Largest mural collection in Kansas nears completion

TOPEKA (KSNT) – A series of murals has been steadily growing on a quiet street near the Kansas Expocentre.

Now, one of the original artists is helping to bring the project closer to completion.

Dave Loewenstein, a Lawrence-based muralist, is putting the finishing touches on a mural all about Topeka on S.W. Fillmore near 20th Street.

Loewenstein said the mural, which is on the western wall of a building owned by the city of Topeka’s water department, is about how Topeka got it’s name.

And it helps debunk some of the urban myth surrounding the origins of the city.

The word “Topeka” comes from an Ioway tribal word for a very specific place.

“For a kind of place that would you go to dig up wild prairie turnips. Some people call them prairie potatoes,” Loewenstein said while painting a think white border around the 200-feet-wide mural.

The rustic vegetable plays a big role in the piece. Divided into three parts, most commonly referred to as a trip-tic, the mural spotlights the vegetable in one small panel.

In the main piece, an Ioway grandmother tells the story of Topeka to her son and her granddaughter, according to Loewenstein.

The grandmother, the central figure in the entire piece, holds a rope of prairie potatoes that loops around to the edge of the frame transforming into a herd of buffalo.

This newest mural follows the central theme of all the murals which focus on telling the “people’s history” as Loewenstein describes the series.

“(It) means the stories that get left out of history books. The people who are really meaningful and have a great impact but not everybody knows about,” he said about the topics and subjects chosen for the murals.

And the mural designs were not left up to Loewenstein alone.

The project, which started in 2007, is community-based. Groups of artists and community members gather to pick themes, research and conceptualize the murals.

Then community painting days allow Topekans to join in the fun. At the start of every mural, Loewenstein said the backgrounds and larger parts of the murals are done by the residents.

He said this process, although it can be lengthy, is an important part of the project. Because, at it’s core, the project is for the people of Topeka and Chesney Park neighborhood.

“We can’t do these projects without the folks who live here because the meaning and the stories come from them,” he said.

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