Norman Akers, the contemporary Native American artist behind the newest mural painted in Cuba, has packed up his brushes and headed home to Lawrence, Kansas. The Osage mural is located on the side of Little Jack Horner’s Desserts, at 108 South Buchanan Street, near the old Peoples Bank in Cuba.
Many local residents have taken time out of their busy schedules to stop by the mural site to observe the artist at work. “The narrative in the mural focuses on the Osage’s meeting with the early French traders in Missouri,” explained Akers. “The mural illustrates the history of the region and, hopefully, will serve to educate future generations.”
Akers began his work the first week of July, working through the heat wave that month and wrapping up the project as he dealt with the rainy days experienced the first week of August. He would have loved to stay a bit longer, but he had to return home to teach an art class at the University of Kansas. Norman also teaches by appointment hours in Independent Study with graduate and undergraduate students at the university.
Assisting Akers with the Osage mural project was Isaiah Stewart, one of his former students from the Institute of American Indian Arts at University of Kansas. “He is a talented young artist with exceptional drawing skills,” Akers said. “His talents proved beneficial in transferring the image to the wall and painting certain segments of the mural. Likewise, it was great to reconnect with a former student and work together on this project.”
The drawing was Akers’ design, while Isaiah aided with preparing the wall and transferring the drawing onto the wall. Norman said, “It was a coordinated effort, as both of us were working on separate parts of the drawing that had to match up.”
Akers is always up for a new challenge; when the Osage Nation and the city of Cuba approached him, he was very excited about the project. “The image used for the mural project is considerably different from the artwork I normally do,” he said. “This was an opportunity to try something new. While in the past I had worked on larger paintings, but nothing this size or on an exterior wall. I saw this project as an opportunity to create connections between the two communities.”
Besides the connection with Akers’ Osage community, two other cities linked by this project are both part of our Three Rivers Publishing family. Cuba and Steelville have joined in supporting the Osage mural project. While Norman resides in Kansas with his wife Rose, he made the Evans House in Steelville his temporary home. The Steelville Arts Council (STARCO) invited Akers to be July’s artist in residence while he painted the mural in Cuba.
On July 22, STARCO hosted an art reception for Akers at the Evans House on Main Street, where he sold a couple of his pieces. In addition, Akers gave a lecture with a slideshow to a packed room at Gallery Zeke in Steelville. He talked about his heritage, his homeland and his art, with an emphasis on the word “home.” When he spoke about his childhood memories, Norman had a gleam in his eye.
He bases the inspiration for his artwork with his life growing up in western Osage County, Oklahoma. He explained how everything he paints has a meaning behind it.
Like many artists, his style of painting has transformed throughout his life. In his artist statement on his website, Akers discusses how he tried new techniques: “A few years ago, I began to explore other approaches to image making. The computer became a sketchbook where I developed digital images and collages. I began to use a variety of printing techniques, including paper lithography and reduction printing.”
Akers has always been intrigued by maps, which is evident in many of his prints. He spoke about all the signs defining the borders of the Osage lands. However, in his art, Norman reaches beyond borders to remember the open landscapes connecting the past to the future, stating, “Recently, the concepts of borders, boundaries, and the migration of peoples have been in my thoughts. Current issues in the news about immigration laws and talk in public media about strengthening national borders is leading my work into a new direction.”
Possibly the new skills he adapted prepared him for the task of painting the Osage mural for all of us to enjoy. It is, of course, his largest project to date.
Again, from his artist statement, Akers wrote, “The act of placing images on the printing paper echoes my desire to orient myself in the physical world. While painting allows images into my vocabulary at a contemplative pace, printmaking allows me to develop ideas quickly and to explore variations on new ideas. These explorations in printmaking will be used to inform a new series of large-scale paintings.”
Profoundly spoken, Norman Akers described his travels, “Once I get off the interstate highway, I look forward to that long, windy, two-lane road that leads me back home. It's like an umbilical cord connecting you to where you started from.”
As he said goodbye during Steelville Arts Council’s monthly volunteer meeting on August 9, he expressed a true desire to return to Crawford County for another residency stay at the Evans House and to meet and greet more people who helped him feel at home.
For more information about Norman Akers art and achievements, please visit his website at www.normanakers.com.