by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell
If you have ever waited for a red light at the intersection of Mission and Tomahawk Roads, you have probably noticed the magnificent, larger-than-life statue, “The Homesteaders” at the entry to the Prairie Village Shopping Center. What you probably didn’t know, however, is that the sculptor who created this massive work was herself larger-than-life.
In 1951, Anna Belle Campbell was 22 years old and a second-year scholarship student at the Kansas City Art Institute when she heard about Prairie Village’s sculpture contest. The city was inviting art students to submit small-scale models of a sculpture that could be erected at the newly-opened Prairie Village Shopping Center. Twenty entries were received and six were selected for voting by residents. Campbell’s “The Homesteaders” was proclaimed the Prairie Village favorite. Campbell was awarded $500.00 from the J.C. Nichols Company and provided the materials to construct a 12-foot clay model for a foundry cast.
As Campbell explained to the Kansas City Star, her piece represented the “homesteading spirit” of the Westward movement. The symbols she chose included “the nourishing soil, the wheel and the basic unit of society -- the family.”
Though she may not have realized it at the time, her own family was also being established thanks to the statue. Upon learning of her contest win, fellow Art Institute student Joseph L. Cartwright, IV offered to help her with the model. By the year the work was completed, he had also earned a prize – he won himself a wife and she a husband. The couple were married one year later and went on to have three children: Joseph, Sarah, and Jessie.
Throughout her life, Anna Belle continued teaching, creating and curating art. She became a well-known museum curator, holding positions at several museums in the Midwest and Florida. In 1990, she was named Curator of the National Frontier Trails Center in Independence. After retiring from that post in 1998 she became Director of the Santa Fe Trails Association where she served until 2000.
Anna Belle died in 2001 at the age of 72, but her children continue her artistic legacy. Joseph is a renowned jazz musician and pianist, Sarah is a gifted writer, and Jessie teaches art and serves on the Prairie Village Arts Council. In one of her last art projects, Anna Belle helped design and relocate “The Homesteaders” to its current venue, a site chosen to afford the artwork maximum exposure in a natural setting. Now positioned amid a fountain at the entry to the city, the pioneering family welcome all who enter the city, along with those who appreciate its grandeur while waiting for a red light.