What is Art?

The Coutts Museum of Art’s current museum-wide exhibit is entitled “What is Art?”

The exhibit showcases local area artists and features sculpture and 2-D work from Dallas Dodge; prints from Jennifer Callaway; jewelry from Jillian Marsh; graffiti from Belle Rausch; textiles from the Wichita Weavers, Spinners, and Dyers Guild; and an installation piece from curator Sheila Yrjanainen.

Museum guests touring the What is Art? exhibit

“We have many different forms of art in here right now,” said Yrjanainen.  “We hear from people all the time that they don’t like this type of art or that type of art, so we wanted to have a museum-wide exhibit with many art forms.”

With Halloween around the corner, Yrjanainen shared an interesting fact about the museum.  

“We have ghosts,” said Yrjanainen. “John Bunyan Adams, [known as J.B. and Bun to his friends] killed himself in this building in 1921.”  

John Bunyan (J.B.) Adams as he appeared in an issue of the Walnut Valley Times in 1916.

“The Coutts was originally the Butler County State Bank and he was the first bank President,” she said.

According to Vol. P. Mooney in his History of Butler County, Kansas, [John Bunyan] J. B. Adams was the Head Bank Cashier and owned a controlling interest in the bank, which was founded on June 5, 1909.

“He shot himself in the heart 4 times…and missed,” said Yrjanainen.  “The janitor found him and he was taken to the hospital and died 7 hours later. The newspapers said it was a suicide but he left no letter and the newspaper didn’t say anything about an autopsy.”

Yrjanainen said she and her co-workers see and hear strange things coming from the office he used to occupy.  

“We joke about John Buyan Adams still being here,” she said. “It is one of the museum mysteries.”

Listen to the podcast with Sheila Yrjanainen.

The museum has held ghost tours in previous years but due to the pandemic it is not hosting tours this year.  However, the public is invited to visit the “What is Art?” exhibit and perhaps catch a glimpse of the museum ghosts for themselves. The exhibit runs from August 5 – October 28, 2021.  The museum is located in downtown El Dorado, at 110 N Main St. El Dorado, KS 67042.

First Butler County Settler a Horse Thief?

In keeping with the goal of providing verifiable information on the founding of El Dorado, and it’s early founders, Everyday El Dorado is producing a weekly podcast series that airs on KBTL 88.1 each Wednesday at 12 p.m. 

In the episode titled, “Hildebrand – Horse Thief or Holy Roller?,” the story surrounding the first settler in Butler County is examined.  

According to William G. Cutler’s “History of the State of Kansas, ”William Hildebrand is supposed to have been the first settler near El Dorado, having taken a claim near where J. D. Conner’s farm now lies. In 1859, his place which had become a sort of headquarters for horse thieves, was raided, and Hildebrand after joining the order of the flagellants or anglice, getting a sound thrashing at the hands of the vigilantes, was given twenty-four hours to effect his escape from the county, and disappeared forever from El Dorado’s horizon.”

This information on Hildebrand is all that is passed down by successive historians and documentarians, but in researching the history of El Dorado, another story begins to emerge. 

The Reverend WIlliam Hildebrand and Colonel Alexander Bigham came to Butler County in April 1857 and settled in the area that is present day El Dorado. 

In an article appearing in the Lawrence Republican dated August 27, 1857, Hildebrand was identified by the article’s writer (presumed to be the founding party’s lead military man, Captain Joseph Cracklin) as a missionary and one of two settlers. 

“Just two months from the 3rd inst., the day of election, the Eldorado Town Association selected this locality for their town site.  At that time but two white persons resided in the Walnut River valley, from the extreme northern post to the Osage Reserve.  These two were the Rev. William Hildebrand, former a Missionary amongst the Cherokees and Chickasaws, and now preparing to carry his Christiam labors to the Osages.  The other, Col. Alexander Bigham, from Miss., who distinguished himself at the taking of Monterey in Mexico, and at the storming of the Bishop/s palace was severely wounded.  We here regard him as quite an acquisition to our town.”

How did Hildebrand go from first being identified as a Missionary to his place in history as a horse thief?  That road is a winding one, as much of the information recorded about him comes from the daughter of the man he is accussed of stealing from and orchestrating his murder.  

