CARTHAGE, Mo. — It first caught my attention with the death of sculptor Bill Snow in 2016.
I sensed that it was the beginning of the end for Carthage’s old-guard artists who had grown to such eminence that they were virtually household names in this area.
Slowly, they all began falling away. First Snow, then Larry Glaze in 2019. Bob Tommey passed in September, followed by Lowell Davis a couple of weeks ago.
It is the end of an era. The close-knit group of nationally recognized artists who put Carthage on the map as an art mecca dating to the 1970s are gone.
“I truly believe it’s the end of an era in Carthage, just as it was the beginning when Lowell Davis had the first art gallery on the Carthage square,” said Sandy Higgins, a Carthage arts leader who knew each of these artists well. She had worked with Tommey and Davis to establish Carthage’s community art center, artCentral, and with Snow and Davis to establish the Midwest Gathering of the Artists, an art show and auction that attracted artists from throughout the country for more 35 years.
Andy Thomas, who was mentored by these artists, helping him build a national name, agrees with Higgins.
“MGA (Midwest Gathering of the Artists) was a fuel for art in this area,” Thomas said. “Losing that, plus these artists, is the end of an era.”
He talked of how these artists, particularly Davis and Tommey, inspired him to become a professional artist and taught him techniques that helped him grow into an artist who can command tens of thousands for his Western, Civil War and political paintings.
“I took something from all of them,” Thomas said.
That these artists came together to grow Carthage into an art destination was all a matter of coincidental timing, said Thomas. After tours in the military or early careers in a variety of professions, three of them — Davis, Glaze and Snow — returned to the Carthage area, where they had grown up; Tommey settled in Carthage after traveling the country. They all landed here in the late 1960s and early 1970s, none of them knowing one another.
Davis opened an art gallery on the square, and this circle of artists began to meld as each of them found growing success as artists.
In 1978, Tommey, Davis, Higgins and Carthage auctioneer Danny Hensley founded the Midwest Gathering of the Artists, staged annually until 2015 when Tommey fell ill and there was a decision to end it if he couldn’t participate, said Higgins.
In 1985, Tommey, Davis and Higgins were instrumental in establishing artCentral in a building on Central Avenue. The art center is now located in the historic Hyde House at 1110 E. 13th St.
Davis found his success with paintings and figurines that depicted rural life. His work, particularly his figurines, were handled by an estimated 2,000 distributors and 92,000 gift shops in the United States and Canada, and his figurines continue to be collectibles.
This provided him with the means to build Red Oak II east of Carthage, a re-creation of his boyhood town of Red Oak, near Avilla. Located on Kafir Road off Route 66/Highway 96, the quaint little town includes a general store, church, schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, town jail, gas station and historic homes. It continues to be open for tours.
Two sculptures in Carthage stand as Tommey’s legacy. He and Snow created the bronze sculpture of Marlin Perkins that stands in Central Park. A native son of Carthage, Perkins was host of the long-running television program “Wild Kingdom.” Tommey also sculpted the bronze tiger that stands at the front of Carthage High School.
Known primarily for his American frontier paintings, Tommey’s work continues to be sold through national art auction companies.
Snow’s sculptural work is found in Carthage as well as Joplin. Aside from the Perkins sculpture he created with Tommey, he sculpted the "Alice in Wonderland" bronze statue that stands outside the Carthage Public Library. His also created the “Compassion” sculpture, a 24-foot cross that was originally displayed at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin. The sculpture survived Joplin’s 2011 tornado and was reinstalled at the new Mercy Hospital. As a sculpture instructor, some of Snow’s students and apprentices have gone to achieve acclaim.
Glaze’s art was centered around moose, caribou and deer antlers, which he converted into sculptures, chandeliers, and other works of art. His art is in the homes of Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, country music superstars Blake Shelton and Toby Keith, and actor and director Clint Eastwood. His 12-foot-tall sculpture of five soaring eagles, created from shed moose antlers collected in Alaska, hold a place in Mercy Hospital. Another of his pieces, a composite work incorporating a large antler, was installed at the Joplin Humane Society.
Earlier in his life, Glaze’s artistic talents became a tool of survival. During his U.S. Navy deployment in Southeast Asia in the 1960s, he spent 18 months as a prisoner of war. To earn extra portions of rice from his captors, he gave them tiny figurines he created from clay.
These artists are the torch bearers, the giants of the Carthage art community. There are others to carry the torch forward, but it won’t be the same without that core group who pioneered all that Carthage became as an art community.