Public Art

The Riverfront Heritage Trail seeks to expand the notion of art in public places by inserting artists into the process of urban design. In this project, the public art as well as the trail itself, becomes a tool of urban revitalization.

Reasons for including public art on the Riverfront Heritage Trail are:

  • To interpret the history and culture of Kansas City.
  • To help create a bi-state trail identity and theme.
  • To attract a wide range of trail users.
  • To help revitalize significant urban areas of Kansas City.
  • To redefine the identity and image of revitalized properties.

The purpose of the Public Art Master Plan is to provide for artwork that will create an identity for each segment of the Riverfront Heritage Trail that reflects the unique history of that area. Instead of viewing separate works of art without any apparent connection, users will have a complete and unified experience or historical narrative in which they can make personal connections to the artwork and their environment while enjoying the recreational aspects of the trail.

The Master Plan allows for a collaborative trail design effort instead of just placing various works of art along the trail. This process involves artists, historians, landscape architects, engineers, and architects working together to create a plan for the future. A collaborative effort leads to the integration of all aspects of the trail and allows for it to be a work of art and not just a collection of artwork. This master plan was developed by the Public Art Committee of the Kansas City River Trails, Inc. through a grant provided by the Central Industrial District Association. The final plan was presented to and approved by the Kansas City Municipal Arts Commission and KCRT. The master plan is available for review upon request.

Flock By: Jesse Small

Flock By Jesse Small

Jesse Small’s I-670 Pedestrian Bridge ornamental iron fence is composed of 72 1/4 inch painted iron panels of various sizes that carry out a bird motif to capture the birds that inhabit this area. Each bird was carefully drawn by the artist in chalk before he cut the metal by hand to give each its own identity. He stated that he “believed that the sculpture would have a deeper soul and a longer life if each bird was one of a kind, which they are in reality.” He noted, “typically when we see a flock of birds they are numerous and they all look identical, but the differences might well be massive”. He was very proud to bring the neighborhood to life though his art. Moreover, he saw his art as a way to rehabilitate a pedestrian bridge that connects two of the oldest parks in Kansas City.

Jesse Small grew up in Los Angeles, California where he became involved in Boy’s State and the Student Conservation Association. At the same time he developed an interest in visual art. In 1992 -1997 he pursued a BFA at the Kansas City Art Institute where he graduated with a dual major in Sculpture and Ceramics. Upon completion of an MFA in 2005 he completed a residency in Jingdezhen, China. His experience in China made him appreciate how art over the years has become hopelessly layered, obliterating the original meaning of the art. As a result, he works hard to develop art that is not cut off from it’s true meaning. He spends much of his time developing public art for many municipalities and working on private commissions.

Jesse’s “Flock” art work was commissioned by the Kansas City River Trails Inc. and it has received considerable artistic recognition. The funds for the “Flock” art work and rehabilitation of the I-670 pedestrian bridge was provided by the Helen H. Nelson Memorial Foundation, a Transportation Enhancement Grant and The Kansas City River Trails Inc.

Neo-Millenic Lights & Pequeno Miramide By: Christian Mann (2004-2008)

Neo-Millenic Lights & Pequeno Miramide by Christian Mann

The Westside neighborhood is a dynamic and eclectic area with a rich history of immigrant settlement. To celebrate the Westside’s Latin American roots, artist Christian Mann chose a design often associated with the ancient Mayans - the stepped pyramid. Because these structures traditionally served as the ceremonial center of a community, Mann’s Pequeno Miramide (little pyramid) features a small stage and amphitheater-style seating in the hillside. Over 100 drawings created by neighborhood children decorate the pyramid’s steps thanks to a collaboration with Mattie Rhodes Art Center. The drawings are backlit at night creating a festive, inviting gathering place.

The Riverfront Heritage Trail weaves it way along West Pennway. Lighting the trail are Christian Mann’s Neo-Millennic lights. They serve a dual purpose. They light the trail at night inviting the neighborhood with it’s promise of safety. More than that, the lights have an artistic design that continues the Latin American tradition of the Westside neighborhood. These brightly painted street lamps are made of discarded pieces of industrial and agricultural implements. The Neo-Millennic Lights are designed to improve the neighborhood, invite potential users, and thematically act as “futuristic beacons of hope, allowing us to see more than we could before.”

