"Prairie Boy" sculpture by Richard Lumpkin
by: Jessie Cartwright
Near the entrance road to the Prairie Village Municipal Complex, a young male appears seated, hat in hand, under the shade of an oak tree, engaged in thought. What is he pondering?
Prairie Boy’s historical context deepens our understanding and connection, and encourages our empathy for the pioneer migrator’s journey in search of opportunity, or a new beginning. By the 1850s, the swales identified in Harmon Park were deep, defined ruts in the ground, worn by thousands of cattle, oxen, and wagons on the Santa Fe thoroughfare. Return to Prairie Boy’s narrative, and imagine he has confidently arrived at the decision to settle here.
Originally, Prairie Boy was commissioned by the Prairie Village Bicentennial Committee, and the Municipal Arts Commission, led by Mayor William E. Franklin (1973-1979), to commemorate the 200th
Anniversary of the United States, and the 25th Anniversary of Prairie Village. In a conversation with Richard, he explained that as a member of the Arts Commission, he was encouraged by those around him to take on this prodigious project, though as a commercial artist he had no experience with the lost wax method of bronze casting. Humorously, Richard recalled that in the span of a year his kitchen became a studio with 90lbs. of wax, which was often explored by the family siamese cat and ornamented with holiday decorations, before Prairie Boy was finally transported to a local foundry.
By the spring of 1978, Prairie Boy was cast in bronze, and a dedication was planned for April 15. To Richard’s surprise, a large group of community members gathered for the dedication. A spontaneous celebration followed with Richard’s family and community members afterwards.
Richard enjoyed reminiscing about Prairie Boy, whose legacy includes newspaper photos with a small television on a lawn chair placed in front of him, or a coat draped over his shoulders on a cool fall day. Richard explained that at one time, the Shawnee Mission East Track Team ritually touched the top of Prairie Boy’s head for strength and endurance. Prairie Boy’s legacy continues as one of the sculptures in the Prairie Village Art Walk that begins June 11, 2021.