on view: “the abolitionists”

It’s no secret I’m a fan of PBS and American Experience is one its best programs. That I’ll learn something I didn’t know before is guaranteed every time I watch. I’ve been looking forward to “The Abolitionists” (premiering January 8, 2013, see trailer below) for a long time. Growing up, what I was taught about American slavery was so cut and dry: all black people were enslaved, all white people owned slaves, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, The End. What gets left out is the complexity of the issue: people of varying ethnicities supported and opposed slavery (often employing what some considered terrorism to do so), emancipation was as much about economics as social justice, the ramifications of enslavement are far-reaching, and modern-day slavery still exists.

With that in mind, I took a moment today to look at John Steuart Curry’s sketches for the Kansas State Capitol murals in Topeka, one of which depicts abolitionist John Brown. The sketches are part of the Beach Museum of Art’s Permanent Collection. More Curry works will be on display from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Museum as part of the Kansas State University Open House on April 20, 2013.


Left image: Sketch for John Steuart Curry’s “Tragic Prelude”, personal photo by Adrianne Russell. Right image: “Tragic Prelude” by John Steuart Curry, photo courtesy of Kansas Historical Society.

2 thoughts on “on view: “the abolitionists”

  1. I’ve been looking forward to “The Abolitionists” for a long time too. Glad it’s finally here! And thanks for including the artwork depicting John Brown – I think he’s one of American history’s most fascinating characters. The mere mention of his name stirs controversy!


    • The presence of Curry’s mural is still being debated. That discussion was re-ignited when the Capitol building started being renovated. Some suggested that the mural depicting Brown should finally be removed, and there was so much controversy over John Brown’s image during its creation that Curry refused to sign the murals in protest.


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