PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Children might not wants lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings, but artists were lining up to get them by the bucketful on Thursday.
The lumps were made of fiberglass, as were the buckets they fill. At 65 pounds, 3 feet high and about as wide, the statues took a little muscle to maneuver into pickup trucks that then hauled them from the Parks & Recreation Building to studios, garages and art classrooms.
“I am super excited to begin,” said Kelsci Cooper, a sign artist for CDL Electric.
For the next four weeks, Cooper and 25 other artists selected for the project will transform the white surface of the buckets into works of art to be displayed in the first public event of its kind in Southeast Kansas.
“I remember seeing the Cow Parade in Kansas City when I was a kid,” Cooper said. “This is what we need here — getting the arts more prominent. We have all the tools and people to make it happen. I just can’t wait to get started.”
Organizers couldn’t either. They were expecting the buckets to be delivered by Feb. 28 and to have them on display in downtown Pittsburg by May 1. But the first manufacturing company with which the SEK Art Fest contracted did not fulfill the order as promised.
“We had to fire him and reorder,” said Vonnie Corsini, a steering committee member who was on hand for the delivery Thursday afternoon.
The second manufacturer, based on the East Coast, fulfilled the order in the 35 days promised.
“They look fabulous,” said organizer Steve Robb, who conceived the idea to mimic the Cow Parade and similar large-scale public art installations in metropolitan areas.
After artists complete their buckets, they will be delivered to Vietti Auto Body Shop, where a clear coat will be applied to protect the paint.
When the buckets are dry, the artists and underwriters who provided funding for the project will unveil the designs at a private reception, followed by a public unveiling the next day downtown. Robb expects that to happen about the second week of June.
Twenty-four of the buckets will be installed on bases along a six-block span of Broadway. One will be installed at the Miners Hall Museum in Franklin with signs directing visitors who go there to see the Smithsonian exhibit to also make a stop in downtown Pittsburg. Another will be a traveling bucket that circulates between Spiva Center for the Arts and Northpark Mall in Joplin, Mo., as well as other highly visible locations.
“Our goal is to get the word out to the public in as many ways as possible,” Robb said.
Until then, the designs are secret. But a few artists who showed up to pick up their buckets agreed to share the inspiration behind their planned designs. They are as diverse as the artists themselves.
Gary Lofts, an art teacher at Northeast High School in Arma and a muralist who has left his mark on numerous businesses, restaurants, a hospital and a museum in the region, said he is using research for previous murals for his bucket.
David Hightower, a longtime noted panel artist whose claim to fame is pinstriping hot rods, counts in his three-dimensional repertoire painting a wooden pig statue for a tattoo parlor. But he didn’t paint it like a pig.
“I painted it like a sprint car,” he said. “So of course with this, I’m going to draw from my car background.”
Lori Stottler, a frequent performer and set artist for theater groups in Joplin, Independence and Pittsburg, said she will celebrate the arts in her design.
Rod Dutton, a longtime Southeast Kansas artist, said he won’t stray too far from his portfolio.
“I’m known for my landscapes, which are interpretive and impressionistic and abstract at times,” he said. “I never try to be like a photograph with my work, and neither will I be with my bucket.”
Lori Smith and Cyndee Harvey, both employed by Mpix at Miller’s Professional Imaging in Pittsburg, are combining creative talents for their bucket and plan to get started Saturday in Smith’s mother’s garage. It will be the first time they have worked on something three-dimensional.
“We’ve drawn out plans as much as we can,” Smith said, “and then we’re just going to wing it.”
She said they are drawing on historical references for inspiration, and then “we’ll bling it up a little.”
THE COAL BUCKETS, along with 31 smaller buckets created by students in Joplin, Carl Junction, Girard and Pittsburg, will be on display through Labor Day. They then will be auctioned as part of the annual heritage festival known as Little Balkans Days, named after the area in Europe from which many immigrants came. After settling in this area, many became coal miners or worked in industries that supported coal mining.