First published: Summer 2021

There is a humid malaise in downtown Springfield, Missouri’s third-largest city (pop. 168,000). Like a diamond in the palm of a giving hand, Springfield – “The Queen City of the Ozarks” – is nestled in rolling hills and cool lakes about 200 miles west of St Louis. It is May 2020 and the USA is reeling from the effects of COVID-19. Few downtown Springfield stores have reopened and there is just a handful of people on the street. One young couple claims to have lost their home. With dirt on their faces and a glaze in their eyes, they stand at the corner of Campbell and Walnut Street asking passers-by for money, oblivious to the playful mural on the building wall behind them.

 


Christmas Reef, 2004, acrylic paint and clear lacquer on plywood, 33.5 x 50.5 in. / 85 x 128 cm. Courtesy: Collection of the Springfield Art Museum, Springfield, MO

The gateway to an eternally innocent world exists in the giant painting. It depicts the work of Robert Eugene (“E”) Smith (1927–2010), arguably the most famous artist to emerge from the city. Smith painted footloose, always-smiling characters with vivid colours and a childlike spirit. He made liberal use of carefree cats and dogs, and his skies are always bright blue.

 


St Nick's Trip to the South Pole, 1984, acrylic and ink on canvas, 23.5 x 19.5 in. / 59.5 x 49.5 cm

The mural illustrates the artist’s memories of downtown Springfield in 1976. Based on his original painting, it was commissioned through the Springfield Program for Public Art, and – funded by donations from Smith supporters – painted in 2000 by local artists.

by Dave Hoekstra

 

This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #108.

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