The funds for the pyramid and lights were provided by the Helen H. Nelson Memorial Funds of the Kansas City River Trail, Inc. Construction of the Pequeno Miramide (Little pyramid) with its backlight quality was no easy task. Special thanks go to the children of Mattie Rhodes Art Center and construction teams from Musselman & Hall Construction Company, TranSystems, and Dimensional Innovations.

Lewis & Clark Digout Canoes & Wayfinding Marker By: Susana Jones

Lewis & Clark Digout Canoes & Wayfinding Marker By Susana Jones

President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition shortly after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The primary objectives of the expedition were to study the new purchase including the western Indian tribes, geography, vegetation and animals in the new area. More importantly, they were asked to discover a trade route to the Pacific across the newly acquired frontier. The primitive wayfinding marker traces the distance they had to travel to reach the West Coast. To reach their goal they traveled by boat, foot and horseback. Where possible they traveled by water mostly on the Missouri River.

The original boats they used included a keel boat and some shallow draft rowboats. The keel boat returned to St. Louis when the river became too shallow. Eventually, dugout canoes were used to replace and augment the shallow draft boats. The expedition built 15 dugout canoes, some to carry them from their winter camp in North Dakota to the Continental Divide and others to take them on to the Pacific. Later, dugout canoes brought them thousands of miles back to St. Louis. East of the Rockies, the dugouts were carved out of large cottonwood trees. West of the Rockies, they used large ponderosa pines. A large canoe weighed about 1,000 lbs and would carry 5 men with their gear. Of all the watercraft used, the dugout canoe logged most distance. They must have been trusted as many of the expedition could not swim.

Here at River Bluff Park, you will find commemorative art dedicated to this expedition. The shape of the stairs is designed to resemble a waterfall. The canoes are designed to appear moored to an island in the Missouri River. Artist Susana Jones carved the canoes out of red cedar because of its symbolic nature. Red cedars are very durable and are known as "colonizers" because of the important role they play in transforming damaged, stripped landscapes into forests. By choosing this tree the artist is commenting on the collision of these two worlds and the profound effect of the Lewis and Clark Expedition on American life. Her sculpture is also intended to remind us of the sense of discovery that is a distinct part of human nature.

Woodswether Bridge Finials

Melissa Koch

Melissa Koch

Melissa is an artist/sculptor/designer with a BFA in Sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design. Situated at each entrance of the Woodswether Bridge are lamps by artist Melissa Koch. Each Lighthouse depicts lattice-cut silhouettes of nautilus shells, fossils, frogs and even men as skeletons. These images refer to the life-sustaining power of the river and remind us that 80 or 90 million years ago, Kansas was once a vast inland sea.

Stretch Rumaner

Stretch Rumaner - Native American Symbols

Native American Symbols
STRETCH Rumaner received a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute and a MFA in Sculpture from the Virginia Commonwealth University. His art consists of glass and steel finials which are modern interpretations of ancient symbols often found in tribal symbols. He has tried to capture Native American symbols for the sun, stars and running water which were frequently found in Native American culture. Rumaner’s symbol sculptures capture important themes in Native American cultures.

Karen McCoy

Karen McCoy

Sight Station & Kaw Point Park
Karen McCoy received a MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago. She is an Associate Professor, Sculpture Department, at the Kansas City Art Institute. Her Sight Station directs your attention to Kaw Point Park which is a historical site at the Confluence of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. It is here that the Lewis and Clark expedition camped on June 26, 1803. The stationary sighting tubes aimed at the location, isolate the site that is depicted on the map.

River’s Edge Site Station
River's Edge is a companion piece of Karen McCoy’s Sight Station art work. She uses this art to focus the observer on the critical role the river played in the development of the site, both environmentally and to its human occupants.