Augusta Stewart, the daughter of town founder Sam Stewart, kept a diary during her family’s travel out west, the early years of Eldorado, and subsequently, she documented some of the events surrounding her father’s death.  That journal was later published by descendants in a four volume set titled “Augusta’s Journal.” 

Stewart’s journal, which was later researched and edited, by herself and family, provides additional clues as to why the story recorded in our history books, about Hildebrand, is a story about a horse theft and omits other key details.   

Diaries and journals, while considered a great primary source, must be read through a lens of understanding it was only one perspective.  The clues Stewart provides give a springboard for looking in new directions that offer additional information. That information will be the topic of discussion on this week’s episode, which looks at some of those clues to gain a bigger picture of the first settler in Butler County, 

Everyday El Dorado can be heard Wednesday at 12 p.m. on KBTL 88.1 and by streaming online at kbtl.butlercc.edu

Celebrating Brigadier General A. W. Ellet

While researching the history of El Dorado, it was discovered that one of our early residents and town builders has a historic birthday of his own.

Brigadier General Alfred Washington Ellet was born on October 11, 1820 and the 200th anniversary of his birth is this year.

Ellet received his promotion to Brigadier General from President Abraham Lincoln and gained fame for his instrumental role in the battle of Memphis and the capture of Vicksburg, which aided the Union’s assumption of control over the entire Mississippi River.  The original document promoting Ellet to Brigadier General is located at the Butler County Historical Society Home of the Kansas Oil Museum.

An account of his heroic contributions to the Civil War can be found in the “History of the Ram Fleet and the Mississippi Marine Brigade in the War for the Union on the Mississippi and its Tributaries.The Story of the Ellets and their Men.”

The book chronicles Brigadier General Ellet’s command of a fleet of steam ironclad ramboats that battled for control of major riverways and assaulted the Confederate fleet and stronghold at Vicksburg.  The members of Ellet’s fleet were perhaps the first regularly commissioned United States Marines.  

Ellet began investing in El Dorado in 1873 and made many trips to visit his son Edward Ellet before finally locating Butler County. He was primarily living in Topeka as late as 1875 and traveled to former homes in Philadelphia and Illinois. His political connections took him to Washington, D.C., where he successfully lobbied for the Florence, El Dorado, and Walnut Valley Railroad, which later became the Santa Fe. 

Along with his son Edward Ellet, and friend Nathan Frazier, he helped organize the Bank of El Dorado, which eventually became Farmers and Merchants Bank.  

His last name may sound familiar to many because it was bestowed on the building he had built for El Dorado – The Ellet Opera House.  

The Ellet Opera House opened in 1884, and became the cultural heart of the city.  It was the location of most public entertainment, from lectures by prominent speakers and political speeches to commencement ceremonies and church services.  The Ellet Opera house was also host to talent shows and grand balls, as well as opera singers and eventually vaudeville. 

A display featuring memorabilia donated to the museum by descendants of Ellet is planned as part of El Dorado’s 150th birthday celebration

Happy Birthday, General Ellet.

Protesters Object to Art Exhibit

A new exhibit has opened at the Coutts Museum of Art, “Chromatic Hallucinations” however, not everyone wants to talk about the art but rather the artist himself. 

Chromatic Hallucinations is on display at Coutts Museum of Art in El Dorado.

Lana Malone and her friends are protesting the museum’s decision to show the artworks of Sean Christopher Ward.

Malone said, “My biggest issue is that they are supporting a sex offender.”

Her request was for transparency regarding the artist. Ward is a registered sex offender who was convicted 10 years ago, served his court imposed sentence and has under gone rehabilitation.  

Lana Malone, left, with friends stood outside Coutts to protest the art exhibit.

While Ward will not be present at the museum, where his art will be on display through September 30th, he did issue a statement addressing the protest, “I have no fear of talking about my past or how people will use it against me, like some individuals have been doing over this last month on social media.” 

Ward said, “It’s been 10 years now and I don’t even have a speeding ticket on my record. I have been able to host 500+ artists from around the world in my community and my gallery, on my own dime. I have been able to host 70+ musicians from around the Midwest for my community, on my own dime. I have provided a safe space for everyone, no matter their gender/classification/skin color, to do what they love and I’ve done everything I can to help make their careers moving forward better than before.”

Ward said his sole mission in life is to redeem himself from his past actions and help make his community a better place.

“I am not here to promote anything negative, nor to create spaces in which people cannot feel safe,” said Ward. 

