When Martha Brenner Noland, a fifth-generation Platte County resident, was offered a painting of her childhood farm home, painted by artist Gale Stockwell, she wasn’t sure at first.
“I didn’t use it for quite a while because it made me so sad. But now, after years have passed, it’s OK,” she says. “I lived across the street when Gale Stockwell lived in Platte Woods.”
The painting is now part of a 30-piece temporary Stockwell exhibit at the Ben Ferrel Platte County Museum in Platte City, Missouri. Stockwell was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1907 and spent much of his life in Northwest Missouri, painting landscapes and town scenes in Clay, Platte and other area counties.
“He showed his talents early on by doing cartooning for the school newspaper,” says Lisa Wittmeyer, volunteer curator of the museum. “He studied at the Kansas City Art Institute and embarked on a career in painting early on. He found watercolor was his favorite medium.”
Perhaps his most well-known painting, “Parkville, Main Street,” was completed in 1933 for the Works Progress Administration. It is now part of the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and once hung in President Richard Nixon’s oval office. The image can be seen at the Ben Ferrel museum, along with articles written about the painting.
“He used a lot of bright colors and he loved contrasting colors like reds and greens,” Wittmeyer says. “Many art critics believe that showed his emotional connection, how deeply he cared about the area.”
Much of his work centered around landscapes and townscapes in northwest Missouri throughout the 20th century.
“You will see plowed fields, wheat fields that no longer exist,” Wittmeyer says. “You’ll see many examples of homes as well as barns and beautiful pastures and countryside.”
Brenner Noland’s favorite piece is the painting of her previous home, which is no longer standing. Wittmeyer and Brenner Noland also particularly like the painting of St. Matthew’s Church, owned by Brenner Noland.
“He captures the trees, the sky, the church in a way that is quite beautiful,” Wittmeyer says. “It’s hard to have a particular favorite because one of his greatest skills was the sky. You’ll see rain clouds, you’ll see rain, skies in all season. Then get the sky so beautifully done in so many different ways to match the landscape and what’s happening in a scene is quite remarkable I think.”
A book about Stockwell, written by his son, is available for sale at the museum. Stockwell died in Colorado in 1983.
The dozens of pieces in the exhibit were loaned to the museum by people in the surrounding communities, the Stockwell family and Park University, located in Parkville, Missouri.
“I think it’s an indication of how much he is still popular,” Wittmeyer says. “Many people wanted to talk to me about the paintings and how much they meant to their families and how happy they were to share it with others.”
A watercolor painting classes will be held as a finale event for the exhibit and the museum’s summer season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at First Baptist Church, 214 Ferrel St. in Platte City.
The class will be led by Cathy Kline of Cathy Kline Fine Arts Gallery. A supply charge of $5 is requested at the door. Seating is limited and reservations are required by calling 816-304-1627.
The paintings will be on display through Friday, Sept. 29. The Ben Ferrel Platte County Museum, 220 Ferrel St. in Platte City, is open from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday and Fridays. It also will be open 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, and from 4 to 7 p.m. during the Sample of City festival Thursday, Sept. 28.
“They’ll see Northwest Missouri as it was many years ago. They’ll be able to read about the personal connection that many people have to the paintings, and art comes alive when you see it’s relevance in everyone’s life,” Wittmeyer says. “They will be able to appreciate an artist who was talented and has some beautiful images to share.”