Life in color

Valley Voice

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“Small Wonders”, an expansive new show, has opened at the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg. It’s an exhibit of smaller works by more than 160 regional artists and on view through August 7. It tells us that big ideas can come in little packages.

There are ceramics, sculptures, images in watercolor, oil, oil crayon, and pastels, etchings, jewelry, glass. There are carvings, works of paper, aluminum, tin, cord, granite, marble, limestone and, even, spent shell casings (.223 cal, moldy). And more. Many works carry intriguing titles; among them: “Witness,” “It’s a Process,” “Trouble in the Neighborhood,” “Drama under the Sea,” “Lauren’s Tumbleweed,” “High Hair,” “Teetering on the Nature Totter.”

The artists are like their work, from all over. The list is flush with Kansans, from Garden City to Kansas City and in-between. A half-dozen are from Missouri, Montana, Utah, Iowa, California and Texas. I’ve no doubt missed a state but with art, “regional” is flexible. It speaks to the show’s appeal, with something to rouse or charm anyone.

In spite of the gloom that hammers us almost daily, art’s pleasures remain as natural to the climate as purple in Manhattan or politics in Topeka. If only for a moment, art sets us free.
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A viewing at the Sandzén begins on approach to the place with its gardens, their gentle splay of color, the fabric of plantings, the texture of the earth about them. It takes us in and lets us roam – the show inside, the place around it.

From the neighborhood and over the town, tidy little parks are here and there, small wonders, offspring of the big ones. Floral beds nuzzle a hike or bike trail. Blossom-filled crannies appear at a street corner, give life to a fire hydrant. A college campus, becomes a garden laced with paths and groves. Private gardens are tucked along alleys, peeking between houses, beyond a garage, a shed, a swing set. At the town’s edge, a golden cropland canvass, the wash of wheat against the horizon, or the emerald promise in a bean field or long rows of milo and corn.

The arts are telling in the look of a community (its homes, its shops, its streets); how it acts (its grace, its turn of mind); how it worships (the message, its music); they foster a gentle embrace of beauty in many forms, essential – sometimes instinctive – in a community that is at home with itself.

The arts are assuasive, a kind of sedative, bringing together the shattered fragments of all our comings and goings, our disparate lives, our common desires. They touch the element of pleasure that lives in all of us.
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“Small Wonders” at the Sandzén carries a big message. Without the arts, life loses richness.

Art is the maximum free expression. Lindsborg’s great herd of wild Dala horses; the bold and delicate murals on buildings; inside, one shop and another reveals intricate tin ceilings, olden stencils, tile work. John Whitfield’s miniature stave church, hand-hewn 20 years ago, is by his old house on North Washington; the dozens of signs along Välkommen Trail, each a chapter of history. And who’s noticed the art on Lindsborg police cars? The big parks, Swensson and Riverside, are galleries with sculpture, gardens, clusters of flora tucked here and there. Expressions, all.

Art shapes everything around us and about us – the way we dress, the music we hear, the paint on our houses, the look of our buildings, the view of a business district, the lay of a neighborhood, the form of our churches and schools inside and out.

Art can be found even in sport: the design of a stadium, the colors of uniforms, the sound and gait of a band, the posture of a drum major. Many athletes, confined by team uniform codes, express themselves otherwise with bold tattoos and bling, extravagant hair, fanciful shoes, all of it a way of art.

Lindsborg and other communities were built on art, the message and music of religious faith; and within their noble buildings the radiance of grand murals and reliefs, the stunning unfolding of nave, altar, pew and pulpit. Again, free expression.

Through the arts we experience a reassurance, the promise of re-entering old outposts and finding new ones, the adventures of childhood and adolescence that have shaped so much of our present world and our appetite for new ones.

With the artist our companion guide, we return to the scenes of those experiences. “Small Wonders” recalls in a big way the difference between a life with color and one without it.

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