By J. Sherrod Taylor
In the great tradition of public art, Prairie Village recently added a significant piece of accessible artwork to the intersection of Mission Road and 71st Street. Entitled “Fifties Freedom in the Village,” the project is comprised of a life-sized bronze sculpture depicting a child riding a bicycle, a cast stone pedestal, and a commemorative plaque. The monument recalls the happy childhood experiences of donor Brad Johnson, who used to visit his nearby grandparents, and honors those friends who rode their bikes with him along our main thoroughfare in the fifties--a time before the internet and other distractions. A time when Prairie Village was full of kids, and many families had only one car. As Mr. Johnson remembers, "Most of us lived in a one car family, and our bikes gave us freedom to rely on ourselves and get where we wanted to be."
Sculpted by the nationally-known artist E.S. Schubert (who also contributed ‘in kind’ services to the setting) the statue additionally honors his long-time Shawnee Mission East art teacher Chuck Crawford.
In fact, the association of this artwork with Shawnee Mission East runs deep, since both the donor Johnson and the sculptor Schubert are SME graduates (1968 and 1996, respectively), and the beloved instructor Chuck Crawford taught art at the school for decades.
To be sure, Crawford is a deserving honoree. Raised in the Paola area, this inspirational mentor earned an undergraduate degree in painting and a Masters in printmaking, according to an article by Sarah Buford that appeared in the SME publication, The Harbinger, in October, 2004. Never accepting the burden of a hand impaired by polio, this remarkable teacher helped to create the notable Art Seminar and other innovative classes over the course of his long tenure at SME. Perhaps the class that he led in jewelry-making, however, was the most famous. In the Buford article, present-day PV Arts Council member Shelly Trewolla observed, “He runs one of the best high school jewelry programs in the United States...It’s one of the top five, and all the rest are in fine arts schools.”
Sculptor E. Spencer Schubert has a long history of making art that pays homage to legendary Missourians. His busts of Dred Scott, Buck O’Neill, and Robert Heinlein are only a few of his sculptures that grace the Hall of Famous Missourians, according to an article by Alisha Shurr published in the Missouri Times this year. In that same article Schubert paid tribute to being “under the tutelage” of Chuck Crawford, who was certainly a legend at SME.
Schubert, however, may now be known best for his gigantic statue of Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder that stands outside the Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium in Manhattan.
E.S. Schubert Sculpture Studios, located at 110 Southwest Boulevard in KCMO, today is recognized as one of the most outstanding makers of bronze monuments in the Midwest. Prairie Village is very fortunate to have art patrons, like Brad Johnson, who enhance our community by their generosity.