moss," he said. "Obviously it's not always on display, so it's always nice to take the students back and showcase to them the past of the department."

With Power Plant carved in stone over the entrance to the red brick building, the campus power plant was built in 1931 and 1932.

"The history of this little space is amazing," said student assistant Tyler Dallis, a graduate student in Ceramics from Exeter, Missouri, at the gallery on Thursday.

Shuttered and replaced in 1991 by what became the Akers Energy Center, the empty stone building then was used as storage and studio space for art and design graduate students, Dallis said.

The 5,029-square-foot building then opened as the new Moss-Thorns Art Gallery.

"I know students come in here every new show, and they're looking at the artwork just to get themselves inspired for maybe what they're doing in a class," said Schmidtberger. "The instructors bring their classes down, just to see what others are creating, just to inspire themselves."

The next show is the graphic design senior exhibition, said Dallis.

"It's where all the seniors in the graphic design class come together as a whole, come up with a concept and they name the show, design everything for the show, and they come together as a whole to put the show on," he said.

The show starts March 1, showcasing the students' work over the past three years.

"It's product design, board games, paint cans, anything that they design logos for, they put it on actual products to display as if it's something you'd buy it at the store," Dallis said. "Our slogan is 'Do it for real.' So instead of having it on a computer screen for a client, print it out, put it onto the actual product and display it for real, so they can see what it's like in person, not just on a blue screen."

The program is the stepping stone to the future for students, he explained.

"We have a lot of people going out to Chicago, L.A., New York," he said, "and we see a lot of people doing things for major companies, starting their own companies."