By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Stephanie O’Donnell dreams of one day having her own art studio and working as an artist full time.
She’s on the way: Having earned her bachelor of fine arts degree from Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, the Joplin resident is trying to save money to begin work on her master’s degree.
O’Donnell took another step forward by being one of 26 artists chosen for the area’s first public art installation, SEK Art Fest, which will open today in downtown Pittsburg.
The artists began in the same way: Earlier this year, they were among 60 artists who submitted to a panel of judges their proposed designs with which to cover 4-foot-tall fiberglass coal buckets in keeping with the theme, “Mining Memories.” In May, each of the chosen artists was given a white coal bucket statue and got busy.
But on Thursday night, when the artists unveiled their works for underwriters and members of the SEK Art Fest steering committee, guests couldn’t help but notice the uniqueness of each one.
“They all started with the same thing, but they’re each so very different,” said Gina Pinamonti, who with her husband, Brian, was an underwriter for the colorful bucket designed and painted by Carl Junction, Mo., art teacher Elizabeth Cosby.
“It is beyond belief the amount of talent and ability to capture so many things that these artists have,” Pinamonti said.
Girard art teacher Nicole Meyer-Foresman’s bucket paid tribute to the “Amazon Army” of women who stood up in the 1920s for better working conditions for their coal miner sons and husbands. She used a clay-relief process for a three-dimensional effect. It sparked in her mother-in-law, Barbara Foresman, memories of growing up in West Mineral.
“I remember using buckets like these to go out to the coal bin and carry in pieces for the stove,” Foresman said. “I can’t believe they’re works of art now, but they’re certainly beautiful.”
Kelci Rae Cooper, who by day works at CDL Electric in Pittsburg as a sign artist, worked into the wee hours for weeks on her bucket design. Called “Signs of SEK Times,” it features images she created of iconic signs from Pittsburg’s past and present, including the 1106 Drive-In, Crowell’s Pharmacy and Woolworths. She printed them on a 106-inch sheet of vinyl.
“Then I blow-torched it to the bucket,” Cooper said. “I can’t tell you how many hours I stayed up.”
By comparison, Sarcoxie, Mo., artist Mandy McCluey created a gentle Kansas landscape of shocks of golden wheat just cut in the field under a soft blue sky.
Edward Hicks, a New York City native who moved to Joplin to work in retail sales, said he was surprised to be selected as a finalist.
“I just squeaked in on the deadline; I only had time to do a quick colored pencil sketch,” he said. “But I’ve always loved art, because I was exposed to it so much in New York City. Here, culture doesn’t seem to be expressed as much publicly, so I love this. I’ve been telling all my friends and everyone I know to come see it.”
SEK Art Fest organizers will place 24 of the buckets on Broadway between Second and Eighth streets in downtown Pittsburg starting at 7 a.m. today. They will remain on display through Little Balkans Days on Labor Day weekend, when they will be auctioned.
Another bucket will be on display at the Miners Hall Museum in Franklin, and one will be a “traveling bucket” that will be on display at public venues throughout the Four States, including Northpark Mall in Joplin and Meadowbrook Mall in Pittsburg.
Meet the artists
SEK ART FEST organizers are planning a meet-the-artists event on June 20 at Europe Park in downtown Pittsburg. It tentatively is scheduled for 7 p.m.