“That’s why people trust me now. I have earned that trust from the years of constant hate and disgust towards my actions and I have not let it affect my progress forward to become an upstanding citizen and help my community to the best of my ability and in a safe manner.” 

Ward said, “I cannot change my past, as much as I wish I could, but my actions 10 years ago do not define me indefinitely, they define that old version of me.  I am a firm believer that people who want to change, can change, and that’s why I have never judged anyone and provided any artist with a space to express themselves in my galleries. The judiciary system and law enforcement are doing their rightful jobs of monitoring me for the rest of my life and I have yet to let them, or society, down again. It is not social media’s keyboard warriors job, nor is it the right way to go about things when they haven’t even met the person before.”

With respect to the protesters, Ward said, “These individuals have yet to reach out to me, even once, to talk about my history or anything of the sort. They just took it upon themselves to paint a picture of me to the public of the “worst case scenarios” they could think of,” Ward said. “Though, I am ashamed of my action from ten years ago, I am proud of the person I have become today.”

In a statement, Tim Howard, Executive Director of the Coutts Museum of Art said, “The Board and staff of the Coutts recognize what an honor it is to live in a country where creating, exhibiting, and experiencing art is a constitutional right under the 1st Amendment. Consistent with our fundamental commitment to freedom of speech we will not censor exhibitions in response to political or ideological pressure.

Tim Howard, Executive Director, standing in front of one of the pieces of art on display.

“Just as we believe that the works of art on display are worthy of an exhibit, we also understand that the group protesting today have a right to their freedom of speech and will in no way interfere with their right to peacefully protest. They are not protesting the art, they are protesting the artist’s past.

“The Coutts Museum of Art in no way supports crimes of any nature. This crime was processed through the judicial system ten years ago, and this artist has served his punishment for that crime accordingly. The safety of our guests and staff is always our foremost priority; this exhibit is no exception. 

“The Family Life Center – Safehouse is proud to accept all donations received from the public for the exhibit. This organization provides comprehensive services to the victims of the crimes of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault/abuse.”

Crossroads: Change in Rural America

The Butler County Historical Society and Kansas Oil Museum wants Butler County residents to become part of the traveling Smithsonian/Humanities Kansas exhibit “Rural Crossroads: The Changing Faces and Places of Butler County”. 

By contributing to this exhibit  citizens can help tell the story of Butler County.  Two areas of specific interest are Butler County towns and Farms & Ranches that are no longer in existence. 

Crossroads: Change in Rural America

In 1900, about 40% of Americans lived in rural areas, By 2010, less than 18% of the U.S. population lived in rural areas. In just over a century, massive economic and social changes moved millions of Americans into urban areas. Yet, only 10% of the U.S. landmass is considered urban.

Many Americans consider rural communities to be endangered and hanging on by a thread—suffering from brain drain, inadequate schools, and a barren, overused landscape. Why should revitalizing the rural places left behind matter to those who remain, those who left, and those who will come in the future? Because there is much more to the story of rural America.

“Crossroads: Change in Rural America” is a traveling Smithsonian exhibition and is part of the Museum on Main Street (MoMS) collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and state humanities councils nationwide. 

The exhibit offers small towns a chance to look at their own paths to highlight the changes that affected their fortunes over the past century. The exhibition will prompt discussions about what happened when America’s rural population became a minority of the country’s population and the ripple effects that occurred.

Here is how you can be a part of this exhibit:

Search through your photos for any images of Butler County’s past (1850’s – present). Topics include, but are not limited to: specific & identifiable buildings; streets; roads; places; events; activities; etc. 

Replicate that scene or take a current photo of the same topic.

Haberlein’s at Central and Main in 1955
Specs in 2020, formerly Haberlein’s.

Scan the photos & download the photo release form that can be found on the Kansas Oil Museum’s website.  

Email the photo(s) and the completed photo release form to director@kansasoilmuseum.org. Please include any pertinent information you have regarding the photo, such as location, when it was taken, individuals in the photo and who took the photo. 

Photos must be submitted by July 31, 2020

All photos, old and new, must be of Butler County people, places, activities, or events.

While no monetary compensation will be given for the scans of these photos, the museum will acknowledge the proper parties based on information provided in signed permission forms.

Release forms, as well as additional information, can be found by visiting kansasoilmuseum.org and clicking on the “Rural Crossroads” tab.