Independence, a city full of history, is set to take a day to explore the story of one of America’s famous painters and his connection to the city.
George Caleb Bingham – painter, soldier, politician – told much of the story of the American frontier in the middle decades of the 19th century.
“He engaged fully in the life of Missouri and early Missouri,” says Brent Schondelmeyer, president of the Jackson County Historical Society board.
Bingham was and is known nationally for such works as “Fur Traders Descending the Missouri” and “The Jolly Flatboatmen,” but regionally he might best be remembered for “Order No. 11,” which depicted the forced displacement of families from their farms in Jackson County and three other Missouri counties in the Civil War. He painted that in Independence.
On April 29, the Historical Society and others are holding an event to tell Bingham’s story in a variety of ways. It kicks off with a film, “The American Artist: The Life & Times of George Caleb Bingham.” It was made by Wide Awake Films in conjunction with the Friends of Arrow Rock, and the Historical Society earlier this year gave the producers an award for making the film.
“It will be the first time it’s been shown in Independence,” says Caitlin Eckard, operations manager and archivist at the Historical Society.
Organizers have set up a full afternoon and evening. The film is at 2 p.m. at the Pharoah Theatre on the Square, and there’s a meet-and-greet with the filmmakers at 3:15.
“We’re going to make it kind of like a red-carpet event,” Eckard said.
Across the street, at 3:45, is a guided tour of the Jackson County Museum of Art inside the Truman Courthouse, where Ken and Cindy’s McClain’s collection of portraits by Bingham is displayed. Bingham largely made his living by painting portraits.
Then attendees go a few blocks south to the Bingham-Waggoner Estate, the place where he painted “Order No. 11” in the years immediately after the war. There will be snacks, craft beer and a musical performance by the Mengel brothers, who are from Independence.
“And they also write music inspired by George Caleb Bingham,” Eckard said.
Dinner is at 6, at either Ophelia’s or Cafe Verona. There’s a range of prices: $75 for the entire event, $20 for the film and meet-and-greet, $30 for the film and art gallery, $15 for the time at the Bingham-Waggoner Estate, and $50 for the film, art gallery and the estate. Call the Historical Society at 816-252-7454 or look the group up on Facebook.
Schondelmeyer singles out the people of Arrow Rock, Missouri, for embracing the Bingham story. The artist lived here for years.
“And they took the time to tell the Bingham story,” he said.
The film brings Bingham and his art to life, he said.
“It’s sumptuous. It’s gorgeous,” Schondelmeyer said.
Schondelmeyer has been among the civic leaders taking part in a broad conversation about Independence taking advantage of its resources – including its history – and figuring out ways to better connect those things for visitors. He points out that the April 29 event has music, film, art and fine dining – the kind of mix of experiences that the civic leaders have said the community could use more of.
Moreover, it’s about telling a story that in the city of Truman and trails can get overlooked. New generations need to hear about Bingham.
“You always have to reintroduce artists and reintroduce people,” he says.