Ed Hogan

Ed Hogan Snake Clan

Snake Clan
Artist Ed Hogan was an instructor at the University of Missouri –Kansas City. A student of slave migration and tribal activity, he pays tribute to one of the Wyandotte Tribe’s “great clans” with his cut steel Snake Clan finial. The sculpture depicts the body of the snake as the winding flows of the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. It’s head is the Indian symbol of unity; the convergence of the mighty rivers.

Ed Hogan Beaver Clan

Beaver Clan
During the 19th century, the rivers brought fur traders to the region, hunting and trapping beavers. The traders nearly wiped out the beaver population in Kansas and Missouri. This was a cultural and spiritual blow to the Wyandotte Tribe. Ed Hogan created the Beaver Clan finial to memorialize and hopefully revive the Wyandotte’s ancient clan, now extinct.

Ed Hogan Born Free

Born Free
Ed Hogan noted that slaves who survived the ordeal of crossing the Kansas River were searching for one thing: freedom. Many escapees crossed the river so that their children could be born in the free state of Kansas. As Cross the Waters to be Born Free depicts, fathers bathed their newborns in a nearby Kansan lake before presenting them to the heavens as part of an emotionally powerful freedom ceremony.

Ed Hogan Slave Skills on the Frontier

Slave Skills on the Frontier
As the Slaves reached the Free State of Kansas they brought with them the trades they had acquired on plantations. Ed Hogan used this art to recognize the many skills, represented by a wagon wheel, forging hammer, and horseshoe, that were of critical importance to settlers traveling west. The African-American Slave finial is a tribute to their skills and hard work.

ASB Kiosk

ASB Kiosk

This intriguing art that is adjacent to the Riverfront Heritage Trail and the ASB Bridge is not only visually compelling but it helps tell the story of the evolution of Kansas City. This art is actually made up of reproductions of the counterweights on the nearby ASB Bridge that allow it to be raised for boat traffic. Usually, the counterweights hang somewhat inconspicuously on the huge ASB Bridge. Being able to actually experience the true size of the ASB Counterweights helps give perspective to the immense size of the overall ASB bridge and the engineering sophistication that went into its construction. Plaques on the counterweights note that the bridge is a historical structure and that first went into use in 1912. The bridge was built by civil engineers that eventually formed many of the engineering companies that continue to work in the Kansas City area. The art design was commissioned by Kansas City River Trails who helped with the funding. Local members of the American Society of Civil Engineers were, however, most instrumental in completing this project and should always be credited for its completion.

Riverfront Heritage Trailhead

Spirit Mall with Santa Fe Caboose

The Spirit Mall Riverfront Heritage Trail Head is located in:
8th and Madison
Kansas City, Missouri, 64101

History of the Area

In this area, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad ambitiously staked out a southwest route that followed the wagon ruts to the southwest. This route would eventually become America’s busiest railroad transportation corridor. Indeed, the ATSF southern route linking Los Angeles and Chicago became the nation’s most significant transcontinental route. While the Santa Fe railroad was laying tracks to the southwest the Union Pacific – Eastern Division a.k.a. Kansas Pacific was working equally as hard developing a competitive rail line between Kansas City and Denver.

River Barrier to the West

To connect the prosperous cities in the northeast railroads with the new railroads in the west, a way had to be found to cross the Missouri River. Kansas City became the logical point to bridge the Missouri River as a crossing here enabled the railroad to avoid the flood prone Kansas River while it opened up the whole of the southwest to rail expansion.

The Spirit of Kansas City

The Spirit of Kansas City demonstrated itself in the construction of the first bridge over the Missouri River. Construction of the bridge began in 1866, one year after the end of the Civil War. At this time, our country was economically devastated by the Civil War. In spite of the crippling post Civil War economy, funds were acquired to build this bridge.

Hannibal Bridge

Building a railroad bridge over the Missouri River was not an easy undertaking. Such a structure would have to resist the swift current and ever changing bottom. Octave Chanute, a noted bridge designer (and mentor to the Wright brothers) adapted a German bridge design that would resist these elements. On July 3rd, 1869, the Hannibal & St. Joe railroad bridge over the Missouri River was completed.

