The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 19, 2012

Andra Bryan Stefanoni: Franklin looks to past for its future

By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer

FRANKLIN, Kan. — With everything that is going on in tiny Franklin, I could almost justify a full-time news bureau there.

Most recently, Northeast High School art teacher and noted area muralist Gary Lofts has been perched on a ladder in front of several small storage buildings behind the Franklin Community Center-turned Miners Hall Museum.

He’s painting them to represent buildings one might have found in a mining town of long ago.

When I checked in on him two weeks ago, he was just putting the finishing touches on a post office and was preparing to begin a mine rescue station.

On Friday, he was completing his painting of the entrance to a mine shaft that depicts a group of miners entering in a coal car. He’ll clean his brushes just in time for the weekend’s annual V-J Homecoming event in neighboring Arma.

Next up: Lofts has big plans for painting a mural in sections to be mounted on the north side of the Miners Hall Museum.

The mural will be 73 feet long and 68 inches high, he said, and will be on metal panels that he will paint in his studio and then attach to the museum. The mural’s theme will be “The Way We Worked,” featuring scenes from the mid- to late 1800s through more recent times. Research is being provided by local historians Linda Knoll and Kaye Lynn Webb.

Like many who have worked on the museum project, Lofts has a connection to the area’s early mining days. He grew up near No. 9 Mine, and his wife’s grandfather, Jim Cowan, a Scottish immigrant, quit school at age 11 and ran a team of mine mules. Cowan died about 10 years ago at age 99.

Inside, the museum continues to attract lots of visitors for the monthly shows leading up to the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit next spring. August’s showing is titled “The Way We Worked in Southeast Kansas, Finance & Legal,” and was set up by local Edward D. Jones financial adviser John Ison.

Highlights include historical documents, photographs and memorabilia from the area. It will be in place until the first part of next week and may be seen during museum hours, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Museum coordinator Phyllis Bitner said September’s exhibit, which will feature trains and railroading, will set up in time for Little Balkans Days, which runs Aug. 31-Sept. 2.

It will be a collaboration involving the railroading Webb family of Watco Companies Inc., the railroad enthusiasts club called Heart of the Heartlands, and the archivists at Axe Library at Pittsburg State University.

I’m marking that one on the calendar. I know the whole family will want to go see it.

Follow Andra Stefanoni on Facebook at facebook.com/andrajournalist and on Twitter @AndraStefanoni.