Coleman’s book invites rediscovery of Midtown – and reimagining of Kansas City

ScanAnyone who knows Midtown Kansas City is going to encounter some pretty familiar places and things – with some slight twists – when reading the book Of Stones and Feathers.

There’s the barely-disguised Nelson Museum of Art with its shuttlecocks and sheep sculptures; Gillham Road and Penn Valley Park; Martini Row with its Never-Sleeping, Three-Headed Velvet Dog-Jaws of Death; the Devilish Dancing Crows of Doubt; and a tv tower that is transformed into a giant golden saxophone.

coverThe book is the latest work of Roger Coleman, an ordained minister who has spent most of his life working in Midtown, most recently as the director of the Pilgrim Chapel in Hyde Park. It is illustrated by Neil Nakahodo, an illustrator/designer at The Kansas City Star, with creative design by Lauren Allen.

It tells the story of a boy named Jason and a paper clip swan and their search for the Lost Land of the Great Pond of Happiness. It details how they overcome the Curse of Dullness that has been placed on Kansas City by a Wealthy but Wicked Witch and enforced by her nephew, the Awful Wizard of Was.

Although Coleman and his wife recently moved to North Carolina, the story took shape in his imagination when he was walking around Midtown.

“In the many days I spent walking from the Kansas City Art Institute to Penn Valley pond, I began to have conversations with the landmarks that I encountered. Of Stones and Feathers eventually became a record of those conversations,” Coleman says. “How else could you explain, for example, that every public park in Kansas City contains a red rock except through the insight that the Wizard of Was placed them there as ‘narcs’ to help maintain the Curse of Dullness pronounced upon by town by his aunt, the Wealthy but Wicked Witch, many years ago?“

Coleman invites readers to retrace Jason and the swan’s journey from the Kansas City Art Institute (Kemper Art Institute in the book) through the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park (the Rockhill Sculpture Garden), Gillham Park, Hyde Park and then down 31st St. to enter Penn Valley Park and discover the Golden Pond of Great Happiness. He even recommends a stop for lunch at 31st and Gillham.

The book – and the journey – are meant to provoke thought in readers, whether they are children or adults.

“I hope that readers create their own image of what it means to be a city of imagination and courage and the steps needed to achieve that image,” he says.

Although the theme may seem critical of the city, Coleman says he thinks Kansas City has gone a long way toward overcoming the Curse of Dullness in the last few years.

“I sense a new energy that I hadn’t felt before,” he says. He also intends to highlight the potential and creativity of Midtown with the story.

The paper clip swan image came easily to Coleman, who has always been fascinated by the common office supply.

“As a kid, I always played with paper clips and made up stories about them,” he admits.

In fact, he didn’t start out to write a book, but instead to find a location for a series of giant paper clip bird sculptures based on models he’d been creating.

“Having an affinity for the pond in Penn Valley Park with its peaceful almost rural image surrounded on the north end with older fishermen most evenings, why not, I thought, locate these sculptures at the south end as a way of calling greater attention to this unique urban setting?”

The book became the story that explained why the swans could come to live in the pond. But Coleman also hopes some group will  come forward to organize a “children’s campaign” to actually build the paper clip swan sculptures, “a symbol of Kansas City’s creative spirit as well as a place where people could come and make happy wishes for others.”

Coleman doesn’t stop there; he has more ideas for how the story could be told in other ways.

“I would like to see Theater for Young America develop a children’s musical starring Crosby Kemper as the Wizard of Was; Tim Finn as the hero, Aaron Finch, the Morning Star’s music critic; Jill Toyosheba as the heroine, Jill Robinette, the Morning Star’s night time photographer; Yael Abouhalkah or Steve Paul as ED (the Morning Star’s Senior Editor of Dullness). I would play the role of the Pilgrim Chapel bell ringer. Music would be provided by Connie Dover (Connie Dove, the Angel Voice). I have no suggestions for who might be the Wealthy but Wicked Witch but surely there are one or two around. Almost any child could be Jason,” he says.

And, of course, he thinks the story would make a great movie, set right here in Midtown.

The book can be ordered online or purchased locally at Buttonwood Art Space, 3013 Main Street.


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