With the completion of the Hannibal Bridge, revenue began to stream in from the transportation of Texas longhorn cattle to packing houses in Chicago. Prior to the arrival of the railroads long cattle drives were the order of the day. However, longhorn cattle carried a disease fatal to domestic cattle. In fact, the Kansas Legislature passed a quarantine law that restricted cattle drives to the area in Western Kansas, which was then mostly Indian territory. A number of cattle towns emerged outside the quarantine area. Among them were Dodge City, Ellsworth, Caldwell and Hays.

Impact on Kansas City

The income from the cattle industry helped provide funds to extend the rails expansion to Santa Fe and the southwest ending forever the Santa Fe Trail. Eventually, Kansas City became the hub of the packing house industry and agribusiness. Kansas City’s trade in livestock leapt from 167,000 head a year in 1871 to 100,000 head a day in 1908 generating over $1 million a day.

Santa Fe Waycar 999508

One of the highlights of the Spirit Mall park is the restored Santa Fe Waycar 999508.

Waycar Specifications:
Manufacturer: AC&F
Construction: Steel
Roof: Peaked & Radial
Number Owned: 223
Years Built: 1969 - 1970
Series Numbers: Caboose 999508, 1 of 36, 500 series car Weight: 58,000 lbs empty
NE: Non-Revenue

Inside a Santa Fe Waycar 999508
An inside look at Santa Fe Waycar 999508

Freedom Mall with Exodus Family Artwork

The Freedom Mall located at 8th & Belleview on the Riverfront Heritage Trail is dedicated to the courageous men and women -- both free and enslaved -- who faced unimaginable tribulations in their pursuit of freedom.

The Freedom Trail that follows the route of the Lewis & Clark Viaduct in Kansas City, marks the path of many slaves as they made their way across Missouri to the free state of Kansas.

Illustration of the Exodus Family Artwork

History of the Area

The border between Missouri and Kansas was once the most contested dividing line in the nation. It was here in the first half of the 19th Century that abolitionist jayhawkers from Kansas and irregular pro-slavery troops from the swing state of Missouri were in a life and death struggle. For many slaves in this area, one ideal rose above all others- not just running away from something, but running to something- freedom!

Slaves in Missouri hoped to escape to any of the four free border states or territories through the system of safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Legends exist about abolitionist activities in Westport, Weston and Parkville, home of the anti-slavery newspaper, The Luminary. The most important documented area site was the town of Quindaro, in what is now Kansas City, Kansas. Founded in 1856 on the banks of the Missouri River, Quindaro became a destination for free blacks and served as an important "station" on the Underground Railroad during its brief six years of existence.

Freedom Trail

The Exodus Family depicts a group of slaves as they attempt to cross the West Bottoms on their journey to the “free state” of Kansas to a new beginning. The slaves’ exodus through the south and along the Lewis & Clark Trail was dangerous and full of hardships. The Riverfront Heritage Trail through the West Bottoms follows the route of these slaves to freedom and is thus called the Freedom Trail.

About the Artist

Edward Hogan - Artist

The sculptor, Edward Hogan, used the “scrap and weld” technique as an interpretation of the slave family unit. Slave families were traditionally “scrapped” together from various locations as the journey to freedom ensued. Some families included blood relatives, but many did not. The scrap mentality is further interpreted as a means upon which the slave families survived, including the daily meal, which were scraps of leftovers from the master’s kitchen, and clothing which was typically hand-me downs from the master’s belongings.

Hogan’s work reflects his heritage and a passionate interest on Kansas City’s past. He has extensively researched the slave migration movements of the mid-1800, the slave’s role in the settlement of the original Missouri towns of Kansas, and the slaves’ interaction with the Huron and Wyandotte Indians. The research material is the central subject matter for his art and the rich narratives he created for each member of the family depicted at Freedom Mall.

When viewing the Exodus Family, the artist Edward Hogan hopes that people will see the determinations, fear, courage and hope that characterized the slave movement.