Leopold Gallery’s art installations at the new Downtown Olathe Library are causing citywide, and in some cases nationwide, fascination. The library has become a gallery like no other. Yes it’s a place for books but it has also, under Leopold Gallery’s supervision, become a home for several soaring works of art. In particular, one huge piece out front celebrates the late Mayor Michael Copeland, who was an esteemed art lover.
“Mayor Copeland was a champion, not only for the city of Olathe, but of public art, the Olathe Public Library, and education and literacy,” said Olathe City Manager Michael Wilkes of the city’s longest serving mayor, who died in August 2020. “To see his legacy celebrated with vibrant, colorful art at the beautiful downtown library is a fitting celebration of his impact to our city.”
A blown glass and stainless steel sculpture titled “Prairie Paintbrush” is among several pieces of commissioned art designed and created for the library, located at 260 E. Santa Fe St. The piece’s artist, Tyler Kimball of Monarch Glass Studio, adores public art. “We don’t want everything utilitarian and no stimulation,” Kimball said. Public art gives a place personality, Kimball said. “It’s almost like being in a museum.” Kimball said “Prairie Paintbrush” not only fits the area as a gateway to the prairie, but its vibrant color is important in emulating Copeland. “When he came into the room, he was a big burst of energy,” Kimball said. The piece itself, at 18 feet high and 7 feet in diameter, is impressive. “The glass alone is three-quarters of a ton,” Kimball said.
Paul Dorrell, founder of Leopold Gallery, co-designed that iconic piece with Kimball.
Other pieces of art at the library:
▪ “To the Stars” (mobiles): Oil paint on steel by Lyman Whitaker.
▪ “Skyline”: Mixed media, found objects from Olathe Chamber of Commerce members, acrylic paint by William Lobdell. This is in the board room of the chamber, which shares the same building.
▪ “Olathe 1890, 1960, 2020”: Acrylic paint on plexiglass panels by MJ Rigby. These panels, acrylic paint on plexiglass, by MJ Rigby depict the city of Olathe in 1890, 1960 and 2020.
▪ “Reading Bear”: Acrylic paint on canvas by Richard Raney. The animals in Raney’s “Reading Bear” have slightly wild expressions reflecting the influence of Chris Van Allsburg’s Jumanji books.
▪ “Walk Through the Enchanted Forest,” 110- foot mural, oil paint, by Isaac Tapia and Rico Alvarez. This work is in progress.
It is a library, which meant the design and installation required creativity and intent. “There is not a lot of wall space so we needed to utilize it the best we could,” said Paul Dorrell, president of Leopold Gallery + Art Consulting. He co-designed the works and coordinated the installation.
For example, “To The Stars” uses primary colors as a connection to children. “Olathe 1890, 1960, 2020” are translucent abstracts of maps of Olathe in 1890, 1960 and 2020. “I wanted bright colors to be visible in that auditorium,” Dorrell said of the Olathe maps. “There is so much light bouncing around.”
The state of public art is healthy in Kansas City, Dorrell said. Now when a large building is constructed, there is usually an art program.
“Now we have not just a great number of mature artists doing their work but young artists coming up and giving it a go.” And, of course, the Olathe library features regional artists, Dorrell said. “Keep the talent here and honor the talent here.”