Diving into the Art Scene of Carthage, Missouri
By Christine Smith
I thought I could do it.
I honestly believed I could cover the entire art scene in Carthage, Missouri in one day. After all, how big could the art community be in this town of less than 15,000 people?
As it turns out, the Carthage art community is huge. This is a community that appreciates and strongly supports visual art in all of its forms. I discovered that the roots of the Carthage art community run just as deep as those of the town’s majestic maples.
Driving down Carthage’s aptly-named Grand Avenue, I took in the crimson and gold leaves on the towering maple trees, providing a dramatic fiery backdrop for the stunning architecture of the town’s stately Victorian homes. Of course a town with such inspirational beauty would have an intrinsic artistic connection.
My morning began at Koka Art Gallery, just off of Carthage’s historic downtown square. Two steps into the gallery, I stopped in my tracks, stunned by a shimmering beautiful series of metallic nature photographs.
This luminous 3-D effect is the result of the photos being fused onto a metal with a special finish, according to gallery owner Koral Martin (who happens to have created these photographs). Looking at Martin’s work invites a sense of calm. In fact, I learned, several of Martin’s photos hang in healthcare institutions, surrounding patients with scenes of nature with the goal of aiding in the healing process.
In addition to her own breathtaking photos, Martin displays the work of more than 30 other artists at Koka, primarily local. Martin is also highly involved with the Carthage Art Walk, a celebration held once each month from April through September. During Art Walk, businesses around the square transform into galleries for the evening showcasing the work of talented artists. There are also stations set up throughout the walk where people can create artwork themselves.
Another must-see art hub in Carthage is artCentral. Located in the historic Hyde House, artCentral celebrates 30 years of promoting the arts through special events, education (like artCamp for children in the summer), and exhibits like “Passion,” an exhibition of the Joplin Regional Artists Coalition.
The gracious and knowledgeable Alice Lynn Greenwood, artCentral Director and Carthage artist, led me around the exhibit and offered background information on the artists and their works.
Before we even left the first room, one question dominated my thoughts: Why had I never visited artCentral before?
After leaving artCentral, I made my way to Cherry’s Art Emporium on the Square.
When I visited a couple of years ago, it had been an antique store, so when I stepped inside I was somewhat disoriented. Shelves that were once filled with vintage knick knacks were replaced with multiple displays of quality artwork, some from regional artists that I recognized, like Jerry Ellis, Tricia Courtney, Kristin Huke, and Larry Glaze.
When I walked into the side gallery, I was rendered speechless. Museum-quality pieces surrounded me, overwhelming me with their beauty and silent messages.
The owner of the gallery, Cherry Babcock, has been in the custom framing business for years. Her access to the work of great artists led her to open this gallery on the square.
She works closely with Carthage artist Andy Thomas, whose artwork depicts historical figures and events. Thomas’ original oil painting of Ronald Reagan caught my eye. He’s portrayed as a rugged rancher complete with cowboy hat and working gloves. Both prints and the original were available for sale.
The formation of Midwest Regional Gathering of Artists in 1978 helped build the foundation for today’s thriving Carthage art community, according to Babcock. This annual show and auction was the brainchild of local artists Bob Tommey and Lowell Davis (“the Norman Rockwell of rural art”), and California artist Ron Crooks, and it has grown over the years, drawing exhibitors from all over the country.
When artist Sam Butcher opened Precious Moments Chapel in 1989, the art community strengthened even more. A modern-day Michelangelo, Butcher labored tirelessly for five years, covering the walls of his chapel with 84 murals of his Precious Moments figures, the centerpiece of which is “Hallelujah Square.”
There’s so much talent concentrated in this corner of Missouri. The artists here want to share their inspiration and enthusiasm with visitors, and they will gladly open their studios to anyone who wants to explore, which is exactly what I plan on continuing to do.
Delve into the vast artistic side of Carthage, Missouri.
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