Lawrence – On Thursday, November 16, Douglas County Historical Society members gathered at the Watkins Museum for their annual meeting and to celebrate the historical society’s 90th anniversary. Once the business meeting concluded, members were surprised with an exciting announcement by Executive Director Steve Nowak that the museum acquired the painting Lawrence Massacre by American artist Ethel Magafan (1916-1993).
The painting is based on Magafan’s winning design for a mural she submitted to a WPA competition marking the Lawrence Post Office Centennial in 1936. The artist based her depiction of Quantrill’s raid on illustrations of the event from magazines of the period, such as Harper’s Weekly and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. The original sketch she submitted to the WPA is now in the collection of the Denver Art Museum. Magafan was one of the few women artists to be awarded a WPA commission, but the mural was never executed.
Learning about the never-completed mural in 1979, a Lawrence couple who collected Magafan’s work commissioned this version. When painting the commission, the artist deviated slightly from her original design to include a more prominent and accurate depiction of Lawrence’s First Methodist Church. The Methodist Church, located at 724 Vermont Street, was pressed into service as a morgue for victims of Quantrill’s raid on August 21, 1863.
The painting made its way to Denver, with its owners, and was offered to the Watkins Museum through a gallery there in April 2023. The painting was acquired in honor of the Douglas County Historical Society’s 90th anniversary through the generosity of DCHS members Jeff and Mary Weinberg, who donated funds for its purchase. Museum director Steve Nowak indicated that “the painting’s subject and its interesting history made it an important addition to the museum’s collection but purchasing it would have required a significant fundraising effort. Luckily, Jeff and Mary Weinberg came forward and made the acquisition possible in time to celebrate the historical society’s 90th anniversary.” Lawrence Massacre is on view in the Community Room on the ground floor of the Watkins Museum.
For more information about the Watkins Museum visit www.watkinsmuseum.org, or email questions or requests for more information to [email protected].