'Drawing Lawrence' touches light, dark moments in history

Dairy Queen marks the spot.

When William Quantrill and his ruffians stormed Lawrence with massacre on their minds, they entered town at the present-day site of the Massachusetts Street ice cream shop.

There used to be a plaque in the ground there to prove it.

Kansas University art professor Michael Krueger drew on that bit of history and others as he created work for an exhibition that marks the city's 150th anniversary.

"It's the strangest thing because history gets all compressed just in our town as we wander around and think about what happened here and there," says Krueger, whose drawings and prints are on view through November at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

Through Nov. 30

"Drawing Lawrence: Drawings by Michael Krueger on the Occasion of Lawrence's Sesquicentennial"

  • Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.

Special events ::

  • Nov. 16, Krueger will be part of a public panel discussion with Rick Mitchell, arts center gallery director, and Stephen Goddard, curator of prints and drawings at the Spencer Museum of Art, at 7 p.m. at the arts center.

"Drawing Lawrence: Drawings by Michael Krueger on the Occasion of Lawrence's Sesquicentennial" explores the community's history, often hitting on some of its most secretive, subversive and not-talked-about elements.

In "Bloody Bill," one of six prints in the otherwise all-drawing show, Krueger places Bloody Bill Anderson, "supposedly the bloodiest and most murderous of (Quantrill's) gang," on the curb next to the Dairy Queen drive-thru, where he appears to be contemplating his actions. And the silhouette of Dairy Queen's distinctly shaped sign is part of the environs in "Quantrill, In Life," a print of the pro-slavery warlord.

The technique of merging different moments in time into a single image is not new. Krueger found inspiration in medieval woodcuts that tell an entire story in one picture.

"I used that concept of simultaneous narrative and applied it to history so that I could have many histories happening at the same time," he explains. "They become this strange all-histories-at-once sort of narrative."

Mapping history

Krueger and arts center gallery director Rick Mitchell began discussing the idea of Krueger doing a sesquicentennial show two years ago, when Mitchell saw a piece Krueger created for a Langston Hughes commemorative exhibition. It was the first drawing Krueger did about Lawrence history, though he already had been doing drawings on subjects in American history.

"Langston Blues, Lawrence, Kansas" is in the arts center show and is illustrative of some of the techniques Krueger employs in many of the Lawrence works. The drawing is brimming with objects that tell stories about Hughes' life: a wooden school desk with the words "Jim Crow Row" carved into it; a floating door marked with the number "732," the address of the home Hughes lived in as a boy in Lawrence; an ocean liner like the one the poet worked on as a seaman.

The drawing also reads like a map, with the names of cities penciled in and bodies of water rendered in cartographic style.

"Krueger tends to cast his more complex drawings in panoramic landscapes grasped from a low-flying, bird's-eye view," writes Stephen Goddard, the Spencer Museum of Art's curator of prints and drawings, in a preamble to Krueger's show. "In these landscapes, Krueger's infatuation with the grotesque emerges, but within the respectable realm of history and cartography."

Other drawings in the exhibition touch on the life of beat author William S. Burroughs, the agricultural activities of the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers, the always-happening Lawrence nightlife, the city's tendency to attract residents with diverse and strong opinions, and the troubling history of forced assimilation at Haskell Indian Nations University, once a boarding school for American Indian children.

The 'real' story

Krueger's impulse to focus on lesser-known (or often-avoided) parts of Lawrence's history stems from the same frustration that fuels his other historical work, which he began doing early in this decade.

"It was just sorting out for me what's the real history and what's the wrong history, getting really pissed off that my son would come home from school and have just learned about what a great guy Columbus was. They still teach that here," Krueger says incredulously. "It makes me crazy. I just think if we taught the real history, or a closer semblance of it, people would be more compassionate, maybe make better choices."

In that spirit of sniffing out the truth, Krueger included in a solo show in Charlottesville, Va., a drawing of Thomas Jefferson pushing a shopping cart. The third U.S. president was a "shopaholic," Krueger says, adding that when Jefferson died, he had more than 300,000 bottles of wine and was more than $100,000 in debt. His home and all his belongings had to be sold. So visitors to Monticello don't see items that originally belonged to Jefferson, but rather items bought to replace what he lost.

"Monticello bought one of my prints, and it's hanging on the third floor. That's one of my greatest kudos," Krueger says. "The curator there was really, really cool. She told me that when she started working there, she told all the tour guides that they were going to talk about Jefferson a little bit differently. They were going to talk about his relationships with slaves and all this stuff. She said over half of the tour guides quit. They refused to do it.

"I want to bring up these issues in a kind of funny way, maybe tragic in a way, but as a metaphor for maybe how we live today or why we live that way today. Jefferson owned slaves to maintain his lifestyle, even though he was opposed to slavery. We're opposed to the war in Iraq, but we want to drive our SUVs."

History repeating?

Krueger's Jefferson print is also on the cover of the October issue of Review magazine in Kansas City. The artist, who teaches printmaking and drawing at KU, has had exhibitions across the United States and in the United Arab Emirates, Paraguay, Scotland, England, Italy, Siberia, Russia and Poland. His work is part of more than 30 public collections, including the New York Public Library; the Museo Del Barro, Paraguay; the Belger Art Center, Kansas City, Mo.; the City of Seattle; and, of course, Thomas Jefferson's Estate in Charlottesville.

Krueger, 38, was born in Kenosha, Wis., but spent most of his childhood in Sioux Falls, S.D. He got a bachelor's degree in printmaking at the University of South Dakota and a master's degree in printmaking at the University of Notre Dame. He's been teaching at KU since 1995.

In 1998, he helped establish a printmaking studio at Haskell, where he continues to conduct workshops and collaborative exchanges with students. Krueger developed the first KU art department study abroad program in 2000, and has since been taking students to Florence, Italy.

"I love teaching, but my work is first," he says. "But I think the best thing I can do for my students is be a productive studio artist and exhibiting artist. It just gives me more information to give them."

Sharing information is part of what "Drawing Lawrence" is about as well. In "Sun Dodgers," Krueger's piece about Lawrence's thriving entertainment scene, a man in black face occupies space next to the tip jar from the Replay Lounge and a collection of other seemingly harmless references. Krueger drew a skunk behind the man to signify a "stinky" period in Lawrence's past. But he also drew a guitar running off the left side of the page and reappearing on the right side, to signify the circular, repeating nature of history.

Goddard writes: "Considered as mirror of our place through time, Krueger's work suggests the undying relevance of earlier transgressions, but with a cautionary note, much like that in a lyric by rock musician Captain Beefheart, 'the new dinosaur's walking in the old one's shoes.'"


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