Dunavant, Kansas – 1897 -1946
Curry, best known in Kansas for his mural of John Brown in the capitol in Topeka, was a well-known artist in the 1930s and 1940s, with work in major museums such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Born in Dunavant, Kansas in 1897 to a family of hardworking farmers, Curry showed an early interest in art. He would then attend the Kansas City Art Institute in 1916 and then the Chicago Art Institute from 1916-1918. In 1920 he then apprenticed himself to Harvey Dunn, an illustrator in New Jersey. Not too long after in 1926 he studied in Paris for a year before returning to paint “Baptism in Kansas” which was purchased in 1928 by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney for her new museum of American art in New York City. While making summer trips to Kansas Curry stayed in the New York area until around 1936. He was then appointed artists-in-residence at the School of Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin.
For his first exhibition Curry has Kansas newspaper editor William Allen White and Kansas-born art dealer Maynard Walker to thank. Without their efforts he would not have had a traveling exhibtion that went through Kansas City, Topeka, Manhattan, and Wichita during 1931-32.
In 1937, after a campaign by White and regionalist painter Grant Wood, Kansas announced that funds were being raised to hire Curry to paint murals at the capitol in Topeka. Curry worked on this project from 1937 to 1941, never actually finishing the original design. Many Kansans were distressed at the choice of John Brown as a Kansas hero. Curry died, disheartened by his poor reception in Kansas, in 1946.
Through the efforts of K-State graduate Don Lambert and Mrs. Ruth Ann Wefald, the Friends of the Beach Museum of Art were able to celebrate the 1996 opening of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art with the purchase of a second major Curry oil painting entitled “Sunrise (over Kansas),” painted in 1935. In the ensuing years Mrs. Wefald and Mr. Lambert developed a strong friendship with Kathleen Curry, visiting her often at her Connecticut home. It was this friendship, and K-State’s continued interest in her husband’s work, that led Mrs. Curry to donate the large and important collection to the Museum.