In its heyday in the early 1900s, White Cloud was a bustling town of nearly 1,500 people. Located on the Missouri River, it was a popular port town in the newly established Kansas territory frequented by steamboats making their journey west. There were multiple general, grocery, drug, furniture, and hardware stores as well as restaurants, bars, and hotels. Both White Cloud and the nearby Iowa Tribe reservation have experienced a progressive decline in population since construction of the railroad. Today, boarded up windows and closed signs dot every storefront leaving the historic downtown more of a ghost town. With a population of less than 200, one is more likely to encounter a stray dog than a person driving through.
Project organizer, Deborah Bryan has been actively involved in efforts to revive the once dynamic area. Bryan has purchased and is renovating four buildings in downtown White Cloud, including the Foster Memorial Church and a General Store that houses the oldest remaining Opera House in Kansas on its second floor. She plans on converting the church into the French Canoe, a café that memorializes the French and Indian influences of the towns’ history. It is her hope that these efforts will promote economic development and get young people to see the value in remaining in their hometown versus leaving to pursue opportunities elsewhere.
Bryan has asked tribal artists Ruby Rhodd and Sydney Pursel to produce a mural on the side of the French Canoe. As part of their desire to breathe life into the vacant town, the artists believe this should be a joint effort using participation from the local and tribal communities. To gain interest in the project, they will screen Called to Walls, a documentary about the mural making process, at the Opera House. Then, a series of research and brainstorming sessions will be held at the Ma-Hush-Ka Historical Society and the Báxoje Woscaci: Iowa Tribal Museum and Cultural Center.
These gatherings will seek insight from the public about which parts of White Cloud history they would like to see memorialized in the mural. Sessions will include group walks, word maps, collage, and drawing activities. With their input, Rhodd and Pursel will produce a design. Using their knowledge of composition and color theory, the design will include shapes in large color blocks to resemble a paint-by-numbers approach. They will project and outline the mural on the side of the building and invite members of the community to contribute to the painting process. Because of the stylistic nature of the design, anyone with the ability to hold a paintbrush will be able to contribute to the mural whether they are three or 103. The artists will devise a way for each contributor to be memorialized in the mural design. In addition, postcards of the completed mural will be produced and multiples given to participants as a thank you for their contribution to the process.
The White Cloud-Mahaska mural will bring people of all ages together to explore a shared history, instill a sense of pride, and assist in collective visioning for the reawakening of White Cloud, Kansas.
Ruby Rhodd was raised in White Cloud, Kansas and graduated college in 2017 from the University of Kansas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Art and History of Art. There, she learned to refine her artistic style and pull from her Ioway Tribe roots. She is actively involved in the Ioway Tribe Powwow Committee as the Treasurer and was once the Ioway Tribe Powwow Princess from 2011 to 2013 – which involved representing the tribe in various community events. Her connection to White Cloud extends beyond being raised there. Her ancestor, Chief White Cloud, is the namesake of the town.
Sydney Pursel is an interdisciplinary artist. Her projects are used to educate others about food politics, assimilation, appropriation, and history in addition to projects amongst her tribal community focusing on revitalizing language and culture. Pursel is a recent MFA graduate in Expanded Media. She has served on multiple event and powwow committees and worked with Dave Loewenstein to organize the Lawrence Stands with Standing Rock March and Solidarity Event. She also participated in research for the Pollinator Mural in Lawrence, KS.
Deborah Bryan M.D.
I am a wife. I am a mother of three sons. I am a physician.
I have given over 150 anti-smoking presentations to schoolchildren. I help with the athletic physicals for the high school. I serve on the advisory boards for the local bank and Iowa Tribe of Kansas & Nebraska. I volunteer to clean the public bathrooms at the White Cloud City Park. I bought 4 historic buildings in White Cloud, Kansas to rehabilitate. I love art and envision murals throughout White Cloud to bring smiles and a community feeling. I remain dedicated to helping others.